It's a drop in the bucket, what we're doing. There are 1.2 million children without parents in Haiti. But I just do what I can. —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.
"As a result of the farm's success we are now ready to expand and invite several more families to join the partnership," Leavitt said. Leavitt thinks someone with American know-how could really turn the farm into a moneymaker.
"Our family has donated all the funds to start this operation and expects no financial gain or payback," he said. "The farm is now able to secure funding from the local banks for further expansion as a result of the quality of the assets and cash flow.
"We have large vegetable gardens, and have planted hundreds of trees to make the property beautiful."
"The profit is reinvested in further growth and expansion and to help widows in the church become financially stable," Leavitt said.
He credits his employees and friends with making the charitable endeavors work.
"The object of this project is to create meaningful and sustainable employment."
Senior vice-president Todd Cullum said getting involved with countries like Haiti and the Philippines can refocus a person on what the important issues really are.
"Our company has been successful within its competitive landscape but the projects in Haiti and Philippines give our company and our employees the opportunity to be involved in programs that go beyond our local markets," Cullum said. "I think it provides a sense of pride to all of our employees that a portion of our profits are going towards those who need them more than us.
"There is personal benefit as I see these projects as an opportunity to involve my children, aged 12 and 13, in projects that teach them that the world is a lot larger and more complicated than the communities we live in."
To learn more about the charities and how to become involved go to harvestforhumanity.ca.
Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with more than 35 years experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.