Morgan Wienberg awarded Meritorious Service Cross for work in Haiti
Yukoner says Haitian locals and authorities are starting to appreciate and respect her work
The young Whitehorse woman who traded university to help children in Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake says local people and authorities in the Caribbean country are starting to respect and appreciate her work.
"The community [is] really starting to recognize what we're doing," says Morgan Wienberg, now 23. "People all the time will come up and, you know, thank me, or say 'It's amazing what you're doing.'"
Haitians aren't the only ones noticing the work of Wienberg and that of the organization she co-founded, Little Footprints Big Steps (LFBS), which works to house and provide education to vulnerable children.
Wienberg has just been awarded the prestigious Governor General's Meritorious Service Cross, which recognizes an activity that has been performed in an "outstandingly professional manner, or with uncommonly high standards." Previous winners include Olympian Clara Hughes and astronaut Chris Hadfield.
Weinberg proud of organization's progress
When Wienberg first travelled to Haiti after graduating from high school, she discovered that poor families were being deceived into giving their children to so-called orphanages that promised to feed and educate the children. Instead, she says the children were beaten, starved and used as pawns to beg on the streets.
Through LFBS, Wienberg operates two safe houses for boys and girls rescued from illegitimate orphanages and from the streets. She says they've reunited 120 children with their families, which the organization also helps with housing and training opportunities.
Wienberg says at first she faced a lot of criticism from locals and foreigners used to seeing groups parachute in and out of developing countries. Four years later, she says people are noticing tangible results.
"When they see this child running down the street who they didn't think would amount to anything, and he's in a school uniform and confident...."
She says this makes her proud.
Wienberg is back in Whitehorse for a few days while she shows a Brooklyn-based film crew her home community. Jimmy Arrant and Ryan Sheetz are making a documentary on Wienberg's work called Morgan's Kids.
Sheetz was in Haiti for another project four years ago when he came across one of the LFBS safe houses. When the children and workers started telling him about Wienberg, who wasn't there at the time, he was immediately inspired.
"She's how old? She's doing what? This absolutely needs to be made into a film," Sheetz remembers thinking.
In Whitehorse Arrant and Sheetz are touring the "vibrant community" that supports LFBS. Wienberg says most of her financial support comes from the Yukon, with over 400 donors. She says many people have supported her since day one.
The filmmakers hope to finish Morgan's Kids in 2016.
In the meantime, Wienberg heads back to Haiti this week, where her work continues.