Nova Scotia

Yarmouth's Hands Across the Sea supporting Haiti orphanage

A Newfoundland woman who moved to Haiti 20 years ago and now runs an orphanage and school reflects on her efforts to rebuild the poverty-stricken country.

'He's the biggest miracle of all,' charity director Karen Huxter says of her adopted Haitian son

Former Newfoundlander Karen Huxter runs an orphanage in Deschapelles, Haiti, with the support of a Yarmouth-based charity. She's also adopted a Haitian boy, Ti-Luc. (CBC)

Next to Karen Huxter's orphanage courtyard in Deschapelles, Haiti, a boy in a yellow jersey bounces on a bench, kicking a hockey stick at his feet and blocking a ball about to sneak through the makeshift net. 

"Oh, good save, Ti-Luc," a friend calls. 

Ti-Luc is Huxter's adopted son. Twenty years ago, Huxter, a former Newfoundlander, moved to Haiti, opened an orphanage and is trying to help rebuild the poverty-stricken country.

She founded Hands Across the Sea, a charity based in Yarmouth, N.S., that provides a home in Haiti for about 15 children either orphaned by poverty or the 2010 earthquake. It also supports a school next door with about 400 students. 

Karen Huxter's adopted son Ti-Luc recently received Canadian citizenship. (Supplied by Karen Huxter)

The 69-year-old does everything from fundraising to organizing street hockey games.

She considers each of the children her own, but Ti-Luc is the only one she has adopted. She first met him as an infant when the hospital called.  

"He was so little and they said he's not going to make it," Huxter said.

The boy had likely been abandoned by his family, unable to care for an ill child in the poorest country in the western hemisphere. 

'Throw him away,' doctor told Huxter

With a syringe, Huxter fed him sometimes six to seven times a night and quickly the boy with floppy limbs gained weight. 

But a few months later he stopped seeing and hearing. She took him to a specialist in the country's capital, Port-au-Prince. Ti-Luc had cerebral palsy.

"Jetez-le," Huxter recalls the doctor telling her. "Throw him away. Throw him outside.

"Madame, if you want to help somebody in my country, you go find somebody that can be helped."

A Newfoundland woman who moved to Haiti 20 years ago and now runs an orphanage recalls what a doctor told her about her adopted son. 1:27

Now nine years old, Ti-Luc scuttles down a road lined with trees in 35 C weather towards his mother. He wraps his arms around her in hug, not yet old enough to care whether his affection is witnessed by a crowd. He grins and wanders back down the road, looking to play. 

"He's in my heart and in my home and now legally adopted," Huxter said. "My son."

Huxter visited Haiti 20 years ago and decided to stay. Her daughter worked at a hospital and adopted a baby girl, "on death's door, literally." 

'Country can't change' without education

Huxter returned to Canada, sold her belongings and moved to Haiti permanently. She bought and renovated homes for struggling families and eventually raised enough to open the orphanage in Deschapelles. 

The charity brings in less than $300,000 a year. It's supported entirely by personal donations, with no funding from the Canadian or Haitian governments, according to the Canada Revenue Agency. 

Huxter takes in only a few children, in order to give them a personal upbringing. Next door, students study from preschool to Grade 10 and eat lunch every day. 

Ti-Luc steers a boat while visiting Nova Scotia and Newfoundland this summer. (Supplied by Karen Huxter)

"We need people [who] have a lot of integrity and education to try to stay and teach their people," Huxter said. "The country can't change otherwise, so I just try to do what I can in this corner of the world to make it happen."

Huxter and her colleagues hope to open a vocational trades school in the town. And she hopes Ti-Luc attends university.

He only learned to walk at three years old and struggles to speak. But since he became a Canadian citizen this summer, Ti-Luc can now access health care, including speech therapy, Huxter said. 

His disabilities don't extend to his intelligence, Huxter says, a virtue that can benefit his country.

"He will be Haitian Canadian — Haitian first, foremost and always. That's his roots," Huxter said. "Just like my roots are Eastern Canada."

She believes other children are being lost — "the neediest, without parents, hurting children" — which is why she stays in her adopted country.

If he's interested as an adult, Ti-Luc could help other children with disabilities, she said. 

"My dream for him is to make a difference," she said. "He's the biggest miracle of all. He would have been dead if I had not taken him from the hospital."

With files from Paul Emile D'Entremont, Rachel Ward

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