Aspen nonprofit shows Haitians a taste of America
An Aspen nonprofit organization is coming off of a whirlwind tour in Washington, D.C., and other eastern locales where five Haitian children got a close brush with democracy and other aspects of life in America.
HaitiChildren was founded in 1994 as Mercy & Sharing by married couple Joe and Susie Krabacher to help care for and educate children abandoned, disabled and orphaned in the developing country.
A mix of five Haitian boys and girls, from ages 11 to 14 and under the care of HaitiChildren, visited museums and institutions and met with business people, philanthropists, scientists, doctors and elected officials, among others, including Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., on Wednesday.
Knowing Corker’s time was precious, the group went straight to the issues at hand.
“The kids asked him, ‘How do you stop corruption?’” Susie Krabacher said. “And he looked at them eye to eye and responded, ‘accountability.’”
Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, posted about the exchange on social media, including Facebook, where he noted, “I very much appreciated the opportunity to meet yesterday with HaitiChildren formerly Mercy & Sharing — a non-profit organization that provides care and education to abandoned, orphaned and disabled children in Haiti — to discuss the outstanding, important work they are doing in the country.”
The impoverished Haiti has been rife with political corruption, while reeling from such natural disasters as the 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
Part of the mission of HaitiChildren, which now serves 5,200 Haitians, explained Krabacher and its president, Robin Hamill, is to provide a springboard for its youth to make a positive difference in the Caribbean country, whether it is through politics, science or other fields. The nation had an 18 percent voter turnout in its presidential elections of November 2016.
While mired in a history of authoritarianism, however, Haiti’s democratically elected president, Jovenel Moïse, was seated in February 2017 as part of its slow, violence-filled transition into democracy. The country’s economy grew by only 1.2 percent in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of State.
All of that means there remains work to be done, and lots of it.
The recent trip to D.C., New York and other cities was aimed at providing the young Haitians a chance to understand American democracy and how it could be carried out in their home country.
Haitians also met with the staff of Sen. Cory Garder, R-Colorado, and Mike Lee, R-Utah. They talked about democracy, the three branches of government and other aspects of American politics, Hamill said.
“Our view is that we want to encourage Haitians to take more control of their country, to provide better opportunities for Haitians to run their country,” Hamill said.
HaitiChildren placed some of its youth in the U.S. in the wake of the 2010 earthquake. They received an education here but will return to Haiti, Hamill said.
“They’ve worked for U.S. companies, and they’ll come home and bring a different type of expectation to Haiti because they’ve been exposed to the U.S.,” he said, adding, “In eight years our kids are going to be running for positions in government, and I think they need to hear how politics are here.”
On the recent trip, the Haitians — who had never boarded a train or aircraft before, much less been to the U.S. or left their country — also got a taste of American culture.
The trip was quite beneficial, Hamill and Krabacher said, but the young ones were ready to return home.
“They stayed with some of the most powerful and wealthy donors, they’ve been to museums, they walked the halls of the Capitol, they met senators and talked to scientists,” Krabacher said Thursday. “But this morning they said, ‘We miss our brothers and sisters so much. We want to go home.’”
Hamill said the Aspen area has played an integral role in supporting HaitiChildren for more than two decades. The Krabachers live here, and Joe Krabacher continues to practice law in Aspen.
“The Roaring Fork Valley has participated in everything this organization has done for nearly 25 years,” Hamill said, “not only by donating money, but medical expertise and intellectual property. … We want Aspen to own this as their own.”
More information on the nonprofit can be found at www.haitichildren.com.