New York City got a taste of Haiti last week, courtesy of a former Whitehorse resident.
Morgan Wienberg recently travelled to the city to speak at the United Nations Youth Assembly. Now in its 13th year, the assembly brings together youth from across the globe who are working to help the United Nations meet its Millennium Development Goals, such as eradicating extreme poverty, creating universal primary education and forming global networks.
Wienberg, 21, has been doing this in Haiti for the last several years. She first went to the country after the devastating earthquakes of 2010. She worked in orphanages where she saw children who were beaten and kept from accessing all the aid that came in.
She co-founded her own organization in 2011. Little Footprints, Big Steps runs two safe houses for children who used to live on the street. Wienberg lives in one of them, along with 14 Haitian boys. Between five and 10 other boys join them during the day. Monthly sponsors provide funds to send children to school.
Many of the children in Haitian orphanages have at least one living parent, so the organization works to reunite families when possible. Outreach workers visit the families and help teach them employment and agricultural skills. Several children have spent their summers learning to drive or taking professional dance classes, among other activities.
At the United Nations, Wienberg encouraged her audience to think about poverty as a “heavy, metal door” that has fallen on a group of people. Doors are usually a symbol of opportunity, she explained Monday from Kitchener, Ont., where she was spending time with Little Footprints, Big Steps’ other co-founder, Sarah Wilson. But people who are under that door need to know they can push it off of themselves. And people who aren’t under the door need to pull it off the oppressed, she said.
“We’re talking about pushing and pulling. The people who are oppressed, who are underneath that door already, they need to be pushing for their rights and pushing to try and lift that door. A heavy metal door, no one person is going to be able to lift it. It really takes this collaboration,” said Wienberg.
The importance of collaboration is one of the biggest things she learned at the assembly, she said. “It made me realize this is how things happen on a larger level,” said Wienberg. She met with a man from Kenya who inspired her to start a United Nations youth assembly in Haiti. She’s been invited to speak in that country and across North America, she said.
Also while in the United States, she met with the board of directors for One Small House. The not-for-profit brings together volunteers to build homes for people living in impoverished nations.
Wienberg has spoken with people from the organization before. When she met with them this time, they agreed to come in October and build a house for one of the boys at the safe house. He has been reunited with his family, but they are homeless. Little Footprints, Big Steps has purchased land for the family, but the organization isn’t able to pay for all of it.
But Wienberg almost never got to take a bite out of the Big Apple. She received her invitation to the gala via email. It came at an especially busy time in Haiti, when she didn’t have time to go online. She almost missed the deadline to reply, she said.
“I really enjoy just walking around, and I don’t get to do it much anymore,” Wienberg said about how she spent some of her time in New York City. But even then, she was thinking about the children in Haiti. One of the boys needs to go to Florida for surgery sometime soon. While she was travelling around New York City, she imagined what it would be like to show him large stores and skyscrapers, she said.
“All the time now when I travel, I just imagine taking him on a plane or to a movie theatre,” said Wienberg.
People can learn more about the organization and how they can support it at www.littlefootprintsbigsteps.com.
Contact Meagan Gillmore at