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How One Canadian Community Changed The Lives Of Children In Haiti

No community is too small to make a valuable, positive change.
SDI Productions via Getty Images

Have you ever wanted to make a change in the world, but felt like you alone didn’t have enough power to make that happen? Perhaps your neighbours and other folks in your community have felt the same way, and wished they could make a substantial, positive impact where it is most needed. We are all stronger together, and with the help of World Vision, your community can unite to change the lives of the world’s most vulnerable children.

In 2010, a group of Fredericton, New Brunswick, residents were on a trip to Haiti to visit their sponsored children. While there, an earthquake with a 7.0 magnitude followed by at least 52 aftershocks with a 4.5 magnitude shook the country. The devastation seemed insurmountable. More than 100,000 people lost their lives, over 250,000 families lost their homes, and an already impoverished country was looking at 8 billion dollars of damage.

Having survived the experience and witnessed the destruction left in the wake of this catastrophe firsthand, they knew they needed to work together to affect real, long-lasting change in a community they’d grown attached to.

The Fredericton residents began searching for a partner to help them organize their efforts. They knew that sometimes good intentions could cause more harm than good, and they wanted to find a reputable organization that had experience developing communities experiencing poverty. After a careful search, they partnered with World Vision because of their impressive community development program, their successful track record, and their willingness to work together with the residents on meeting their goals.

Together, they founded FreddyLink.

What is Freddylink?

Through World Vision, FreddyLink connects Fredericton residents with specific Area Development Programs created for the villages of Cobocol, Cerca-Carvajal, and Morne Pelee in Haiti. These programs are designed to help families in Haiti break the cycle of poverty, help Haitian communities become self-sufficient, and give the children of Haiti a sense of hope for the future.

To develop the program, World Vision partnered with Haitian community members to listen to what their unique challenges and needs are. They then develop and put to action a plan that addresses the causes at the root of these challenges. The plan empowers both new and existing leaders, bringing the community together to help them address the needs they’ve identified. To put things simply, the plan ensures that these communities have access to clean water, education, a dependable supply of food, basic healthcare, and local economic opportunities. It also ensures that the community can continue to grow without aid in the years to come.

FreddyLink allows Fredericton residents to be involved in this process and help fund it by sponsoring children in Cobocol, Cerca-Carvajal, and Morne Pelee. The funding for the child sponsorships are pooled together to support the entire community’s development. In this way, helping one child translates to helping their entire community.

A Win-Win Partnership

The partnership between Cobocol and FreddyLink is beneficial not only to the Haitians, but to the Fredericton residents who reached out to help. Child sponsors can see exactly how their dollars are helping transform the community through progress reports, in-person visits to Haiti, and special events where they can hear first-hand accounts of how the programs are benefiting the Haitian communities.

Participants at the FreddyLink Hope for Haiti event that aimed to donate goats to residents of Cobocol
Participants at the FreddyLink Hope for Haiti event that aimed to donate goats to residents of Cobocol

Fredericton residents can also stay in touch with their sponsored families by writing to them or talking to them on the phone. This creates a very special connection between two communities halfway across the world from each other.

Heidi Billington, co-founder of FreddyLink, and her husband, chose to sponsor a little girl who was about the same age as their own daughter. When Billington met the child, she also met the child’s mother.

“Suddenly it started to make the connection for me that this little girl wasn’t just a little girl that I was helping. But I was helping her mother and their family to come alongside and give their daughter the things that they longed to [give],” said Billington in a FreddyLink information video.

Both women also had 18-month-old sons at the time.

“I felt that our families just made a deeper connection. And it became less about my sponsored child, and more about that family I partnered with.”

Current FreddyLink Project

Right now FreddyLink is working with World Vision to raise $100,000 for the purpose of providing Cobocol with safe and accessible water. They are constructing water stations and latrines, as well as rehabilitating wells.

FreddyLink raises the money through advocating the Area Development Programs in Haiti, fundraising with World Vision, and collecting donations from caring Fredericton residents.

How Your Community Can Help

World Vision seeks to empower children living in the world’s most dangerous places. By helping them recover and build a future, you can ensure these children move from being victims to survivors, and from survivos to overcomers.

Ilham (right) was going to be sold into marriage but was saved by her mother Rowaida (left)
World Vision
Ilham (right) was going to be sold into marriage but was saved by her mother Rowaida (left)

Much like the residents of Fredericton, your community can come together to help impact the lives of overcomers like 11-year-old Ilham from Afghanistan. Ilham woke up one day to find out that her father and grandmother planned on selling her into a marriage.

“I came home and found clothes and flowers from my father and grandmother. My mom asked what they were for, and they told us that they’d agreed to marry me off,” said Ilham.

Ilham had grand ambitions and aspirations that would have never come to fruition in a forced marriage.

“I didn’t want to be married. I want to go to school. I would like to go to university and become a teacher. I would be a good teacher; I would be kind to them, and I wouldn’t beat them. I would teach them painting. If I was married it would be very difficult, I would be a miserable person. I would have to go to someone else’s house, and they wouldn’t let me go to school.”

Ilham’s mother Rowaida, a 26-year-old who herself had been sold into a marriage when she was 11, bravely challenged this agreement after learning about women’s rights at a World Vision Community Change group.

Rowaida (right) along with other women and girls participating in World Vision organized Community change groups in Herat, Afghanistan
World Vision
Rowaida (right) along with other women and girls participating in World Vision organized Community change groups in Herat, Afghanistan

“I was only 11 years old when I was married, and it was very difficult. At the time, I didn’t know women have rights. And I don’t want the same for my daughter. If I had not attended this program, my daughter would have been forced to be married,” recalled Rowaida.

Ilham and Rowaida have moved out on their own and are paving a new path for themselves.

“The main thing is that women and girls should know their rights. Women are living like slaves in a man-dominated environment. Before then, I didn’t know my rights, but now I know that women and girls have rights too. That’s why I am supporting Ilham.

When I hear Ilham’s dreams, I know I will do whatever I can to help my daughter achieve her goals. We are not just a mother and daughter, we are friends.”

Rowaida (left) and Ilham (right) reading together
World Vision
Rowaida (left) and Ilham (right) reading together

World Vision works with local leaders and families in Afghanistan to end early marriage and keep girls like Ilham in school. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, an additional 4 million girls are at risk of child marriage in the next 2 years.

While these children face dangerous threats, they have incredible strength to overcome the trauma and challenges. They can survive, they can recover, and they can build a successful future.

In partnership with World Vision, your community can come together to support children like Ilham move from victim to survivor, and from survivor to overcomer.

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