Helping kids be kids – Jorge Marcelo Oehlenschlager

Jorge Marcelo Oehlenschlager IBO since 2004 In Haiti, long before the earthquake struck, another disaster was claiming lives. With 70% of people living in extreme poverty, and 40% of the population under age 15, 200,000 orphaned children live in institutions – thousands more in foster care, with relatives, or on the street. That was before the earthquake.

After the quake took 230,000 lives, the number of Haitian orphans soared.

Like most IBOs, Jorge Marcelo Oehlenschlager wanted to help. Unlike most, he had a connection to Haiti. His friend Rona, a nurse, had worked with a Haitian orphanage, Fundación Rose Mine de Diegue, for more than 10 years.

“They only had a few children before the disaster,” Marcelo said. “But after, they had nearly 80 kids to care for.”

Marcelo made his first trip to the orphanage on January 24, 2010, delivering food, water, milk, diapers, and medicine to a grateful staff and hungry children. When he saw the primitive conditions, he wanted to do more.

No chairs to sit on

“They needed so much,” says Marcelo, a father of five. The children had only makeshift places to sleep, no pillows or blankets; not even any chairs to sit on. “So my friends and I decided to start a nonprofit organization to coordinate our efforts and organize any donations we received.”

Their organization, Juntos por Haiti (www.Juntosporhaiti.org), has since delivered 80 sets of bedding, 80 chairs, 80 backpacks filled with school supplies, and one big piano. Now 80 children can sleep in comfort and study their lessons at the orphanage. And one little boy who is blind can play his beloved music.

A surprise treat

Marcelo joyfully remembers surprising the children with an unexpected feast. “We brought in 250 hot dogs, cooked them up, and served them with mustard and ketchup. At first the kids thought they’d only get a half of one each because the hot dogs were pretty big, and of course, food is very precious,” says Marcelo. “But they were so happy to be able to eat two or even two and a half apiece. That was such a great surprise for them. I will never forget it.”

Moments like that make his work rewarding. “We also play football (soccer) with them and they love that, too,” he says. “There are so few ways for them to just have fun and be kids.”

With the Haitian government now asking for donations of only money, not items, many IBOs have already made contributions through Juntos por Haiti.

“These children were left with literally nothing after the earthquake,” Marcelo says. “Like so many, they are only alive because of the people there who are helping them.”

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