LDS businessman working to make positive change in Haiti, Philippines

Published: Monday, July 8 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

Eggs are ready for transport from the poultry farm in the Philippines, a farm set up and operated by Leavitt Machinery to help pay for schooling and care for orphaned children in Haiti.

Tom Leavitt

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — After his son returned from a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Haiti, Tom Leavitt felt he needed to help. The CEO of Leavitt Machinery, he also knew it would take money, time and hard work to make much of a difference.

So he started visiting Haiti. He bought a building, renovated it and opened an "orphanage" (he prefers calling it a home) in the mountains outside of Port-au-Prince. This fall, he'll have 24 in his "Children's Home."

Next, he reasoned he could use some land in the Philippines for a poultry farm to help support the orphanage.

The farm, currently producing 1,600 dozen eggs a day, is successful.

But there's so much more that needs to be done: the children need food and shelter and education. That requires money, access to power and clean water. The children need to learn English and how to grow crops and find jobs.

"It's a drop in the bucket, what we're doing. There are 1.2 million children without parents in Haiti," Leavitt said. "But I just do what I can."

He has help from his business partner Paul Christiansen and his wife, Leavitt's wife, their family and employees. They donate time, money and effort to help provide for current needs and the Haitians' future.

"Our commitment is to give these children all of the advantages that our own children enjoyed: A loving (LDS) gospel-centered home, safety, education, university, missions, careers," Leavitt said.

"Haiti has no real public school system, and as a result only a few lucky children graduate from high school, while half never attend school with any degree of regularity.

"Our home meets North American standards. Local people agree this is the best children's home they have ever encountered in Haiti. We even have our own source of power, something few Haitians enjoy," he said.

Leavitt has a returned full-time Mormon missionary working as the mother of the home. Consequently, the children are raised in a gospel-centered home, studying scriptures daily, having prayers, family home evening and attending LDS Church services.

Ryan Neal Salapa said the opportunities and financial assistance from the Leavitt charities have helped him pursue a career as a physician.

"Your generosity has allowed me to keep on studying and to keep on trying to reach my dreams of becoming a full-fledged physician someday," Salapa told Leavitt in a letter.

Children in Leavitt's home learn to speak and understand the three languages they need to get along well in Haitian society.

"Creole is the language of the people. French is the language of the government and the educated, and English is the business language," Leavitt explained. "Our children only speak French in the home. They attend a highly regarded private French school. We have a tutor at the home who works with the children every day after school. They are all at the top of their class. Next September the three oldest will attend a very exclusive English-only school for two years. By the end of high school they will be fluent in all three languages."

The Leavitts have legal guardianship of the children.

Leavitt is currently looking for a couple to live at the home full-time and teach carpentry, gardening, music and English. Skilled volunteers who can stay for three months at a time are welcome and sought.

He's also looking for a retired businessman to help manage the egg farm.

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