Haiti orphans helped by Facebook campaign

Baptist Press
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Posted: Aug 17, 2011 4:22 PM
Haiti orphans helped by Facebook campaign
BON REPOS, Haiti (BP) -- Wearing only an oversized T-shirt, Tiga does not know he is poor. What the child does know is that he is hungry -- so very hungry.

Tiga lives in Bon Repos, Haiti, a place still shattered by last year's earthquake.

The orphanage where Tiga lives, Actions Pour Les Enfants , is home to 118 Haitian children like Tiga whose parents died or abandoned them because they were unable to provide even basic needs. Unfortunately, life in the orphanage is not much better than on the streets. Still reeling from the devastation of a powerful quake on Jan. 12, 2010, Haiti has entire villages living in tents and children starving on street corners.

God, however, is using chickens to change this orphanage's future.

"Chickens lay eggs; eggs feed orphans," said Amy Hobbs, a Southern Baptist volunteer from Macon, Ga.

Those words have become a mantra, fueling a movement that seeks to save Haiti's forgotten.

It was supposed to be a construction mission, Hobbs said. Instead, God led this wife of a pharmacist to assist a volunteer medical clinic at the Bon Repos orphanage where she met 60 starving children in March. The medical clinic was affiliated with the Baptist Global Response international relief and development organization.

'WHAT CAN I DO?'

When Hobbs returned home from her trip, the taut faces of starving children were engraved on her heart and mind.

"I just kept thinking, 'What can I do from Georgia that can make a difference in these kids' lives?'" Hobbs recounted.

To answer that question, Hobbs tapped into the power of social media. Rather than play the social networking game of "FarmVille," Hobbs used Facebook to start a real farm.

A mere two weeks after she posted the idea on Facebook, more than $9,000 had poured in to help make the farm a reality.

"The Lord laid an idea on my heart and I went with it. On my individual Facebook page, I mentioned the idea, and the Lord took it from there," Hobbs said. "Before I knew it, people from all over the United States were emailing me saying, 'I heard about this. How can I get involved?'"

Hobbs and her 21-year-old sister Aspen Smith, a senior at the University of Georgia, flew to Haiti to deliver the resources in person. The young women spent a week this summer building chicken coops and pig and goat pens at the orphanage.

The self-sustaining mini-farm would be complete with chickens, goats, pigs and fruit trees to provide the children with basic nutrition.

TOO BIG A HEART

A local Haitian man, known simply as Pastor Jilien, started the orphanage in the school building attached to a church after last year's 7.0-magnitude quake left so many of Haiti's young without a home, family or hope of a future.

"He has too big of a heart," missionary Delores York said of the orphanage's founder.

Pastor Jilien rarely turns a child away. As a result, the number of orphanage residents has grown from 60 in March to a staggering 130-plus, ranging in age from 6 months to 15 years.

York, an International Mission Board missionary in Haiti with her husband Sam, remembers when she first visited the orphanage through their work in Southern Baptists' quake recovery efforts.

"This is the worst I have seen," York said. "They were very malnourished. They had large abdomens. A lot had very skinny arms, reddish or light-colored hair. They were hungry. All of them told me they were hungry. They were eating out of tin cans that black-eyed peas would come in. They didn't have enough utensils for everybody. The building they were in was just about to collapse."

After York discovered the orphans' needs, Baptist Global Response responded with emergency food aid. Later York gave Hobbs the idea for the mini-farm.

"God got this steamroller going," said York, who met Hobbs during the BGR medical clinic at the orphanage.

PROTEIN DEFICIENCY

York, a nurse, knew the children's biggest need was nutrition. The children's light-colored hair indicated their little bodies lacked proper nutrients.

"They really needed protein, and there wasn't enough money to give them protein," York said. "I wanted to make sure they had some way to get over the anemia. Chickens sounded like an easy thing."

The mini-farm currently includes 100 chickens that provide a daily breakfast of protein-filled eggs; five goats; and five fruit trees.

The Facebook initiative has done more than just feed the children. Heather Testerman, the leader of the "Creations for Christ" women's ministry at Wallace Memorial Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tenn., talked with Charlotte Davis, a retired IMB missionary to the Caribbean and a member of Wallace Memorial, about organizing a clothing drive for the orphans.

Thirteen women's groups from nine states volunteered to sew clothes for them.

"Every child received two outfits with their names on them. It was a personalized thing made for the children," Davis said. When the need was made known on the Facebook page, "churches immediately started to write: 'We want to help. How can we help?' It was like a fire. One little spark."

Women's groups from other churches provided additional help for the orphans. Some gave underwear, and another gave money to make school uniforms. One group wants to give each child a pair of shoes. A construction crew has even begun work on new dormitories.

"The needs are so great," York said. "Only God can open all of these doors and do all of these things. It is definitely not me."

A DREAM FOR THE FUTURE

York dreams of growing the farm to include more animals, more trees and a garden. She prays God will provide the funds to construct toilets, drill a well and provide new children with clothes.

York hopes to see the orphanage become self-sufficient in three to six months.

Nathanael Hollands, BGR's program director in Haiti, has seen the difference these efforts have made in the children's lives.

"You have given them a vision," the 27-year-old French Canadian said. "Every day they have to go pick up their eggs. Every day they've got to go feed the goats. Every day they've got a purpose, a goal. They know that they are not just receiving handouts, but they are part of it. They are contributing to their own lives."

Working with the orphans is very difficult emotionally, Hollands added.

"Distributing the food is easy," he said. "Making relationships and loving them and caring for them and knowing their name hurts and is hard, but I feel that that is ultimately what God wanted us to do."

Knowing God Himself actively cares for the orphans makes the burden lighter, Hobbs said.

"He is truly the Father to the fatherless, and He is holding them right there in His hands," Hobbs said. "And He will continue to provide, regardless of who is involved."

Riley Bridges is an International Mission Board writing intern in the Americas. Interested individuals can track the orphanage's progress at www.facebook.com/HaitiSmiles.

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