Good to be bad in Haiti

Morgan Wienberg is a bleeding heart. And a badass. Bleeding heart? Well, how else do you describe someone who devotes her life to helping distressed animals and the world's poor? Badass is the more unlikely label.

Morgan Wienberg is a bleeding heart. And a badass.

Bleeding heart? Well, how else do you describe someone who devotes her life to helping distressed animals and the world’s poor?

Badass is the more unlikely label. She was studious, shy, and a stickler for rules in school. She earned top marks and was class valedictorian when she graduated from FH Collins in July.

Then she went to Haiti, and started breaking the rules.

Asked to bring one sick child from an orphanage to her non-profit’s medical clinic, she’d bring back three.

She gave food to the goat-herders outside the compound’s fence, even after being warned to do no such thing.

She even smuggled kittens and puppies on to the premises, which was definitely not allowed.

“I almost got kicked out,” she said. “It was totally out of character.”

But the 18-year-old had spent most of her life dreaming of helping poor, overseas orphans. So when she finally arrived in earthquake-ravaged Haiti, Wienberg wasn’t going to let a few rules get in the way.

She was an intern with Mission to Haiti Canada. The nonprofit operates a medical clinic in Titanyen, a town just north of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

During her 10-week stay, from July until September, Wienberg taught English to Haitians, tended to amputees recovering from surgery, and comforted children at the nearby Good Samaritan Orphanage.

It was her time at the orphanage that had the biggest impact on Wienberg. So much so, she hopes to return to Haiti in February, this time for five months, to improve the orphanage’s conditions.

The 88 children who live there only eat one bowl of rice a day. Wienberg hopes to buy enough of a peanut-based nutritional supplement to plump them up.

She also wants to see the assembly of a clean-water system and an eco-friendly outhouse. Currently, the nearby river serves as water reservoir, bathtub and sewer.

Ideally, Wienberg also hopes to raise enough money to hire a teacher for the orphanage. Many of the children haven’t had schooling.

Wienberg is holding a fundraiser for her upcoming trip on Wednesday, November 3 inside the Elijah Smith Building from 8:30 a.m. till 3:30 p.m.. There will be a bake sale and silent auction, as well as a slideshow with prints available.

Wienberg will sell artwork from Port-au-Prince’s markets and colourful headbands made by amputees. Local businesses have also donated baked goods and knickknacks. (All proceeds will go to helping Haitian orphans. Wienberg pays her own travel costs.)

When Wienberg arrived in Haiti in July, she brought with her nine boxes of supplies donated by Yukoners. Each box weighed approximately 30 kilograms.

Some contained school supplies. She gave children she met backpacks full of writing materials. “They’d get so excited.”

Others contained vitamins and fortified foods that Wienberg gave to the malnourished.

Still other boxes held pairs of children’s running shoes. The shoes were black, because in Haiti, students are often required to wear black shoes in school.

When Wienberg met barefoot Haitians, it wasn’t uncommon for her to kick off her flip-flops and give them away, knowing she could always buy another pair at the market.

Wienberg soon found herself smitten by the children at the orphanage, where she usually spent three days a week volunteering. Whenever she arrived, up to 10 children would swarm her.

She’d hold a baby on each shoulder. About six children would dangle off her legs. Others would cuddle from behind and play with her hair. “They’d just pile on you,” she said.

“All they want is to be held. They’ll just cuddle you, and whatever you do, they won’t let go.”

That’s why, when Wienberg thinks of Haiti, she thinks of children’s hands.

Most of the children weren’t “true orphans,” said Wienberg. Their parents usually weren’t dead. “But their families can’t take care of them.”

A young mother may have eight children, “and they can’t afford any food.” So the children are given up.

Because the orphans only received one bowl of rice a day, Wienberg brought food.

Usually, she’d buy bread at the market and make peanut butter sandwiches. But once, she brought a treat: ice cream.

“It was really hard to find,” she said. It was the first time some of the kids had tried it.

Even the ice cubes packed in the cooler were a treat. “Cold water is a big deal in Haiti,” said Wienberg. The orphanage doesn’t have running water, let alone a fridge.

The kids took to calling Wienberg “mommy Morgan.”

She was warned to not share her water bottle, lest she catch illness. Wienberg ignored the advice.

“It’s a sip they need a lot more than me,” she said. “It can actually make a difference to them.”

Wienberg also held sick babies. “I’m surprised I didn’t get typhoid,” she said. “Or ringworm.”

But she didn’t worry. “If I got sick I could get treatment for it,” she said.

Wienberg never did take ill, other than catching a facial infection after splashing in the river with a two-year-old boy. “I don’t regret it,” she said. It was one of her favourite moments.

“I kind of realized I was almost pretending he was my son and this was our life and I’d never have to let him go. Everything was good.”

Wienberg developed a rules-be-damned attitude during the trip. She was forbidden from feeding the children who herded goats and cattle outside the nonprofit’s fenced compound.

So, naturally, Wienberg did exactly that, sneaking over the fence at night with food. In doing so, she befriended Tanya, a 12-year-old girl who lives in the nearby mountains with two brothers, 22 and seven.

Wienberg is now paying $30 per month for Tanya’s school fees. She’s also sponsored several other children.

Animals weren’t allowed inside the compound. Wienberg returned with puppies and kittens anyway, after hiding the animals in an empty building for a while.

She persuaded staff to adopt some of the animals. Wienberg kept a kitten and returned with it to Whitehorse.

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.

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