Florida girl, 11, helps build a village in Haiti

Even before it was devastated by the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people, Rachel Wheeler wanted to help the citizens of Haiti.

Now, two years and $170,000 later, she has funded the construction of 27 homes and is now working to build a school in the same area.

“You can’t just sit around and think about doing it,” said Rachel, 11. “You got to actually get out there and do it.”

Dubbed “Rachel’s Village,’’ the community is near Leogane, about an hour’s drive from Port-au-Prince. For many of the village’s occupants, it was their first time owning a home that included indoor plumbing, a lock on the front door and a roof that did not leak.

Rachel, accompanied by her family and representatives for the non-profit organization, Food for the Poor, visited the community in May.

“The people were so, so overjoyed,” said Robin Mahfood, president of Food for the Poor, who accompanied the family to Haiti. “When the people realized it was a little girl that raised enough money to give them a home, they went berserk. They were jumping up and down and laughing and clapping and singing.”

The sixth-grader at Zion Lutheran School in Deerfield Beach learned of the extreme poverty in Haiti when she and her mother, Julie Wheeler, heard a presentation from Food for the Poor at a Lighthouse Point Chamber of Commerce meeting in 2009.

The presentation included enlarged before-and-after photos of the organization’s efforts in Haiti. One particularly horrific photo captured the-then 9-year-old’s attention.

“In the before picture, [two sisters] were wearing ripped clothing,” said Rachel. “They did not have shoes on, they were standing in mud. One of them was holding a little fish that was all ashy like it had been sitting in the mud. That’s what they bathe in, they bathe in mud.”

The family contacted Food for the Poor and learned that homes were the most needed commodity in Haiti. A goal was set by the non-profit for Rachel to raise money to build 13 homes.

Rachel began by distributing self-addressed envelopes and selling lemonade, bracelets, potholders, baked goods and hot chocolate to raise the money.

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