Hope and hard lessons in Haiti

Morgan Wienberg considers herself to be a mother, although she hasn't borne any children.

Morgan Wienberg considers herself to be a mother, although she hasn’t borne any children.

The 19-year-old Whitehorse resident has just returned from a five-and-a-half month stint in Haiti, where she cared for more than 70 orphans.

She calls them “her children.” And it’s not unusual for them to call her “Mom.”

Wienberg slept with the youngest children each night. During her stay, she became so attached to them she had to think hard about returning to Canada.

“I almost didn’t come back,” she said. “It’s hard to not feel like I’m not leaving them behind, coming here.”

It was Wienberg’s second trip to Haiti. She first visited a year earlier, to help one of the world’s poorest countries recover from the ravages of the massive earthquake that had struck it.

Then, Wienberg worked with a non-profit. She ended up spending a lot of time at Orphelinat Bon Samaritan, just north of the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince.

This year she returned to work with the orphanage as a free agent. She spent much of her time treating children for scabies, ringworm and other infectious diseases, much of which flourished at the orphanage for lack of clean water.

The nearby river also serves as the community’s sewer and bathing area. Groundwater has been contaminated by the orphanage’s gruesome pit latrines.

When Wienberg arrived, the kids needed to purify river water themselves. The orphanage, run by an old Haitian woman, has no staff.

The pump would only dribble out water. Each morning, boys would pump several bowls and use it to wash approximately 50 younger children that day.

But water’s no longer a problem at the orphanage. Wienberg helped connect the kids with a non-profit, named Samaritan’s Purse, which now delivers fresh water by truck three times a week.

Other projects didn’t fare so well. Wienberg had hoped to see an outdoor shower built. There’s now a concrete slab in place and a wall to provide some privacy, but the facility was never finished.

The non-profit working on the project ran out of money. Wienberg put up some of her own funds, but the work was never completed. She’d rather not get into the details of what went wrong.

Most of the children at the orphanage aren’t, strictly speaking, orphans. Instead, their parents gave them up because they couldn’t afford to care for them or send them to school, said Wienberg.

But she managed to reunite several children with their parents during her stay. She hopes, in the future, to work on ensuring parents have enough support to keep their kids.

Their diet is meagre. They’d typically not eat much more than a bowl of protein-fortified rice each day.

Wienberg worked to ensure the kids received mangos, or at least vitamin C supplements. She’d also occasionally rustle up chicken or fish as a treat.

Wienberg became intimately familiar with scabies, a mite that burrows under your skin to lay eggs. “They’re like this,” she said, pointing to a tiny bump between her thumb and index finger.

When Wienberg arrived, more than 30 kids required medication to beat back nasty rashes and infections caused by lack of proper sanitation. When she left, fewer than five children required this care.

At first, Wienberg nursed the children herself, as best she could. Later, she arranged for nurses and doctors to make regular visits to the site.

Wienberg plans to attend McGill this autumn to become a nurse.

Once, while taking four girls to hospital in Port-au-Prince, Wienberg stayed with them at a friends’ house and showed the girls something they’d never seen: a shower.

They stripped down, and the girls began to look around for a bucket to wash with. When Wienberg turned on the tap, “they just started screaming and dancing around and laughing.”

Wienberg paid her way to Haiti through fundraising. She also paid out of pocket to put 14 children through school for a year.

The trip was marked by scares, such as a cholera outbreak that required a dozen children to be treated, and small satisfactions, like the day a non-profit delivered a soccer ball that’s impossible to deflate.

“Soccer is just their favourite thing,” said Wienberg.

To learn more, and to help Wienberg’s work, consider attending a fundraiser tonight. It’s being organized by the Rotary Club of Whitehorse. Wienberg will give a talk.

It’s $60 per plate. Half of that money will go to the children Wienberg is helping. The event starts at 6 p.m. at the Westmark Klondike.

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.

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