The life of Haitian law student Billy Jean was almost cut short.
Before Jean was born, his father abandoned him and his mother in Haiti. His mother planned to have an abortion because she knew she couldn’t afford to raise him. Instead, however, Jean’s mother decided to leave him when he was 3 with Our Little Brothers and Sisters, an international organization that cares for children from the time they arrive to the time they leave as young adults.
Where the organization differs from an orphanage is in how it continues to look after children who have reached the age of 18.
Nos Petits Frères et Soeurs and Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos, as the organization is known in Haiti and the eight Spanish-speaking countries where it has homes, ensures that children who are left with the organization graduate from university, able to “give back” to their home countries. As of January 2013, 264 students from the organization were enrolled in college-level courses.
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Jean, who is 24 with two years left of law school at Quisqueya University in Port-au-Prince, plans to provide free legal advice to Haitians who can’t afford it.
As a child in Haiti, Jean said he saw a bus full of handcuffed men standing in front of a courthouse on their way to sentencing. One man looked at Jean and shouted, “I’m being unjustly prosecuted because I can’t afford an attorney.”
The man told Jean that his wife didn’t work and that his sentencing would cause his family to starve.
That was the turning point in Jean’s life.
“It was very touching for me to see an adult crying,” Jean said. “The experience made me really want to be a lawyer to help defend human rights.”
Before he started at Quisqueya, Jean volunteered for two years at the organization’s St. Hélène Foyer children’s home in Kenscoff, near Port-au-Prince, where he was raised. Volunteering at the children’s home is required of all NPH’s kids, but for Jean, it was a natural step. Because for Jean, NPH is more than just an organization: “It’s a family — a huge, huge international family. Even if I’m graduated, have my own family with a wife and sons, I will still belong to this family.”
Jean said there are children all over the world who need the family environment that he had growing up. More important, he said, they need a second chance at life.
“I want a lot of children to have the same opportunity I had,” said Jean, who was in United States during the summer trying to get more people involved with the organization and to provide financial support.
More donations are needed to help the organization expand and open more homes, Jean said; “we can’t do that without people.”
Jean, who attended a summer camp at a YMCA in Pennsylvania, also spoke at a fundraising event on Aug. 27 in Pinecrest, where award-winning Haitian photojournalist Carl Juste of the Miami Herald donated several of his photographs that were taken in Haiti.
What Jean was able to do with his second chance is what impressed Juste, who introduced Jean at the fundraiser.
“Billy is a gentleman who does a lot with very little,” Juste said. “His enormous amount of potential is a personification of what Haiti can become.”
Father William B. Wasson, an Arizona-born Catholic priest, founded the organization in 1954. More than a half-century later, the nondenominational organization cares for 3,342 children in its homes in Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Peru and Bolivia. Its national office is in Chicago, and there are five regional offices in the United States.
According to Southeast Regional Director Leah Stern, the office at 2730 SW 3rd Ave. in South Miami is the heart of the organization’s in-kind-donations operation.
NPH USA is planning a trip to Haiti in January, according to Stern.
Fifty people can sign up to go; already, 25 have done so.
Potential sponsors are encouraged to sign up for the trip. Stern said sponsors often build such a bond with the children that they refer to them as “son” or “daughter.”
It costs $5,000 a year to support a child, and an additional $5,000 a year to send a child through college, according to Stern.
But the cost isn’t dissuading Jean from some day donating to the organization himself.
“Pretty soon, I want to be a sponsor,” Jean said. “If I want the program to grow, I have to show the example.”
To sponsor a child, visit www.nphusa.org/sponsorship and for more information, contact Southeast region director at firstname.lastname@example.org