Haiti rife with challenges for Mercy & Sharing
A local nonprofit that’s played an instrumental role in turning around the impoverished lives of Haitian youth is championing a new cause: bringing fairness and transparency to the Caribbean republic’s elections.
Leaders of Mercy & Sharing, which is changing its name to HaitiChildren.org, recently met with members of the House Foreign Relations Committee in Washington, D.C., to express concerns about the August, October and December elections in Haiti, which reportedly has 6,000 open seats, ranging from municipal offices to president and Parliament.
“We brought attention to our concern about the unpredictably in free and fair elections,” said Aspen resident Robin Hamill, who became the Carbondale nonprofit’s president in February.
Hamill, also the volunteer president of the Aspen Education Foundation, was joined by Susie Krabacher, co-founder and CEO of Mercy & Sharing. Krabacher is well-established and respected in the humanitarian arena. She was given the 2013 World of Children Alumni Award, an honor recognizing her efforts in Haiti.
Hamill said the nonprofit isn’t necessarily getting political, but in Haiti, “the stakes are getting higher, so we’re advocating for kids who can’t advocate for themselves. There are 15,000 polling stations that need to be manned, and there are 500 polling centers that need to tabulate the results. Our concern is that you can’t have free and fair elections without having security.”
Hamill said Mercy & Sharing feels the effects of corrupt government and elections.
“We take care of so many people in Haiti,” he said. “We work at the very base level of society, and our concern, in the absence of a free and fair election, is people won’t feel self-empowerment and the country will fall into a further state of instability, and that unfortunately leads to our work increasing.”
Haiti continues to recover from a devastating earthquake in 2010, which left 300,000 people dead and volumes of children without parents. Since joining the nonprofit, Hamill has visited the country five times.
“What really has stuck with me, for many of these kids that we take care of, if we don’t take care of them, the alternative is death,” he said. “It’s not like they have some place to go. If they don’t end up with us or another organization similar to us, they end up dying.”
Since its inception in 1994, Mercy & Sharing’s mission has been to provide care and education to Haitian children who are abandoned, orphaned and disabled.
It has a residential area for 129 children and a school that educates about 250. Haiti has about 50,000 children living in orphanages, according to a recent report by The Associated Press.
The nonprofit operates on an annual budget of $2.5 million, and Hamill wants to see that grow to $5 million over the next few years.
“There’s no lack of opportunity to provide services,” he said.
The nonprofit also is fighting international adoption groups, which Hamill likened to puppy mills.
“We’ve started a (public service announcement) campaign, and it’s broadcast on the radio throughout Haiti,” he said. “We’re telling people if they get approached to get paid for a baby, call us.”
Hamill tells stories of children who have been reunited with their parents years after being separated and infants who are on the brink of death but are saved.
“You can see a miracle in Haiti every day if you’re working hard and paying attention,” he said.
More information on Mercy & Sharing is available at www.haiti children.org.
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