Rodney Leveille, born in Haiti, was left in the trash when he was just 7 days old. But, like many orphans in Haiti, he’s overcome the odds and is now a community activist in his native land
(Third in a series)
By all accounts, Rodney Leveille is not supposed to be here today. Born to a 17-year-old unwed teen mother in Delmas, Haiti, there was little hope. In 1988, conditions in the town, located adjacent to the crowded, struggling capital of Port-au-Prince, were dire and even more so for families overburdened because of lack of resources.
The young mother would make a decision that would forever alter the course of her son’s life. She wrapped her 7-day-old son in a blanket, pinned his picture and birth certificate to his chest and left him in the trash. A group of Americans discovered the baby and took him to a local orphanage.
The years that followed were marked with stays at violent youth homes, lengthy stints of homelessness and extreme hunger. Although alone on the streets, Leveille knew his future path was not crime. “There are many things on the street that can you lead you into crime—especially for children,” he said. “Adults will take advantage of you. Sometimes you have to kill to eat. That is what life is like for orphans in Haiti. When you’re out there you have to do something to survive.”
At 9 years old, he was homeless, begging for money and wiping windshields on the streets in Delmas to survive day to day. He vowed that when he grew up he would do something to change the lives for other children who were faced with the same tough trials.
Throughout his childhood, Leveille would benefit from the occasional acts of kindness by locals and missionaries in the neighborhood who would offer him a place to sleep, nutrition and a safety net of care.
Although he faced enormous challenges, he studied English, picking up childhood lessons at the orphanage and excelled while attending translation school through the Pittsburgh-based nonprofit Functional Literacy Ministry (FLM). The FLM program in Haiti taught him how to facilitate and translate conversations from Creole French to English for visiting missionary groups. He picked up language quickly and caught the attention of a local Delmas restaurant owner who gave him steady work as a server. At 19, Leveille began to build a new life and upon completing translator school he is reunited with his birth family.
In the commotion of Port-au-Prince, it is easy for a child to become lost in the hustle. Life on the Caribbean island is grueling, but especially for the estimated 400,000 orphans who must fight every day for survival. Most are not afforded the opportunity for a formal education and must find ways to support themselves as soon as they can walk. Washing cars, cleaning and serving in homes are just some of the ways young children are forced into labor to provide minimum support for themselves.
Leveille beat the odds. He persisted, determined to give back to the community and keep the promise he made to himself as a child.
When not in the restaurant, he visited the children of Cite de Soleil, a severely impoverished commune of shanty housing and crime that is considered one of the most devastated places in the world.
“You can touch the misery,” said Leveille. “People are struggling for every single thing. I visit and take the kids out to pizza, ice cream.”
Now 29, Leveille considers himself a community activist who draws from local sources to help the children. He uses local taxis called tap-taps to transport the kids to a Baptist missionary that hosts the children for the day. “When you try to do something and it is not your own, but with God it works out. The kids are so, so happy and expressive. For the children with the most critical cases, I promise them…a better life.”
Through his translation work and outreach, he has established a large network of mission groups and foreigners who support his on-the-ground work in Haiti. Using Facebook and other social media outreach, Leveille is able to share updates about his kids, new developments and partnership opportunities. The one-on-one efforts to teach visitors about social justice issues in Haiti and create change is his way of making a difference for the children who suffer every day in his country.
In 2015, he opened Home for Love, a joint venture with American nurse Joy Miller and her group of friends and other volunteers. Home for Love is a non-profit organization that provides resources to empower the children of Haiti with a focus on their physical, educational, and spiritual needs.
At the orphanage, located about 20 minutes outside of Port-au-Prince in the Thomassin Petionville area, Leveille and his wife care for 13 children from Cite de Soleil. Making good on his commitment, he created a safe haven for the children.
“When you’re going through a struggle you have to just give thanks to God. He is making you the man or woman he wants you to be. The good and bad has formed who I am. When somebody says I am hungry or I need help, I now know what that means.”
In Home for Love, many of the struggles faced in Cite Soleil disappear. The children have an opportunity to attend school, participate in Bible study and enjoy nightly movies. They receive daily expressions of love and care that help build their self-esteem and spiritual development—much of which they did not receive living in the impoverished neighborhoods of their births.
“My dream for the future of House of Love is to have a lot of kids, grow and become good leaders to help Haiti to move forward. I want a doctor, engineer, president, mechanic. I want to be proud of it and for us to really help others.”
Support Home for Love: http://www.haitihomeforlove.com
Follow Home for Love on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pg/haitihomeforlove/about/
WHY GO TO HAITI?
About the Courier series
Veteran Pittsburgh journalist and author Erv Dyer, PhD, along with other local journalists, will travel to Haiti on Oct. 13. The week-long excursion will explore the Citadelle, a world historic site, and members will tour national museums, arts centers and writers’ colonies. The New Pittsburgh Courier has published a three-part series on stories pertaining to Haiti, leading up to Dr. Dyer’s departure. To read the first two parts of the series, visit newpittsburghcourier.com.
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