Aspen charity continues its work in Haiti’s troubled times | AspenTimes.com

Aspen charity continues its work in Haiti’s troubled times

The latest challenges for an Aspen organization that does charitable work in Haiti comes at a time when political unrest in the developing country is being marred by protests, looting, violence and calls for the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse.

Susie Krabacher has run HaitiChildren with her husband, Aspen attorney Joe Krabacher, since it started in 1994 as the Mercy and Sharing Foundation. The nonprofit has raised more than $40 million since its inception.

Over the years the charity organization — which helps care for and educate children who are abandoned, disabled and orphaned — has labored in the backdrop of such natural disasters as the 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew in 2016, as well the island nation's corrupt governments.

Haiti's slow roll into democracy also has been stymied by the current resistance to its democratically elected president, Moïse, who took office in February 2017. The protests were ignited by Moïse's failure to investigate the previous government for allegations of corruption involving Petrocaribe, a Venezuelan subsidized energy program, according to The Associated Press.

"It's a very, very, very dangerous place where we live, and when (the orphanage's children) go out, we always have someone with them," Krabacher said this week. "It's not the normal way for a child to grow up in society where you're afraid to go outside your walls."

As many worlds away from Aspen as the Hispaniola country is, one common thread between the two locales is depression among their residents, Krabacher noted.

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"There is depression of getting into society, especially as new, young adults," she said of the orphanage's children.

To that end, a psychiatrist visits HaitiChildren's main orphanage in Williamson on a weekly basis, and the nonprofit also is working with Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai's Global Mental Health Program.

The venture with Mount Sinai began a year ago; the hospital sent interns to Haiti, with Krabacher saying she understood the visit to be "very experimental."

"These interns of Mountain Sinai and the director of Icahn School of Medicine decided to stay six weeks and they started see this mental illness which everybody here attributes to voodoo and being crazy," she said. "This, in my mind and probably the Western world, might sound ridiculous."

She added, "There are some wonderful artsy things about voodoo culture, and there are very, very evil things about it, that people will hurt each other."

The combination of the country's daunting socioeconomic conditions, political turmoil and violence with a majority of Haitians believing in or practicing voodoo has created a recipe for depression, Krabacher explained.

"Another source of severe depression is we happen to live in an area where there is a lot of gang activity," she said. "And people often are a nervous wreck. They don't know what will happen next."

HaitiChildren has endeavored to instill confidence in its orphans by teaching them public speaking skills starting at the age of 8, among other initiatives. Yoga and mediation also are taught, Krabacher said.

"What we do not and will not practice is voodoo," she said.

HaitiChildren's orphanage, Krabacher said, is "smack dab in the worst place in the Western Hemisphere."

The outbreak of gang violence prompted Krabacher to call a meeting with one of the group's leaders. Krabacher said the recent meeting brought about unexpected events.

Roads leading to the gang leader's residence were cleared of trash, and she was told it was done "out of respect for you and things that you are doing for the schools."

Krabacher said she emphasized to the leaders if civil war breaks out in Haiti, her orphanage needs to remain a safe haven for the children.

She had security with her at the meeting, but Krabacher said the two plan to meet early in the new year — one on one. Krabacher said she hopes to have a positive influence on the leader and make strides toward peace.

"I've been told I will be safe, to come by myself, and I believe it," she said. "It also shows I am respecting, but I am powerful, too, and as leaders, we are equals."

rcarroll@aspentimes.com

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