Hannah Lowenstein is a painter and author who uses the proceeds of her work to help orphaned kids in Haiti.
She is also 10 years old.
Hannah, herself an orphan who grew up in the Lef Cananaitf Orphanage in Montrouif, Haiti, had already lived a lifetime in her short years before she was adopted by a South Florida couple.
She tells the story, through her artwork and words, in a 40-page children’s book on sale at North Miami’s Museum of Contemporary Art.
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Hannah, a home schooled fifth-grader who lives Pompano Beach , caught the eye of MOCA director Bonnie Clearwater after North Miami Mayor Andre Pierre — who shares a mutual friend with Hannah’s father — passed along the book.
"MOCA is the museum where new art is discovered,” said Clearwater. “So I’m always looking for new artists.”
The book, simply titled Hannah Has a Story is a colorful work filled with scenes of nature painted with vivid acrylic paint. Hannah shares her story of life in an orphanage in Haiti, and of her adoption by Susan and Jerry Lowenstein.
When Clearwater saw Hannah’s book, she got a hold of Hannah’s mother, Susan Lowenstein. She was particularly impressed with Hannah’s brush strokes, and use of color.
She offered her a two-week scholarship to MOCA’s youth summer arts program, and told her the book as well as greeting cards displaying Hannah’s artwork would be sold in the museum’s gift shop .
Hannah, who was born Yoldine Jean on May 25, 2002, lived with her very young biological mother in the orphanage. Her mother wanted a better life for her daughter, and gave her up for adoption.
In 2004, all of their lives would change. Hannah met her future adoptive parents, Susan and Jerry, a general contractor and owner of North Star Contractor. The Lowensteins, who have no other children, met Hannah on their visit to Haiti to donate food and medicine to the orphanage.
While taking part in a short religious service, Susan Lowenstein said Hannah walked over to her.
“This little girl came and crawled into my lap and that was it," said Susan Lowenstein. "I knew Hannah was meant to be with us.”
The Lowensteins fell in love with Hannah. They decided to adopt her.
But the legal and bureaucratic process to adopt a child from Haiti was much more complicated than the Lowensteins expected.
"In the beginning I thought the process would take six months or a year," said Susan Lowenstein, who along with her husband made frequent trips to visit Hannah and deliver much-needed supplies during the years they were waiting for the adoption to come through .
"I had no idea how difficult it was going to be," said Susan Lowenstein, who homeschools Hannah three times a week. The remaining days the girl attends Westminster Academy’s ACE Program Fort Lauderdale.
But once Hannah — who chose a new name for herself — was finally able to move in with the Lowensteins in 2010, the transition was unexpectedly bumpy for both parents and child. Hannah didn’t speak English. Her parents didn’t speak Creole. The little girl was reserved and had her parents worried they would not be able to connect with her.
Having never left the orphanage in Haiti, her new home in South Florida was overwhelming. She missed her friends at the orphanage.
"I couldn’t find out what she liked, she was scared and shy," said her mother Susan. "But she had an inner strength that was really incredible and beautiful."
In order to help her open up, they enrolled her in art classes with Patty Moore, who has been an art teacher for over an decade.
“Since the beginning I notice she had a lot of aptitude,” said Moore “She really truly loves to paint. She is committed.”
When the Lowensteins began fielding offers from people eager to buy Hannah’s work, they decided to put the art in a self-published book, which is also available at www.HannahHasAStory.com.
Hannah said she draws inspiration from her homeland, as well as her new home.
“Sometimes I decide what I want to do and sometimes I just make up something,” said Hannah.
Hannah has made strides in the last two years, and enjoys telling jokes that her dad teaches her and outings with her family.
“We watch movies, go in the pool, we go out on the boat. We go fishing, which I hate,” said Hannah.
The City of North Miami, where Jerry Lowenstein went to high school and which boasts a sizeable population of Haitian immigrants, declared June 26 “Hannah Lowenstein Day”.
The month before, Hannah had her own presentation to make: She gave $250 to the orphanage where she spent her early years.
The founder and director of the orphanage, Gladys Arbouet- Mecklembour, visited the Lowensteins at their Pompano home. Arbouet-Mecklembour came to South Florida for business and while here visited The Lowensteins and helped Susan style Hannah’s hair.
While the sum was relatively small, the orphanage appreciates her contributions. The Lowensteins not only surprised her with a check, but with a donation of furniture to take back to the orphanage.
“We didn’t know she was going to do that. It was incredible” said Arbouet- Mecklembourg, who said that she was inspired by Hannah to find the hidden talents in the other children at the orphanage — which now hosts an annual talent show.
“She was like all the other kids,” said Arbouet- Mecklembourg. “There was no way in the world we would know she would turn out to be an artist.”