‘4 years ago, he had 35 children in his care. Today, he has 62. 62 children to feed, clothe, protect and most of all, love.’: Man advocates, cares for orphans in Haiti, ‘I will never stop helping my children’

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“Jérémie Mercier, a 38-year old Haitian man, also known as ‘Papa’ Jérémie,’ has 62 children. 62 children in central Haiti whose parents have died, or have been abandoned, severely neglected or abused. 62 children to feed (often foregoing eating himself), clothe, protect and most of all, love. 62 children, whom without Jérémie, would be homeless, be forced to resort to crime and/or prostitution, or become what is known as a ‘restavek,’ which is a form of modern-day child slavery that persists in Haiti, affecting one in every 15 children.

Man who fosters 62 children sits on floor of home with foster daughter smiling in his lap
Courtesy of Anna Waddelove

Part of the impetus for him to do what he does, is because his own mother was a restavek; she barely survived her childhood, rarely given food and water and worked in incredibly physically-demanding and dangerous conditions. However, most people would say that Jérémie does what he does because he has an incredible heart.

Up until 2010, Jérémie was employed by the United Nations as a communications officer when the devastating earthquake hit, which struck Haiti and killed 230,000 people. During the actual earthquake, the building Jérémie was in began to collapse. He jumped from the third story of a building, damaging his leg and losing consciousness. When he awoke, he saw dead children all around him. He wept at what he was seeing and questioned why had he survived, when all these children had died? He saw 3 of them (who had been orphaned by the earthquake) were still alive and took them home. That was the day he became ‘Papa’ Jeremie. As the level of devastation unfolded, he took more children under his wing.

Haitian foster child stands near tree in bright yellow shirt in headband with white skirt and shoes
Courtesy of Anna Waddelove
Infant Haitian orphan sitting on dirt ground in pink and white stripe dress
Courtesy of Anna Waddelove

Young Haitian orphan smiling

Over time, citizens who could no longer care for their children because of Haiti’s poverty began leaving their children at his doorstep. He officially became ‘an orphanage’ (now called Children of Tomorrow Orphanage) and is regularly brought children by social services. Four years ago, Jérémie had 35 children in his care. Two weeks ago, he had 58. Today he has 62. No child is turned away from ‘Papa’ Jérémie.

Man who fosters 62 children in Haiti stands holding bowl of food in front of orphans who are eating in outdoor cafeteria
Courtesy of Anna Waddelove

Through Tough Times

Over the years he has faced insurmountable obstacles. If you ask him when things were the worst, it was a time when he had dozens of children but could not pay the rent. The landlord physically removed him and the children from where they were staying. At a loss for what to do, he took the children to his mother’s house and bathed them all in the sink. The only food he could offer the children at the time was an ear of corn, some rice and some beans. Again, he wept as he saw the children, hungry and without the most basic necessities. But he never gave up hope. Soon after he was able to secure a new house, which is where he and his children live today.

Man who fosters 62 children in Haiti stands in muddy area holding onto large PVC pipe
Courtesy of Anna Waddelove
62 children man fosters in Haiti stands smiling outside
Courtesy of Anna Waddelove

When Jérémie leaves the orphanage to get food or other items for the children, upon his return the children flock to him, grabbing his shirt, his pants leg, or any part of him, yelling, ‘Papa! Papa!’ They just want to be near him; they even argue over who gets to take off ‘Papa’ Jérémie’s shoes. Recently, some of the young girls were sick and vomiting. After Jérémie returned from being away for the day, he sat with the sick girls, and slowly fed each one soup, spoonful by spoonful. As if by magic, the vomiting stopped. They in fact were not sick, they only missed their papa while he was away. These children need so much love and Jérémie does what he can to provide not only financially, but also emotionally.

Two young foster girls in Haiti stands with smiles
Courtesy of Anna Waddelove
Close up of little girl who is an orphan in Haiti who looks sad
Courtesy of Anna Waddelove
Faces of young Haitian orphans who all look sad
Courtesy of Anna Waddelove

Children Thriving

Ketiana, one of his children, will be the first child from the orphanage to attend college. She wants to be a nurse. Emerson, one of the most recent children to come to the orphanage, almost lost an eye when his abusive stepmother bit him. Under Jérémie’s care, he is recovering both physically and mentally. One young man, who was brought to Jérémie as a teenager, arrived addicted to drugs and had been selling himself to feed his addiction. He is now the top student in his class and a mentor to the younger boys.

Close up of young foster boy who looks like he has an injury under one of his eyes
Courtesy of Anna Waddelove

As if his work in the orphanage wasn’t enough, he provides aid to three extremely poor villages in central Haiti. In these villages, he has built wells, where before the children were drinking either contaminated river water or water from animal troughs; built schools and hired teachers in each village; taught the villagers how to grow crops and raise animals; provided villagers with solar lamps, the only light they have in their homes; and so much more.

Poor woman in Haiti standing outside house with three children holding energy lamp man donated to her
Courtesy of Anna Waddelove
Haitian woman holds her hands under water pipe to wash her hands
Courtesy of Anna Waddelove

He works 7 days a week, singularly changing hundreds of people’s lives in the poorest country in the western hemisphere. He is a true hero, a saint walking the earth and someone who makes the world a better place every day. While Jérémie still struggles to keep food on the table for his kids and keep his head financially above water, he says, ‘I will never stop helping my children. Never. Never. Never.’”

Young Haitian orphan stands holding plate of food
Courtesy of Anna Waddelove
Haitian orphan smiles as someone behind her does her hair
Courtesy of Anna Waddelove
Tw young Haitian orphans standing in matching yellow dresses
Courtesy of Anna Waddelove

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Anna Waddelove of Arlington, Virginia. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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