Helping Haitians: HaitiChildren’s newest initiative aims to keep Haitian children out of gangs
HaitiChildren’s newest initiative aims to keep Haitian children out of gangs by encouraging students to play soccer. Aspenite Susie Krabacher and her husband, Joe, founded the organization 28 years ago. With their staff, they currently care for 119 children in their orphanages, as well as over 500 students in their schools. It is one of two organizations in Haiti that provides free therapy to disabled children and adults.
Krabacher hopes that the new soccer academy will provide students — many of whom are children of gang members — with a strong sense of community and an alternative to joining the gangs that dominate Haitian society.
“It’s one way to keep these teenagers off of the really mean and dangerous streets,” Krabacher said. “And it gives them a sense of community and being part of something that’s bigger than them. I’ve seen so many kids murdered in the slums of Haiti, and this is my desperate attempt to entice the children to do something, a sport, something important, something that can grow their minds and their inner power, rather than taking up a gun.”
Krabacher’s goal is for the soccer academy to have different teams, with a total of 500 Haitian children. She hopes that the academy might also provide some students with the opportunity to be recruited onto professional soccer teams.
The idea to form the academy was inspired by two former HaitiChildren students who were recruited — one for a Welsh team, and one for the Kansas City team (although the latter was unable to join due to the obstacle of obtaining a visa).
“For the kids to be able to come into our well-secured walls — we have armed security, well-armed security — it will be a time for them to feel safe, to eat a meal and to play on a team, and maybe even get recruited into an international soccer team,” Krabacher said. “I’m just thrilled about it. I’m hoping that some of the people here in the Valley will help me support this idea, because it’ll take 500 kids off the street.”
HaitiChildren has faced heightened challenges due to worsening gang violence in Port-au-Prince. Recently, a 6-year-old student at HaitiChildren’s facility in Cite Soleil was shot while playing with his father near their house. Though both individuals survived the incident, the child now faces a long road to recovery, Krabacher said. The shooting was one of many during an especially violent week in the Cite Soleil neighborhood of Haiti’s capital. The fuel crisis and spike in inflation leading to an increase in hunger nationwide have exacerbated the issues that Haiti was already struggling with, according to France24.
HaitiChildren has several facilities located in Arcahaie and one in Cite Soleil. The facilities include a physical therapy center, a church and community center, a farm, three schools and a special education school, three orphanage dorms and various mobile clinics. The mobile clinics are operated in conjunction with the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation.
Krabacher’s own challenging upbringing motivated her to start the organization. As a child in rural Alabama, she was abused and subsequently placed in the foster care system. The foster care system only had space for one child, so her brother was left without a home.
“My brother ended up killing himself, and I got rescued,” Krabacher said. “And I promised God that if I could just survive, that I would absolutely take care of kids that are hurt.”
HaitiChildren equips students to combat Haiti’s challenges by “educating the hell out of them,” Krabacher said. The students’ schooling begins with primary education, then a job during high school, which HaitiChildren pays an allowance for. The money from the allowance goes into an account that the students do not have access to until they graduate from the organization at age 18. By that time, students typically have enough money for three years of rent, Krabacher said.
Many students continue working with HaitiChildren as teachers, pastors or secretaries after graduation; the organization employs over 150 Haitians.
To ensure that HaitiChildren’s priorities are aligned with the local communities, the organization meets with community leaders to determine what programs are most important. The HaitiChildren campus opens to hundreds of villagers twice a month to discuss local problems. During these meetings, HaitiChildren provides medical care to the villagers and facilitates a discussion about which issues are most important. Currently, the organization’s main concern is water issues.
This year, with input from local leaders, HaitiChildren was forced to cut its summer camp programming to continue its food and therapy programming.
“We’ve really struggled with getting funds because Haiti is struggling, and there’s not a lot of sympathy for Haiti,” Krabacher said. “So I have to talk to the community leaders and say, ‘Look, you know, we are struggling with funds, what is most important to you right now?’”
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