|Before the devastating 2010 earthquake, Haiti ranked the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
If possible, living conditions have worsened. More than half of the population lives below the poverty line of $1.25 per day. An estimated 350,000 displaced persons exist in temporary tent shelters. Nearly 4,000 schools affecting 2.5 million students have been damaged or destroyed.
Educating the children can break the cycle of poverty, believes Heather Hinze, a single mother who has launched a non-profit organization.
“It’s become my passion. A new generation of educated Haitians can help build a country of self-sufficient, positive contributors to society. The future of Haiti depends on the children,” said Hinze.
She has lived in town since 2004.
Her desire to make a difference evolved after reading the book “Start Something That Matters” by Blake Mycoskie.
“It really resonated with me. There are all these great stories about what people are doing and I thought, ‘I’m going to do something.’ ”
When she lost her job of 11 years with a mutual fund company last year, she decided that the perfect opportunity had come to become involved.
She and her 16-year-old daughter Madison brainstormed about what path to take.
“I knew it would surround children,” said Hinze, a licensed foster mother. “I thought what can I tackle? Nobody was really handling education and it fit perfectly with my passion for children.”
Her favorite Mahatma Gandhi quote — “Be the change that you wish to see in the world” — further motivated her.
She learned that many Haitian families can’t afford to send their children to school because of the cost of school fees, school supplies, and uniforms.
She created “Be the Hope,” a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide a backpack of school supplies to Haitian youngsters.
“I liked the idea of actually giving a child hope to fulfill their dreams by what you’re providing to them.”
She has partnered with Future for the Kids at Haiti Communitere, a disaster relief organization that assists a number of projects. The compound provides accommodations ranging from tents to rooms in the main building, drinking water and 24-hour security.
For starters, Hinze has “adopted” 60 boys and girls between the ages of one and 14 years old in two orphanages, Agape Orphanage and La Main Tendre Orphanage, in Port-au-Prince.
She plans to take as many backpacks as she can of school supplies, plus new and used clothing and shoes. She is limiting her personal items to one carry-on bag and will pack two large suitcases of the backpacks and clothing up to the 50 pounds allowed by the airlines.
“I don’t want to go empty-handed,” said Hinze, who considers her first trip as a learning and fact-finding experience.
“I want to work with people there and find out what they need and tailor needs around them,” said Hinze.
Buying school supplies may be less costly in Haiti than shipping the products from the United States to Haiti, she said.
She is funding her own trip, estimated to cost about $1,500. Her plan is to stay in a tent without running water to save money. She has been fundraising on the website Indiegogo, Facebook and Twitter to collect money for her charity.
Donations can be mailed to her home address, 9767 N. Baylor Drive, Fountain Hills, 85268. More information also is provided on her website at http://www.bethehopehaiti.org.
Each backpack will include a hand pencil sharpener, a box of 24-count crayons, two 100-page composition notebooks; 12-count Number 2 pencils; a pencil case; eraser; 10-pack ball point pens and a 12-inch ruler.
She eventually hopes to collect chalk, chalkboard erasers; soccer balls; art and crafts supplies; scissors; construction paper, glue and colored pencils. Monetary gifts also can go toward buying books in Haitian-Creole, French or English languages in Haiti.