When his son neared the end of his mission in Haiti, his father Tom Leavitt and brother decided to tour the country where he had served. In fact, this was not the end of a mission, but just the beginning.
“During our first tour of the country, we decided that we would come back to Haiti and start projects that would help the people,” Elder Leavitt’s father, Tom, recalls. It would be several years before he could return, just three months after a devastating earthquake had struck the nation in 2010. The earthquake had compounded one of Haiti’s greatest national challenges--orphaned children. It is estimated that 30,000 Haitian children are in institutions, most of them in orphanages; however, government reports say that 80 percent of the “orphans” have one or both parents still living.
Even though the majority of the institutions are not licensed and have no regulated standards, wide spread poverty in the country, combined with expensive school fees, motivate some parents to place their children in these institutions to escape the burden of supporting them. “Parents here have many children,” says Leavitt. “The problem is they can’t afford to feed them or educate them, so they deliver them to any orphanage they can find.”
“My wife and I, with our friends the Christensen's, decided to operate our own children’s home,” says Leavitt. “The difference between this home and others in Haiti is that we will give the children in our home every advantage that our own children have.”
The new home was designed to provide the children with a Canadian-quality education. At present, the program serves nineteen children ages 4 to 15 years. In the summer, volunteers from Canada and the U.S. provide English classes for local families. Evelyne Narcisse, a Haitian returned missionary, is called “mother” by her nineteen children. They attend church together, as well as participate in regular scripture study, family prayer and family home evening. At age eight, the children have the opportunity to be baptized.
“We are able to provide free education for sixty students,” says Leavitt. “What will make it sustainable is the number of people becoming involved.” While he has funded the majority of the school and orphanage expenses, employees from Leavitt’s company, some customers and church members have provided donations as well. “We are not short of operating cash,” says Leavitt. “What we are looking for are mature, interested, and qualified individuals to stay at the children’s home and teach life skills such as music, management, carpentry, gardening, etc. for three to six months.
While the home has relieved the suffering of some children, its goal goes beyond sustaining life. “We are trying to get them to aim high, to serve missions, to become professionals and to stay in Haiti and build up the Church there,” says Leavitt. “In North America, we have so much. We feel entitled, but when we go to Haiti, we see people barely surviving. We feel that we need to do something, and I think that it’s making a difference for those children that we can find.”