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Friday, April 20, 2012

Working Together for a Better Haiti

There is no doubt that within the culture of NGOs (Non-Government Organizations) that work in Haiti there is a sense of competition, disharmony, and perhaps even outright disdain for one another.  In a country that needs cooperation and collaboration, many of the NGOs choose to participate in activities that serve their own interests, or even worse, increase their bottom lines.  Fortunately, there are organizations on the opposite end of the spectrum that want to do everything in their power to work with others, share ideas and best practices, so that true, sustainable and impactful development can take place.

I had the pleasure of visiting two amazing organizations this past week.  The Hands and Feet Project is an organization founded by the members of Audio Adrenaline and based out of Nashville.  They currently operate two orphanages, one in Jacmel and another in Grand Goave.  You can read more about their work on their website at  I showed up unannounced at their orphanage in Grand Goave and was warmly welcomed by Andrew and Angie, an American couple that is heading up this particular site.  I was truly impressed to see that the grounds were immaculate, the children quietly and respectfully eating lunch, and the order and organization of the place.  They currently have 24 boys and 7 girls, and are planning to build a more permanent, larger site, not far from their current location.  After the tour I was talking with Angie and Andrew and they mentioned that just up the road from them was another orphanage being built called Be Like Brit.  If you have not heard about the tragedy that befell the Gengel family during the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, then you must take a moment and visit their website at  It is a story filled with sadness, hope, and a family trying to make a difference in the lives of orphans in Haiti.

Brit Gengel was on a volunteer trip to Haiti in January of 2010, staying in the Hotel Montana.  The earthquake struck just a few minutes after she had texted her mother explaining how she had been to an orphanage that day and wanted to stay and help the orphans of Haiti.  Hotel Montana was completely destroyed by the earthquake, burying Brit and several of the other students and teachers that were on the trip.  After losing their daughter, the Gengel family decided to complete Brit’s dream of building an orphanage for the children of Haiti.  In the shape of a B for Brit, the new residence will house 66 orphans, include a full medical clinic, and host short and long-term volunteers. 

Len Gengel, Brit’s father, happened to be in town the very day I was in Grand Goave, and as I reached the stupendous building he is creating, I was able to connect with him by phone and he said he would be more than happy to meet with me.  It was such a privilege for me to meet Len and hear his story and his vision for helping the orphans of Haiti.  What impressed me the most was his willingness to partner with other organizations, like the Hands and Feet Project, to share his resources so that not only the children in his orphanage will be able to thrive, but all of the children and community of Grand Goave. 

We need more organizations like the Hands and Feet Project and Be Like Brit in Haiti.  Only when we realize that by sharing our resources, our best practices, our successes and our failures, will we learn how to best help the people and country of Haiti.  I was truly fortunate to visit both of these places, and I hope that you visit both of their websites so that you can see the great work that they are doing in Haiti.  If we all come together, we can truly make a difference in a country that has seen way too much failure by the NGOs that are supposedly here to help.  Let’s be different.  Let’s help be the change that Haiti needs.


Steven M. Kirby, Ed.D

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A H.E.R.O. Volunteer Experience In Pictures!

During the past few weeks H.E.R.O. has been blessed with the presence of dedicated volunteers committed to helping the orphans in our care.  Check out these amazing photos of Carol and Rob, our most recent volunteers, as they do everything from painting chairs to playing with the kids!  Let us know when you want to come to Haiti and visit the H.E.R.O. House!  Our doors are always open!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

H.E.R.O. Children Again at the Top!

Visit for more information about sponsorship, our philosophy, or recent news!

The children in our care are simply amazing.  They have come from truly disadvantaged backgrounds, lived lives filled with tragedy, hunger, poor education, sadness, and too many other obstacles to write about here.  Our children arrived at H.E.R.O. fragile individuals, needing a loving and caring environment that could help them reach their true potential in all aspects of their lives.  While there is no doubt that we still have a long road ahead of us, today we celebrate the academic achievement of our children, a feat like no other, reaching a level of academic success in such a short time, that even I, as an experienced educator, find truly inspiring.

Yesterday the results of the second trimester exams were released, and our children performed impressively.  Robenson placed first in his class, earning the highest score in the third grade.  Valencia was a close third, also performing well in her third grade class.  Dayanna earned the highest score in the second grade, with Franky coming in a very close second in the same class, both outperforming all 14 of their peers.  I remind you that one year ago Franky did not know how to write his name, identify colors, or count to 20.  Luckneau, who has been with us for 3 months now, scored superbly on his first grade exams, despite having arrived without being able to identify the letters of the alphabet.  And finally, Billy earned the second highest grade in his 5th grade class, raising his score tremendously from what he received the first trimester.  I think the comment from Franky was what impressed me the most about his performance on the exam, and his understanding of what it means for him in life.  After reviewing his report card with him, I asked if he had any further questions.  He said, “I want to say thank you.  Before I arrived at H.E.R.O. I was never able to do any of these things.  Now, I can read, I can write, and I can do math.  Thank you.” 

Our mission to raise orphans to become productive citizens of Haiti and the world hinges on the positive effects of education.  You can read about our philosophy HERE to better understand how our ideas come together, and that when you provide the necessary housing, education, and rehabilitation for the orphans of Haiti you can help children become healthy, educated, self-reliant and socially conscious citizens of the world.  But we can’t do any of this without your continued support.  In fact, 5 of our children are still in need of sponsors, so that we can continue to provide them with all the necessities of life, so that they can maintain this path of success.  With your help, we can create better programming, help more orphans, and truly make a difference in the lives of the children of Haiti.
Visit for more information about sponsorship, our philosophy, or recent news!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Becky and Kay: H.E.R.O. Volunteers in Haiti!

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Last week H.E.R.O. had the pleasure of hosting Becky and Kay, two volunteers from the United States that showed our children love, compassion, and how to have fun!  Here is their trip in pictures.  Enjoy!

Donate to H.E.R.O. at

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Judy and Jamie Show! Volunteers in Haiti

During the month of March I had the pleasure of hosting Judy and Jamie at the H.E.R.O. Residence for Orphans in Port-au-Prince.  They joined us for a 10 day volunteer excursion to see for themselves the beauty, tragedy, and needs of Haiti.  During their 10 days they experienced everything Haiti has to offer, including earthquakes and political instability!  Most importantly, they shared their love with the children at the H.E.R.O. House and created memories that our children will never forget!

Prior to their trip to Port-au-Prince Judy and Jamie collected donations totaling nearly $2000.00 for H.E.R.O.  Jamie collected donations from her employees at the CES Machine Shop in Reno, NV, and they both hosted a dinner party at Judy’s house, where they asked for $25.00 donations to H.E.R.O.  Through their efforts they were able to raise a significant amount of donations for H.E.R.O. and also share the work of H.E.R.O. in Haiti.  For me, it is important to keep the conversation going about Haiti and the reality that the country still needs a lot of assistance.

During their stay Judy and Jamie spent the majority of their time with the H.E.R.O. children: playing, creating arts and crafts, and going to church.  Additionally they were able to visit other organizations in Haiti that are doing great work including an orphanage for children with disabilities and a locally-run afternoon school for street children.  It is important for visitors to Haiti to see that there are many small organizations doing great work in Haiti, and in reality, they often make a much more positive impact than the larger, overfunded, bureaucratic organizations that garner much of the media attention.

One night, after the children had gone to bed, we were all sitting around the kitchen table, talking about our day.  Then suddenly, a 4.6 magnitude earthquake shook the house, launching all of us towards the exit.  We hurriedly woke all of the children and took them outside, where we waited for about an hour before returning to the house.  It is scary to know that Haiti is still suffering from earthquakes after such a horrendous tragedy in 2010.

For Judy and Jamie their trip to Haiti is one they will never forget.  They had only positive things to say about H.E.R.O. and our work with the children, and are now driven to return to Reno and raise additional funds for the construction of our residence for orphans in Maniche.  I am so thankful to have friends like Judy and Jamie who are making a truly significant impact in the lives of the children we serve, even though they live far away.  Their efforts to help H.E.R.O. make a difference in the lives of children in Haiti are truly amazing.  Thank you Judy and Jamie!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Meet Luckneau! A New Orphan Joins the H.E.R.O. Program!

To sponsor Luckneau please visit

It is 4 a.m. in a small mountain village.  A tiny six-year-old boy rises in the darkness, bathes, and carefully puts on his school uniform.  Taking his four-year-old sister by the hand, they begin the two-hour walk to school.  He tries to pay attention to his lessons, but his stomach is rumbling—there had been no dinner last night.  Still in preschool, he does his best to learn his letters and recite them for the teacher.  When he gets home, he collects firewood and builds a small fire in the cooking pit outside the small wooden shack.  Carefully he prepares a meal of rice and beans.  He brings a plate to his mother’s sickbed and urges her to eat.  Scarcely more than skin and bones, she is wasting away.  It is not long before she will join her husband who has already succumbed to AIDS.

Three years later, Luckneau André still rises at 4 a.m. to walk his sister to school, when he can.  They live with his grandparents and uncles now, in the tiny two-room house.  There are so many mouths to feed that even with their garden of rice, beans, pineapple, and mangos there is still not enough to go around.  Caring for the garden consumes his day now, as does carrying water.  Even if he is able to make the time to go to school, there is rarely enough time to study.  Nine years old and still struggling in the first grade, Luckneau was given an opportunity that would change his life. 

Luckneau’s new life began with a seven hour walk from his home in the mountains to the nearest town accessible by road—Petite Rivière d’Artibonite.  Upon his arrival, he saw a light post and exclaimed, “Look!  That tree is on fire!” Never having experienced electricity, he was fascinated.  Next came the two-hour drive to the H.E.R.O. House.  Many things changed that day.  For the first time, Luckneau knew that he would eat three meals every day.  He would sleep in a strong house that could protect him from bad weather.  A trip to the doctor proved he had escaped the fate of his parents.

In spite of his tragic history, Luckneau is full of joy and quick to laugh.  He won’t walk somewhere if he can run, and he has embraced his new life with exuberance.  He splashed and “swam” for hours on his first visit to the ocean.  Now he attends school each day and has a tutor in the afternoons who helps him catch up on the schooling he missed.  He is also learning strategy in Chess Club.  “I’m happy I came here,” Luckneau says, and we are too!

To sponsor Lukneau please visit