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Haitian Families First

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How Our Work Promotes Love and Forgiveness: 

Haitian Families First (HFF) is a non-profit organization, founded by sisters Jamie and Ali McMutrie, that provides familial support to some of the neediest people in Haiti. In Haiti, it's a sad reality that families are often torn apart, whether because of sickness, death, adoption, or so very often, sheer poverty. HFF works to keep families together by supporting them in numerous ways that include providing friendship, encouragement, and love.  

Our approach is holistic and oftentimes begins when we meet a family in a desperate situation. We provide counseling, training, and basic support as appropriate, to help them through a sudden, difficult time (illness, loss of job, damage of home). From there, we continue to assist the family in the best way possible, according to their needs, and help them toward self-sustainability. No matter the physical or financial needs of the family, we provide them unconditional love and support that will help them succeed. We have built a high level of trust among the communities we serve and are able to make a unique impact in these areas because of the bonds of love and trust we have nurtured over the last ten years.

We offer people a second chance. Many of the people we work with feel they have failed on many levels and they are ready to give up. Maybe they can’t find consistent work because they lack education or childcare. Maybe a father feels he has let his family down by being unable to provide. Maybe a mother looks at her starving infant and feels panic and guilt because she is unable to meet his basic needs.

We listen to each and every Haitian person we support and let them know that the circumstances of their struggles are not unheard. We help show them that they have the opportunity and ability to turn things around. They need a hand up, not a hand out. They also need to be able to forgive themselves and to be in an environment where they feel loved and forgiven, which is one of our priorities. To “fail” as a parent brings deep guilt, but when we are able to show them how to succeed, the forgiveness is transformational.

Many families who achieve positive results through our programs are able to take a leadership role in their community, showing their neighbors what they were able to accomplish. When someone is able to see a success story right in front of their eyes, especially when can they can personally identify with feelings of guilt and failure, and then they receive forgiveness and love from that newly successful person, the chances of positive results increase dramatically.

We believe that communities must care about and support each other in order to become greater and stronger. Our programs help provide the basic needs of people who have the potential to become leaders and change makers in their communities. The love and forgiveness we extend radiates throughout communities to take on a life of its own.

Organizational Profile/Synopsis: 

Haitian Families First is a non-profit organization dedicated to caring for the children and families of Haiti by strengthening their communities and nurturing their mothers or caregivers. The poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti lacks the resources to provide the social services often necessary to support families both in times of crisis and in their daily lives.

We provide education and assistance for overall health and wellness to any family member in a number of ways, such as supplying the most basic needs of food, formula for infants, nutritional supplements, education around proper nutrition, basic medical care, and other more intangible needs centered around support and loving kindness.

HFF assists new mothers by providing infant formula to those who cannot breastfeed or to family members caring for an infant whose mother has died, helping with medical expenses and other health related costs, and by giving tuition assistance to school-aged children. HFF also provides basic education in the form of newborn care training for new mothers, as some have very little knowledge of proper breast feeding techniques and habits. We stress the importance of interacting with and stimulating a newborn, explaining developmental milestones that ought to occur in the first two years of a child’s life.

We work with all family members: fathers, grandparents, and other relatives or caregivers who are parenting babies and children for different reasons. Often, when a mother dies in childbirth, a single father is left to care for the child alone, with little to no experience. In such cases, without the ability to breastfeed, a child often becomes sick and malnourished, leading to larger, more expensive health issues. For these children, HFF supplies formula and additional nutritional supplements, as well as the providing the training needed to administer these life-supporting, sometimes life-saving necessities.

Additionally, HFF preserves and sustains families by helping adults find employment, start a business, learn another language, and by providing mentorship to them during these milestones. HFF spends time with families throughout program enrollment, routinely assessing their individual needs and helping them determine how they can best achieve their goals of preservation and self-sufficiency. In addition to meeting the most basic needs of infants and small children, HFF continues to support families even as children grow. Older children are just as at risk of being placed for adoption as infants, simply due to poverty or circumstance. We help families stay together by providing assistance in many ways, seeking to eliminate the disruption of the family unit at any point within a child's life.

We help mothers and fathers raise their children in a healthy way. We help children reach their goals of education by providing tuition assistance. We offer adults the ability to move up and learn a skill or a language. We change lives by listening. We find opportunity where none seem to exist. The time we spend with each individual is centered around love and that is something ingrained in each member of the HFF family.

Goals: 

1. Build a strong and stable program budget to help further develop our three (3) main programs allowing us to continue to support the families enrolled in them in a meaningful and impactful manner.

2. Engage a donor, ideally a manufacturer/distributor of formula, to enable us to build a robust formula distribution program for the families enrolled in, and on the waiting list for, our formula program.

3. Build an operating budget with sufficient padding to account for emergency situations, such as natural disasters, so that, in the event of an emergency, operations can continue on the ground and we may provide support to families in our programs who will most likely be directly affected by such trauma.

4. Extend the Haitian Families First family of donors and friends and also supporters on the back end, such as sponsors and partners in the medical field, beyond our local Pittsburgh community and engage with all of them in unique and consistent ways.

Accomplishments: 
1. #46in46 Just prior to the start of the 2012 school year in Haiti, we found 46 children in our education program would be unable to attend school. Our plan was to initiate a social media campaign to raise enough funds in 46 days to send the children to school. In September 2012, we launched the campaign we named #46in46 – the # (hashtag) is a Twitter reference, making the campaign and those discussing it on this social media outlet prominent in a sea of tweets. Offering sponsorship for each child at a cost of $180 - the median cost to send a child to school with tuition, uniform, books, and a small snack daily – our supporters helped us raise $8,280 in just 6 days.
2. Found solutions for children in restavek/child slave situations One of the most common 'solutions' parents find for children when they are struggling to meet their most basic needs, is to give them to a distant relative who agrees to raise them - in exchange for work. These children are known as restaveks, which translates to 'stay with' but the children are essentially child slaves. The child receives no pay for performing chores; his pay is being fed and having a place to sleep. Some restaveks are treated better than others - they may have a comfortable bed, and actually have all of their needs met, but they still have no rights. They are not allowed to go to school, have fun, have friends - their life becomes a job. In 2012, we were able to help 15 children leave their restavek home and return to live with their immediate family members. We did this by first providing the parent(s) with assistance in reaching a point where they could support their child again. Whether it was providing them with or helping them find a job, offering nutritional support, or educational assistance, we were happy to reunite these children with their loving families. Additionally, we were able to prevent 35 children from being separated from their families in 2012 by providing the same types of assistance to parents – job training, educational assistance, and medical help.
3. Provided immediate housing assistance for families in dire situations Like in any community, sudden, tragic, or unexpected events can severely impact the ability for a family to thrive. In Haiti, that also means remaining together, as a family. It's common practice for a parent to give a child to an orphanage (no matter the child's age) in the event of a family emergency should a parent become unable to care for the child. In 2012, we were able to offer refuge at our safehouse for seven (7) families who faced certain and imminent threats that could have separated them forever. The loss of a job, a home, a sudden death, domestic violence, the inability to work due to ill health - all preventing basic care for the children in the home – these are all factors that threatened the families we assisted during their, sometimes weeks-long, crises. By providing a safe place to stay, seven (7) families were able to get back on their feet and remain together.
4. Helped train strong female leaders in several communities Each woman, Junia, Jeta, Raymonde, and Clercine came to us in a desperate state. Once they became a part of one or more of our programs, we were able to care for and counsel them to a point at which they are stronger than ever before. Now, they are an example for their community - living proof of how far they have come, on their own, with just a little assistance from HFF. These strong leaders are now available to help women and children enrolled in HFF programs in their home communities. They help HFF with the distribution of aid items each week, provide counseling for women in similar situations they have been in - without support of a man/father of their children, unable to find work, dealing with pregnancy, dealing with infant/breastfeeding, searching for a job - but more than anything, they are a shining example in their community of courage, determination, and leadership. They are absolute examples of loving behaviors.
5. Relationship building in Haiti Having lived and worked in Haiti for over six (6) years, we have formed solid relationships with the families with whom we work, community members at-large, local and national officials who admire and appreciate our efforts, and important for us in continuing our efforts, hospitals and medical care facilities. Hospital care in Haiti is given to those who are able to pay in cash, up front. Most, if not all of the families enrolled in our programs would not have the money in-hand to get medical care when needed. Because we have formed relationships with medical practitioners based on trust and mutual respect, anyone enrolled in one of our programs can be seen when needed, and billed for services. In Haiti, this is something to be very proud of and we are happy that we are trusted and thus able to extend this loving kindness.  
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