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Growing up in the Yukon, Morgan Wienberg dreamed of being a veterinarian. During her teens, she spent six weeks in Western Australia caring for injured kangaroos and owls.
Everything changed when she heard about the impacts of the earthquake in Haiti in 2010. About to graduate from F.H. Collins Secondary School and head to university, she decided she wanted to help.
Morgan is well-spoken, passionate and cares deeply about her cause.
She told me how she came to work in Haiti, how she is where she is today, and how the charitable organization she helped found makes a huge difference in the lives of Haitian children and families.
The first hurdle was gaining her mother's support to go to Haiti.
"I was expecting her to be upset and resistant," said Morgan.
As it turned out, it wasn't a hurdle at all. Her mother, Karen Wienberg, was committed to instilling a sense of adventure and exploration in her children.
"When she asked to go to Haiti after graduation there was no question as to whether I would let her" Karen says.
With that support behind her, Morgan went on a 10-week internship in Haiti in the summer of 2010.
Her immediate goal of a university degree was officially put on hold as she focused on making a difference with the children in Haiti—"powerfully, compassionately, intensely", according to her mother.
Her first experience in Haiti inspired Morgan to raise funds specifically for the kids she'd worked with and return to Haiti. On her second visit, she stayed six months, this time living in the orphanage alongside the kids.
Morgan learned Creole and began to really understand the extent of the abuse and corruption that was going on. The people running the orphanage were not committed to helping the children they were supposedly serving.
At that time, she received a call from Sarah Wilson, a Canadian nurse she'd met previously in Haiti.
Wilson wanted to start an organization to help the kids and truly make a difference. Morgan quickly signed up, became a co-founder, and Little Footprints, Big Steps was born.
The organization, which now has charitable status in Canada, reunites children with their parents, has an outreach program, provides a transitional safe house and advocates on behalf of children and families.
According to the organization's website, "Children are rescued from situations of abuse, slavery, homelessness and severe neglect."
The organization provides a family setting, nutritional meals and support for education.
The outreach program currently has 49 families participating—39 of the children came from the orphanage where Morgan originally worked; the other 10 came straight from the streets.
The safe house currently accommodates 21 street kids and two homeless families with single mothers.
A board of directors in Haiti steers the organization, along with an international board of Directors that includes Morgan's mother.
The organization directly employs over a dozen workers in Haiti, as well as tutors hired to help out the children. The goal is to have Haitians to take more and more ownership and steer the organization's development in future.
Morgan says her work in Haiti has put her in a few difficult spots.
"I never felt like I would die but I have been in some scary situations," she says.
One time, she was followed home by a thief who had just been released from prison. She lost her pursuer by ducking into a hotel for an hour.
"Honestly, I would feel a lot more nervous walking around at night as a Haitian female," she explains.
"If a Haitian woman is raped or killed, it might go unnoticed. If it happens to a Canadian, whole countries will know. It will be in the news. In some ways I feel pretty protected."
A recent hurricane moving through Haiti saw Morgan working virtually from the Yukon with her staff on the ground in Haiti, as the organization sought to protect the families and children from both disease and homelessness.
The concern was that flooding would cause unsanitary conditions leading to illnesses such as cholera and malaria, or cause poorly-constructed homes to be washed away completely.
Little Footprints, Big Steps stockpiled food, cooking charcoal and clean water and brought families most at risk into the safe house.
Does Morgan have any advice about how young people can get involved and make a difference?
"Don't give up!" she replies emphatically.
"We might as well try our hardest so there is a chance (of change). Don't look at yourself differently because of your age or income. Your attitude and persistence can take you so much further."
At a cost of $200 to $300 Canadian to recent a decent house in Haiti for a year, she says it doesn't take much by Canadian standards to make a big difference.
Morgan's friends, family and community have helped support her cause.
"Friends from high school and elementary school have even started their own organizations to help fund-raise," she adds.
Little Footprints, Big Steps will host a Newfoundland Kitchen Party this Saturday, September 15, at the Yukon Convention Centre. Tickets are $50, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the organization.
In addition to live music and a silent auction, there will be video footage, photos and stories from Haiti.
A few days after that event, Morgan will head back to Haiti to continue her work.
The young activist has no regrets about changing her focus from helping animals to helping people.
"The path you expected might not be what is best for you or what you enjoy the most," she says.
"The kids and the programs are my life. I feel so passionate about what I'm doing, I can't picture myself moving back to Canada at this point. I want to live in Haiti and focus on helping as much as I can."
More information about the organization and how you can help can be found at www.littlefootprintsbigsteps.com. Tickets for the September 15 event are available at Alpine Bakery and the High Country Inn, or by calling Morgan at 456-4434.