Hoisted high in the air, 11-year-old Rachel Wheeler caught her first glimpse on Wednesday of the Food For The Poor village she worked for two years to build. From above the crowd, Rachel could see the rows of vibrantly painted pink, blue and green homes, nestled along the coast in Leogane, near the epicenter of the January 2010 earthquake. Villagers surrounded Rachel, clapping and singing songs of praise and thanks. One-by-one the residents embraced and kissed the young girl, who helped to move 27 families out of dilapidated shacks into permanent two-room homes.
"There’s a lot of happy people there," said Rachel, who visited with several residents inside their homes. "It’s nice and it’s clean."
Her mother described "Rachel’s Village" as unbelievable.
"This reception is overwhelming, and to look around and know these people have homes because of Rachel’s efforts is just amazing, it really is, it is amazing. It’s unbelievable," said Julie Wheeler.
Rachel, named one of America’s top 10 youth volunteers for 2011 earlier this month, journeyed with her family and Food For The Poor representatives to inaugurate the village she raised more than $170,000 to build.
“I wanted to see what it would look like,” said Trey Wheeler, 10, Rachel’s younger brother. “She is only 11-years-old, and I didn’t know an 11-year-old could do this.”
“We are pretty fortunate where we are in our country, where we live,” said Eddie Wheeler, Rachel’s dad who is a fishing captain. “It is a different atmosphere for them [Rachel and Trey] and something different for them to see and they can learn from it and be very grateful for what we have.”
Rachel’s Village houses one of the 33 fully operationalfishing villages Food For The Poor has installed in destitute coastal communities throughout Haiti. Fishing villages provide a prime example of the effectiveness of self sufficiency projects. The cooperative is supplied with boats, motors, fishing tackle and safety gear, refrigeration equipment, a storage facility and, most importantly, training for the fishermen. The fishermen are then able to fish in deeper, more bountiful waters and catch larger, more profitable fish. The entire village benefits from this enterprise because many of the villagers buy fish wholesale in order to sell it retail, while others sell the cooked fish to local residents.
As Rachel boarded one of the Food For The Poor fishing boats to leave “Rachel’s Village,” the residents called out and waved to her from the beach, “You are always welcome here. Please come back.”
With the village completed, Rachel has decided to fundraise to build a school in Haiti.
On Thursday, the group visited the Food For The Poor sponsored school, Ti Aiyti in Cité Soleil. The students, dressed in blue and white uniforms, greeted guests with laughter, smiles, handmade cards, and performances.
“I believe that knowledge is power,” said Julie Wheeler. “Education is the solution to poverty. Seeing the school in the slum of Haiti gave me hope, those children are the future leaders of their country.”
In addition to providing supplies, Food For The Poor also supports countless school feeding programs. For many poor children, the nutritious meal they receive at school may be their only meal of the day. The meals not only help a child concentrate, learn and develop, but they also serve as a powerful incentive for parents to send their children to school.
At Food For The Poor’s feeding center in Port-au-Prince, Rachel and her family rolled up their sleeves to help serve hot meals of rice and stew. Every day, six days a week, the feeding center provides approximately 15,000 hot meals.
To continue to support Rachel’s building initiative, tax-deductible donations can be made through the charity’s secure Web site at www.foodforthepoor.org/rachel.
To view additional photos from Rachel's trip, please visit Food For The Poor's Facebook page. To view a CBS Miami Channel 4 news report documenting the trip, please visit Food For The Poor's YouTube page.
Food For The Poor, the third-largest international relief and development organization in the nation, does much more than feed millions of the hungry poor in 17 countries of the Caribbean and Latin America. This interdenominational Christian agency provides emergency relief assistance, clean water, medicines, educational materials, homes, support for orphans and the aged, skills training and micro-enterprise development assistance, with more than 96 percent of all donations going directly to programs that help the poor. For more information, please visit www.FoodForThePoor.org.
Jennifer Leigh Oates
Food For The Poor
954-427-2222 x 6054