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Making a difference, one student at a time -- Former DL Rotary exchange student from Haiti forms education foundation

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Though Miquette Denie was born and raised in the country of Haiti, in many ways Detroit Lakes has become her second home.

Her younger sister, Farah, and niece, Cherline, were both adopted by John and Mary Lee of Detroit Lakes when they were just 4 years old. So when Denie became old enough to apply for a foreign exchange student scholarship through Rotary International, the Lees became her host family.

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"The (Detroit Lakes) Noon Rotary Club sponsored me as a foreign exchange student," Denie said.

After attending Detroit Lakes High School for a year, Denie went on to further her education in the United States, graduating from Oak Grove Lutheran School in Fargo and Concordia College in Moorhead, where she obtained a nursing degree.

"I was planning on going back to Haiti (after graduation)," she recalled during an interview earlier this week.

Knowing that her nursing degree would allow her to live quite comfortably, Denie decided she wanted to do something to help the children in her native country to better their lives through education, as she had done.

"I remember how important my education had been -- our family worked very hard to send us to school," said Denie.

"They knew education would be the key to changing our lives."

The children of Haiti do not enjoy a public education system like in the U.S.; instead, they must pay monthly tuition to attend private schools.

"When you don't have the money (for that month's tuition), they send you home," Denie said.

Yet poverty is rampant, and there are many children whose families simply cannot afford to give him that education -- despite the fact that a year's tuition currently costs roughly $360.

Denie started talking to the Lees and others in the Detroit Lakes community who indicated that they might be willing to sponsor a child's education by funding their annual tuition.

"I had many positive responses," she said.

From those early talks, the organization known as TeacHaiti was born.

"Miquette's vision is to provide scholarships for the most needy families (in Haiti) so that the children can get an education and break the poverty cycle," explained Vicki Marthaler, Emmanuel Community chaplain, who serves as treasurer on the board of directors for TeacHaiti.

First Lutheran Church in Detroit Lakes is the fiscal agent for TeacHaiti, through which contributors can make tax-deductible donations.

"We're sending 41 children to school this year, who would not be going to school if TeacHaiti did not send them," said Denie.

"The people here have been very generous."

Denie will be in Detroit Lakes through June 18, speaking to local schools and organizations in an attempt to obtain more sponsorships for the 2008-09 school year, which starts this fall.

"The hardest thing is to find sponsors," she admitted. "I brought 100 pictures of children with me -- children whose families have asked us to sponsor them."

In return for their donations, Denie said, the families and students give them "the only gift we can" in return.

"We pray for them -- pray that they will be blessed, so they can continue to be a blessing to these children in Haiti," she said.

This Thursday, May 29, TeacHaiti will be holding its annual meeting at the Historic Holmes Theatre in Detroit Lakes, starting at 5:30 p.m.

"We're hoping the community will join us and continue to make a difference for these children in Haiti," said Denie.

When she's not working on TeacHaiti business, Denie helps educate the people in her homeland on things such as diabetes, heart disease and other illnesses, and how they can prevent, treat or manage them.

"We teach them how to manage (an illness) if they have it, or to prevent it if they don't," she said.

"I will be the school nurse (at the school attended by the TeacHaiti students) this fall."

But for the next couple of weeks, she will be kept busy right here in Detroit Lakes.

"I have about 20 places where I'm scheduled to speak, and more are being added every day," she said.

"But it's good work, and it's worth the time."

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Vicki Gerdes
Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 14 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as obituaries. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.
(218) 844-1454
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