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Monday, June 27, 2011

Introducing the H.E.R.O. Annual Fund

To Make a Donation Visit

It is with great pleasure that I introduce to you the H.E.R.O. Annual Fund, the Fund that supports all of the programs that H.E.R.O. operates in Haiti. This year our goal is to raise $25,000.00 during the month of July to ensure the continued operation of our programs at the high quality of effectiveness and efficiency that the children of Haiti deserve.

As a result of the generous donations of individuals, families, private organizations, and foundations, H.E.R.O. has been able to implement programs in Haiti that provide street children and orphans with an opportunity to become healthy, educated, self-reliant, and socially conscious citizens of Haiti and the world. As a direct result of the donations received H.E.R.O. has been able to:

• Establish a 12-bed residence for orphans in Port-au-Prince that provides holistic and comprehensive care to the orphaned, abandoned, and neglected children of Haiti

• Launch a 100% free Education Program for Street Children that serves over 70 students daily

• Initiate the Child Sponsorship Program that supports our children by providing free school uniforms, books and supplies, monthly medical checks and daily nutritious meals

• Acquire 2000 square meters of land in the rural town of Maniche designated for the construction of a 24-bed residence for orphans to be completed in 2012

During the month of July we ask that you make a personal contribution to the H.E.R.O. Annual Fund. The funds raised will allow H.E.R.O. to sustain and expand our programs to serve the street children and orphans of Haiti. Your support really does make a difference!

To Make a Donation Visit

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Learning Life Lessons in Fiji

Visit to Learn More about H.E.R.O.

It takes a long time to get from Haiti to the Fiji Islands. My trip began in Port-au-Prince, included one day in Ft. Lauderdale, a five hour plane ride from MIA to LAX, then a 10 hour plane ride from LAX to Nadi, the location of the international airport of Fiji. This was followed by a 3 hour taxi ride to the capital, Suva, where I met my parents and spent one day buying some spear-fishing equipment. Next was a 25 minute plane ride on a twin-engine, eight-passenger, BN2A Islander. The final leg of my arrival took the form of a 20-foot fiberglass boat with a leak in the front that swept us the last 30 minutes from the Gau airport to the village of VadraVadra, a secluded slice of heaven in the South Pacific consisting of 300 men, women, and children: my second home since the age of 18. (You can find Gau on Google Earth if you are interested).

My travels have taken me to 6 continents of the world. Without a doubt, the people of Fiji are the friendliest and most community oriented that I have ever met. It is a country where neighbors take care of neighbors, strangers are your friends, and the family unit is the most important factor in life. Despite the modern world rising around it, much of Fiji has been able to retain the culture and traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation: this is even truer in the outer islands and villages. When I chose to grow my hair out in memory of Kama’s passing, it wasn’t only to honor him, but it was also to honor the village and community from which he had risen. The 7 days I spent in the village this trip was one of mixed emotion. There was sadness in knowing that one-year had already passed since Kama’s tragic death, but there was also consolation in the fact that the village, the community, Niu and his family, had found the strength to continue living their lives, keeping Kama always alive in memory, but also continuing with the upbringing of his brother Save, and continued duties to the village and community. In a way, the cutting of my hair was a release, not only for myself, but for Niu, his family, and my family, that it was OK to let go of the grief and sadness, and time to embrace the future, while always keeping Kama in a special place in our heart.

To my surprise, after the hair cutting ceremony, the village held a community wide dinner to congratulate my graduation from Vanderbilt University with my Doctorate in Education. The feast began with a speech from one of the elders, who graciously said, “We are proud to have Steven Kirby, to be the first son of VadraVadra to earn his Doctorate.” As I looked around the room and saw the faces of the men, women, and children that I have known since the age of 18, for the past 11 years, I conceded that this might be the last time I step foot in this village for a long time.

You see, I didn’t provide you with a detailed explanation of the lengthy travel required to reach my village in Fiji for no reason. Distance is the reason that I may not be back to Fiji for the next three years. The next phase of my life is dedicated to the children of Haiti. For the next three years I want to take H.E.R.O. from housing 5 children to housing over 30. I want to create a residence for orphans in the next three years that isn’t simply a place to house children, but is a bastion of excellence for education, healthy, emotional and physical success. Perhaps after three years, after I am well on my way to making a difference in the lives of street children and orphans in Haiti, maybe then I can return to Fiji. I want to bring the idea of neighbor helping neighbor, of strangers being your friends, and the family being the most important factor in life to H.E.R.O.’s residence for orphans, to the children we serve, to play a small part in the recovery of a beautiful country that we call Haiti. I hope that you join me in this endeavor, because I can’t do it alone. Let’s work together, as a community, as friends of strangers, and as neighbors, to make a difference in the lives of others. “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” -Margaret Mead

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Sunday, June 5, 2011

One Year Later: Reflection, Grief, and a Hair Cut

2010 was a very difficult year for me. Despite its difficulty it was nowhere near as difficult as the lives children and families in poverty experience on a daily basis. It cannot compare to the thousands of lives lost in Haiti and Japan, or the lives of individuals living in countries like Sudan or Ethiopia. Nevertheless, it was a challenging year for me that included surviving the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti, mourning the loss of my grandfather, and trying to understand the death of my Fijian friend’s 15-year-old son. This month marks the one-year anniversary of Onisivoro Kamanalagi’s passing as the result of a brain injury caused by falling off the back of a pick-up truck. Today I fly to Fiji for the anniversary, to spend a week with Kama’s friends and family, and to cut my hair after growing it out in memory of Kama for one year.

Immediately after Kama passed my family knew that we had to do something to honor him and to keep his legacy alive. Despite his young age of 15, Kama had touched many lives with his kindness, dedication, and motivation to succeed in life. Every person we talked to recounted stories of Kama’s helpfulness around the house, rigorous study skills, and faith in God. Kama’s village is served by a school that enrolls students in grades 1-8 from Kama’s village as well as two neighboring villages. The students at this school, Narocake Primary School, consistently perform at the highest levels on the 8th grade exam prior to enrolling in secondary school. Unlike the United States, almost all of Fiji’s secondary schools are fee based, a situation that can often be difficult for parents and families from villages whose incomes are usually below the poverty line. In Kama’s honor my family decided to provide educational scholarships for 5 children from Narocake Primary School each year to attend the secondary school of their choice and to pay all school-fees for the 5 years of required secondary education prior to entering university. Each year 5 new students will be selected, eventually resulting in 25 students from Narocake Primary School under the scholarship on a continuous basis. It is our desire that through this scholarship Kama will be remembered for the kind, generous, intelligent young man that he was.

After returning home from Kama’s funeral last year I researched as best I could the process of a father’s grief. What I learned was that the loss of the child is most often the most difficult human loss that exists, and the grieving process is one that is perpetual, whereby the parents cope with the loss of the child, but never forget and always remember. My friend Niu, Kama’s father, is still experiencing excruciating pain in his life no doubt. I hope that somehow, my returning to the village to cut my hair after growing it for a year in memory of Kama and the annual scholarship fund will reveal to Niu that my family also has not and will not forget Kama. We stand by Niu’s side during this tragedy, as friends, as family, to honor his son, Onisivoro Kamanalagi.