South Florida Teen Revisits Haiti with Food For The Poor: Celebrates Joyous Dedication of Her Second Village
COCONUT CREEK, Fla. (Feb. 23, 2017) Rachel Wheeler, 17, received a hero's welcome last week as dozens of people on motorbikes and horseback escorted a van carrying the teen, her parents and younger brother along an unpaved road for three miles to reach a new housing village in Leogane, Haiti.
The entourage came to a stop in the area known as K-Michel, and was greeted by more than 300 people, some carrying signs, as others screamed out "Merci Rachel" and "Merci Food For The Poor" as tears flowed down the faces of those eagerly awaiting to see the young woman who worked to transform their lives.
"Oh my goodness, look at all the people," said Rachel, in a voice reflecting surprise and amazement as she prepared to step out of the van. "I can't believe that all these people are here for us, I am so, so, so humbled. I really don't know what to say."
Through Food For The Poor, Rachel began fundraising for the pastel-colored homes and community center in K-Michel in the fall of 2015. During her sophomore year at North Broward Preparatory School in Coconut Creek, Fla., Rachel motivated others to help her to build 25 concrete block homes for families devastated by the 2010 earthquake.
The residents expressed their loving gratitude for their new village with songs and poems to Rachel during an inauguration celebration that ended in a ribbon-cutting.
"It's so overwhelming to experience the joy and the excitement of these families in K-Michel. I know many of them waited many years after the earthquake to get a safe and secure home. I am just glad we were able to help them," said Rachel.
"We are so very proud of our daughter for what she's doing," said Eddie Wheeler. "She's an amazing young woman who cares about others."
The Wheeler family, including father Eddie, mother Julie and brother Trey, also revisited Rachel's Village, a housing and fishing community in Kay Petit, Leogane, which was built and dedicated in 2011 when Rachel was 11. Rachel was 9 when she began fundraising for the village of 27 homes. Many in Kay Petit welcomed the Wheelers as if they were long lost relatives returning home.
"The most amazing experience on this visit was returning to the village where this journey started. Some critics have told us we were wasting our time and that when we go back to see what was done in 2011, it was going to be a slum. But they were wrong," said Julie Wheeler. "This village looks as good as it did more than five years ago, if not better! The people look healthier and happier. I can see the dramatic difference and it's a remarkable feeling to know lives are truly being transformed."
One of the most touching moments for Rachel was returning to the L'Ecole Reap de Morel – Rachel's School, which was built with Ashton and Chesney Hellmuth and dedicated in 2012. The students held up signs, sang songs and danced to display their appreciation.
Rachel was given a large heart carved from a solid piece of wood, presented to her by a group of girls, now in high school, who met Rachel when she first visited the school five years ago. The 10-classroom school has been expanded and now educates Pre-K through high school. Nearly 450 students attend the school that has morning and afternoon classes to accommodate the students.
"I want to thank each and every one of you for welcoming me back and for the expressions of deep gratitude. I am so very proud of each of you for doing well in school and it is my hope that you all will have bright futures," said Rachel.
L' Ecole Reap de Morel was destroyed during the earthquake on Jan. 12, 2010. Since being rebuilt, the school is the crown jewel of the community where students are doing exceptionally well.
The school's principal said to everyone in attendance, "As long as I live and as long as I am here at this school, we will never forget you Rachel."
Rachel discovered her passion for helping others at the age of 9. Her mother, Julie, took her to a Lighthouse Point Chamber of Commerce meeting at Food For The Poor headquarters where she met the charity's President/CEO Robin Mahfood.
"Rachel is an exceptional young person, and she has inspired and continues to inspire others by her determination to not only think about the poor, but to take action to help those who need it the most," said Mahfood. "The Wheelers are an amazing family and I am sincerely thankful for what they have done to help extremely poor families in Haiti. Their generosity will have a lasting impact for generations to come."
Rachel is going to be a high school senior in the fall and soon will be making preparations for college. She believes that an education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty and would like to build another school in Haiti one day.
Click www.FoodForThePoor.org/rachel2017 for the photo gallery of Rachel's return visit to Haiti.
Food For The Poor, one of the largest international relief and development organizations in the nation, does much more than feed millions of the hungry poor primarily in 17 countries of the Caribbean and Latin America. This interdenominational Christian ministry provides emergency relief assistance, clean water, medicines, educational materials, homes, support for orphans and the aged, skills training and micro-enterprise development assistance. Over the last 10 years, fundraising and other administrative costs averaged less than 5 percent of our expenses; more than 95 percent of all donations went directly to programs that help the poor. For more information, please visit www.FoodForThePoor.org.
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