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Canadians working to end child poverty: Haiti

One child every three seconds. That’s the estimated number of deaths that occur around the world each day as a result of extreme poverty, hunger and preventable illness, according to UNICEF. The organization recently estimated that out of the 2.2 billion children worldwide, about half live in poverty. Thousands of Canadian aid workers worldwide devote their careers, and sometimes their vacations, to help alleviate this issue. ParentsCanada brings you a few of their stories.

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Erin Barton-Chéry, Mississauga, Ont.

Since 2010’s devastating earthquake, Erin Barton-Chéry has worked in Haiti, supporting relief efforts, reconstruction and long-term community development as Haiti Country Director for Free the Children.

“It is my honour to work and serve in this role,” says the mother of two who is also currently adopting two local children. “Children make up half of the population in Haiti; they’re the most vulnerable to insecurity, poverty and displacement.”

Erin grew up in Southern Ontario and now splits her time between Hinche, a small town in the Central Plateau of Haiti, and Mississauga, Ont. She joined FTC in 1999.

“As I learned more about the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child, and the exploitation and poverty, I was compelled to volunteer,” says Erin, who has worked in 15 countries on behalf of FTC, on long-term community development projects. “The experience of volunteering and meeting children has forever changed me.”

Erin spends up to a week at a time in the field visiting projects, assessing new initiatives, and meeting with families. She helps secure resources for projects and negotiates partnerships for community participation.

“Every day is a new challenge: because of the lack of healthcare facilities, malnutrition and unsafe environments, children are often ill and lack medical treatment,” says Erin. “A cholera epidemic has taken the lives of people of all ages. FTC partners with existing health centres and the state to provide them with life-saving supplies and medical equipment. We’ve built new modern latrines at our schools and improved access to clean water sources to help combat cholera.”

Many families have been forced to give up their children because they cannot provide for them, she adds. “Some estimates state that the number of orphans has more than doubled since the earthquake, to almost one million. That’s nearly 10 percent of the population.”

FTC also supports an orphanage network run by its partners that provides clothing, health supplies, and emergency food supplies. It also created more than 7,500 days of work for just one school site.

“When I went to interview workers about their experience and what the school means to them, Esdras, one of the construction workers, who is also a parent, said, ‘The school is light. We were in the dark and now we know what light is. This is progress for our community.’ It’s the community’s acknowledgment of the significance of development that fuels our work.”

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Wendy Helfenbaum is a Montreal writer and television producer and a frequent contributor to ParentsCanada. Read more about her at

Originally published in ParentsCanada, April 2012

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