By Carl Boyer
Signal Contributing Writer
In 2002, SCV resident Gretchen Huijskens of the Santa Clarita Valley went to Haiti in an effort to adopt a child, only to find that her contacts were running a scam.
As a result, she founded Three Angels Children’s Relief, which has evolved into an orphanage that’s placed more than 100 children in forever homes.
In addition, they’ve built a school, Three Angels Christian Academy, serving 321 children this year in grades preschool through six, a medical clinic, a jewelry-making program providing employment for 30 people, and a farm.
Some months ago, I received an email with a picture of three new children needing sponsors, and I responded by contributing to the care of the saddest-looking boy, aged 3.
Inspired to help
I had heard of Three Angels in 2003, and had sent them occasional small donations, with a little more in response to the 7.0 earthquake, which in 2010 destroyed much of Port-au-Prince, the capital, and killed about 300,000 people.
Now, I wanted to visit Three Angels. I flew to Haiti and was met by Eric Helgemo, formerly of Piru, the volunteer missionary/in country director, who has served for the past eight years.
Eric had gone to deliver Christmas baskets from his church in 2009, and as a contractor, he immediately noticed how vulnerable the structures at Three Angels would be in an earthquake.
The local people said that Haiti never had earthquakes, but Helgemo knew Hispaniola was an island built by tectonic shifts.
“If an earthquake comes, get the children and run for that tree,” he told the nannies. Weeks later, the ground shook mightily, and the nannies ran out. Then they ran back in, to get the children. All were saved as the orphanage suffered heavy damage.
“Those people need help, and we have to go to Haiti,” Helgemo recalled telling his wife, Christine.
Since 2010, he and his wife have have worked hard to create solutions to problems, and to relieve people cut off by subsequent hurricanes.
Making the most
Alix Charles is the Haitian headmaster of the Three Angels Christian School, and takes great pride in the program that helps graduates from the sixth grade continue to high school.
Four of his students are now looking for scholarships to help them meet the $4,000-$5,000 annual tuition for university.
However, most remarkable is the work of the nannies, each charged with two or three children to mother and learn to bond with people after having been orphaned, or in some cases, abandoned by their destitute mothers.
The sad little boy I was sponsoring ran up to me, put up his arms to be picked up, and smiled happily.
One day, he will be ready for his forever home, probably in the United States or Canada.
In the meantime, he goes to preschool, proudly wearing a backpack almost as big as he is, where the children are taught in Creole and French, while they learn some English.
The medical clinic serves a large number in the Delmas neighborhood, and the farm provides food and fruit trees as part of a reforestation project.
Over 90 percent of donated funds go to providing services directly to the people. There are 56 Haitian employees, nannies, teachers, custodial staff and security, and one full-time American operations manager. I met Mary Anne Simons, who works part-time out of her home in Stevenson Ranch.
Haiti is so poor that half the children do not go to school at all, and rubble from the 2010 earthquake still lines the streets.
More of this amazing story can be found if one Googles “Three Angels Haiti.” It’s nearing the level of $1 million in donations necessary to be rated by Charitynavigator.org.