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Norby finds TeacHaiti really is making a difference in country

Jeff Norby, of Detroit Lakes, recently visited with TeacHaiti founder Miquette Denie (left).1 / 3
Students at the school where she works as a nurse. Part of the donations from TeacHaiti, which is based in Detroit Lakes, go toward meals for the students sponsored by the organization through scholarships2 / 3
During his visit, Norby also had the opportunity to spend some time with Haitian farmers, learning about their agricultural methods.3 / 3

Americans may think they're experiencing hard times, with a depressed economy, lost jobs and billion-dollar state budget deficits.

But times are even tougher for the people of Haiti, who have been hard-hit by a series of tropical storms and hurricanes over the past summer.

Jeff Norby, a Detroit Lakes resident who works as a soil conservation technician for the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), recently returned from a week-long journey to that country.

Though his primary reason for making the trip was to deliver some donations for TeacHaiti -- a Detroit Lakes-based humanitarian organization that is working to educate the children of Haiti -- he also took the opportunity to observe agricultural and environmental conditions there.

"One thing of particular interest to me, because of my work with the USDA (of which the NRCS is a part)... was to visit with some of the farmers and view their more primitive form of agriculture," he said.

Some of what he saw disturbed him. "The country is on the verge of environmental collapse," Norby said.

The amount of soil erosion, deforestation and water contamination has reached critical levels in many areas.

But Norby, who also visited Haiti in 2007 (through the Twin Cities-based Haitian Mission Project), also came home with a sense of hope.

Thanks to the efforts of TeacHaiti -- and particularly, the passion of its founder, Miquette Denie -- to provide opportunities for education to those most in need, Norby believes an impact is being made.

While in Haiti, Norby also traveled to a number of schools with Denie, visiting with teachers, pastors, students and their families, as a board member of TeacHaiti. In addition, he volunteered at a children's hospital run by the sisters of charity; attended a Rotary meeting that included distinguished guest Rotarians from Africa; and attended a Christmas bazaar at the international school where Denie works full-time as a nurse (besides her tireless volunteer work for TeacHaiti).

Though more and more people living in Haiti are finding it difficult to afford even the basic necessities, for themselves and their families, Norby said he was "deeply touched and encouraged" to see the difference TeacHaiti is making.

"I was able to see first-hand how being in school is bringing a sense of hope to these students and their parents," he said. "I wish every donor and board member could have been there with me and heard the gratitude expressed by students and parents for the opportunity given them. It was refreshing to see the eagerness of these students to be in school and learn."

Norby said the trip gave him an increased appreciation for the fact that those living in severe poverty still have a sense of dignity, and don't want to be pitied.

"They want to know that others care, that they are not looked down upon, and that they are not forgotten," he said.

"The success of TeacHaiti will be measured in a number of ways," Norby continued, "like the number (and sustainability) of scholarships, the meals provided in the school lunch program, and the ability of graduates to find employment in Haiti, to name a few...but ultimately, success will be measured in relationships.

"I've asked myself, 'What is my relationship to those in need, whether it's those who cannot provide for themselves and their families, or those who are starved for love and affection?' For me, it comes down to a sacrificial way of living," Norby continued.

"It may not be a popular notion today, but I believe love involves sacrifice. I give to others at a cost to myself. I'm not a martyr, but whatever it takes to afford someone else the dignity that is rightfully theirs as a human being is what I owe them."

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454