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Krabacher braves turmoil to help children

Susie Krabacher was supposed to be rubbing shoulders with the movie stars at the Oscars Sunday night. Instead she was trying to make sure thousands of children would survive the turmoil in Haiti.

While most foreigners were fleeing Haiti as political upheaval degenerated into near anarchy last week, Krabacher traded the comfort and safety of her Aspen home for the risks of the island country.

Krabacher flew to Port-au-Prince via Miami last Monday to try to protect the six schools and three orphanages run by a foundation she co-founded about a decade ago with her husband, Joe Krabacher. She made the trip despite travel warnings from the U.S. State Department and intimate knowledge of the dangers in the country.

“She is fearless ” there’s no question,” said Joe Krabacher from his Aspen law office yesterday. “You couldn’t stop her.”

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When reached by telephone in Haiti yesterday, Susie Krabacher said she had experienced some life-threatening situations during the last week and suffered the heartbreak of seeing where looters broke into a warehouse where food is stored for some of her facilities.

“They took every last grain of rice,” she said. Beans, dried milk and even wheelchairs were stolen.

Krabacher said she was forced to buy rice looted from another warehouse to ease the food shortage. It isn’t justice but it’s reality, she said.

“We’re in survival mode in all of our projects,” Krabacher said. The children aren’t receiving meat or milk, just rice and beans. Rations are down to one meal a day.

Survival is more than a matter of finding enough food. Krabacher said a 12-year-old girl from one of her schools was shot three times by accident when she got caught in crossfire between forces loyal to Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and armed insurgents. The girl is expected to live.

Krabacher had her own close call while traveling and getting stopped at roadblocks set up by the chimere, armed mobs of Aristide supporters.

“We were ordered out of the car at one point,” said Krabacher. She feared her group may be shot but said they got through by saying things “flattering to Aristide” and by promising to pray for the people confronting them.

Joe Krabacher said his wife has a knack for traveling the mean streets and slums of Haiti safely. She’s learned where she can travel. “There are places she can go where a man couldn’t. They are so surprised to see her,” he said.

Susie Krabacher, 40, is a former Playboy playmate of the month. The Wall Street Journal wrote a front-page article Monday about her gutsiness and willingness to risk her life to help the Haitian children. It reveled in the fact that she calls herself the “Playboy Playmate Mother Teresa of Haiti.”

The Krabachers established their Mercy and Sharing Foundation to focus exclusively on helping the children of Haiti, a country that is the poorest in the Americas. Their schools provide education for nearly 2,000 kids and their orphanages care for about 60 kids.

Krabacher said safety and spirits soared in Haiti Sunday after Aristide resigned and fled the country. “No one cares about the Oscars here ” let’s put it that way,” she said. Krabacher said she had an invitation to the Academy Awards that were held Sunday night.

Instead, she was among a crowd that cheered when a helicopter from the international peacekeeping forces landed. She said nearly everyone feels safer now that Aristide has left.

The improving condition of the country should make it possible to get food into the sea ports, she said.

Krabacher is optimistic that the country will be better off under new rule and that the relief efforts of her foundation will also be easier with different leaders.

“It’s going to be the best year or my work here,” she said. “It’s going to be a washed-clean slate.”

Joe Krabacher said Haiti still faces the monumental challenge of establishing long-term stability. But for now, he will rest easier knowing safety isn’t as much of an issue for Susie.

More information about the Mercy and Sharing Foundation can be found at its Web site ” haitichildren.org. There is a link on the site where people can contribute. All donations go directly to aiding the children. Administrative costs are covered by the founders.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com]


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