Morgan Wienberg started the NGO Little Footprints Big Steps to help the children of Haiti.
Having a child die in your arms — that's something that can really change how you view what's important.
As soon as she graduated from high school in Whitehorse, Yukoner Morgan Wienberg flew to Haiti to offer her help to the thousands of children who had become displaced from their families during the earthquake of 2010.
In 2011 she founded a non-profit organization called Little Footprints, Big Steps (LFBS) to continue her efforts.
Two years later — in January of this year — she felt the despair of holding a child she loved in her arms as he quietly died from Hepatitis B. She realized that no matter how much suffering she sees, Haiti is where she wants to be, and helping children one-by-one to escape abusive situations is what she wants to do.
Little Footprints, Big Steps has helped 52 children leave abusive orphanages, and 15 kids leave the streets to reunite with their families.
"The biggest thing I want for these kids is to believe in themselves and know they are part of the society and to know that they are valued — to be cared about and to care about others," Wienberg says.
She experienced so many setbacks and challenges, yet there were so many success stories, too.
And then Judelin died.
She had done everything she could and he still died.
She had known Judelin for a year, when he was a 15-year-old street kid. Angry. Aggressive. Solitary. Cold.
But she knew the impact that compassion and love can have. It can melt away the hate, leaving warmth.
She took him under the wing of LFBS and he began to open up, mentor the littler kids and show affection. He also reconnected with his mother, who had abused him.
And then on New Year's Eve he fell ill. Feverish and vomiting, she took him from doctor to doctor in the small town where they lived, trying to find someone who could diagnose him. Then she took him on a six-hour bus trip to Port-au-Prince to find a hospital, cradling his weak body on her lap. She sought out a doctor who cared, at a hospital with the equipment to treat him.
She slept under a crib on the floor of his hospital room for days. She would perch on the side of his bed and put her arms around him so he'd know she was near, her tears dripping on his head.
"I had one hand on the top of his head and my other hand on his chest and I was crying above his face, I said, 'Judelin, can you hear me?' And he grunted," she says. "And then I said, 'Do you know I love you?' And I didn't hear anything."
She held him, and his life slipped away.
She was devastated. But Judelin did not die alone in the street; even his mother had come to see him.
"I've been traumatized over and over again and I've never really taken the time to stop — I just keep going," Wienberg says. "I always try to have this perspective that there are so many problems and so much suffering, that you just have to do something about it."
Now, it's hard for her to leave Haiti and come for a visit in the Yukon.
In Haiti she is making deep connections with children and families in need. She has seen children on the brink of death rejuvenate with life, and she has seen children so full of life succumb to death.
With financial support LFBS is rescuing children from orphanages that are keeping them near-to-death in order to attract international aid.
It is also supporting poverty-stricken families in rural areas generate sustainable methods of earning a livelihood. These families do not have enough food to feed their children or pay school fees. They think that their children will have a better chance at life if they live in an orphanage.
"A corrupt local will go to these countryside communities, where there is less education, extreme poverty and no access to aid and will say they have an orphanage, or will say they'll take the kid to the city and put them in school," Wienberg says. "They're abused, starved, sold, put into slavery and the parent never knows. The sicker the kid in the orphanage looks, the more food and clothes and other things foreigners will bring, which for the owner of the orphanage means greater wealth."
LFBS is seeking donations to raise $40,000 by July to help with this program.
There are also opportunities for people interested in volunteering in Haiti. Morgan Wienberg's mother, Karen Wienberg, coordinates volunteers.
"We try to match the skills, abilities and interests of our volunteers with the needs of our children and families — whether it be in our transitional/education safe house, outreach in various geographic locations, trade training, medical interventions, educational assistance, etc.," Karen says.
For more information about Little Footprints, Big Steps and how you can elp, go to www.LittleFootprintsBigSteps.com, email Morgan Wienberg at Morgan.firstname.lastname@example.org or email Karen Wienberg at KarenWienberg@gmail.com.