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This is the church in Haiti pastored by the father of the family that Mickey McRoberts and Tammy Hagstrom are helping. (Contributed photo)

A haven in Haiti

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News Alexandria,Minnesota 56308 http://www.echopress.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/fieldimages/8/0824/nhaitichurch.jpg?itok=Hn4FgD0I
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A haven in Haiti
Alexandria Minnesota 225 7th Ave E
P.O. Box 549
56308

Mickey McRoberts always envisioned Haiti as messy and hot and ugly. She was right.

But in its messiness she saw a way to help clear away some clutter.

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Despite its oppressive heat, she saw a way to bring just a small breath of fresh air.

And underneath Haiti's bleak ugliness, she saw beauty in the hope of sick, starving children.

So she moved there - for the long haul.

NOT ABOUT ME

McRoberts was living the good life. Semi-retired, she had a farm near Kensington, where she lived in her dream house and had several horses. But it was she who had blinders on.

"I was taking care of my big, beautiful farm, worried about whether I had enough money to support my lifestyle," she said. "I was at a place in my life where I was looking for something to do that wasn't all about me. I wanted to do something useful other than please myself."

A friend from her church, Tammy Hagstrom of Alexandria, had traveled to Haiti in 2010 and had met a pastor and his family who were in need of help. He and his wife had six biological children and had taken in 14 more after the earthquake in January had left them orphaned.

With McRoberts' new resolve to help and make an impact, she spent a week with Hagstrom in Haiti in January 2012 and again in May.

After she met the struggling family there was no question this is what she needed to do.

"I felt compelled," said the Alexandria resident. "I had a strong sense of it being the right thing to do. I felt like God told me that's where I am supposed to be. I believe strongly that when God calls us to something like that, we need to be obedient."

McRoberts decided to sell everything and move to Haiti.

She and Hagstrom spent the next couple months making plans and finding sponsors for the pastor's 20 children. They also formed an organization called Bread to the Nations, with the goal of not only helping the pastor's family, but feeding starving children in poverty-stricken Haiti.

In September, McRoberts and her daughter, Liz Peterson, left the comforts of the U.S. and moved to a country where poverty prevails and malnutrition runs rampant.

PEANUT BUTTER MEDICINE

McRoberts got to work immediately upon her arrival. Her first project was a tree-planting on the mountainside that had been deforested by flash floods. Several people from the Alexandria area contributed the finances and took part in the planting.

"Trees are a huge need," McRoberts said, adding that fruit trees were planted, which will start to produce in three years. "They will also provide food for the families."

Next on the agenda was to bring a medical team to the area to provide much-needed care to the sick and malnourished children. She enlisted the aid of an area doctor and nurse. In three days they saw 430 patients.

"It was incredible," McRoberts said. "We saw lots of kids, probably 350 were children. We saw a lot of malnutrition."

As part of their Bread to the Nations effort, Hagstrom had discovered a product called Medika Mamba (mamba means peanut butter in Creole, the language of Haiti; medika means medicine). The peanuts used in the product are grown in Haiti and it is manufactured in Haiti.

Hagstrom and McRoberts knew that with the use of Medika Mamba, they could not only help Haiti's stagnant economy, but feed children in the process.

They raised $10,000, which was enough to feed 60 children for two months - about the amount of time it takes to "get them out of the malnourished hole."

Since her arrival in Haiti in September, once or twice a week McRoberts distributes the peanut butter medicine to the hungry children.

"Sometimes this is all they have," McRoberts lamented, telling the story of one little girl the program has helped. "She was 22 months old and weighed only 12 pounds. She had a high fever, couldn't walk, had sores on her nose and ears, had a vaginal infection and was really dehydrated."

McRoberts got the mother and child to a hospital and gave her money to buy food. She is also eating the peanut butter supplement. After just six weeks, the girl gained 4 pounds and started to walk.

"It is the most amazing transformation!" McRoberts said. "In a month, instead of being dead, she is full of [life]."

The goal is to keep the Medika Mamba program running on a continuous basis with 60 children always receiving the supplement. Bread to the Nations is also working with Kids Against Hunger to provide meals to hand out to families, and is seeking other sources of support and food.

GOALS AND REWARDS

Fighting hunger is just one of many goals McRoberts has in her new home. She plans to educate people on family planning and nutrition. Her daughter is going to develop and incorporate a literacy program.

Her long-term dream is to build a combined school, clinic and church with a kitchen facility so children are assured at least one meal a day.

"We have lots of big dreams," McRoberts said. "We are chinking away at them one by one.

And she will keep chinking, no matter how long it takes.

"It could be two years or 10 years or a lifetime," McRoberts said. "I'll do it until God tells me to go somewhere else. I'll do it until my body won't go anymore."

No matter how much of a hardship it is compared to her life in Minnesota, the beauty she has seen arise out of ugliness has made it all worth it.

"I lived my life blind to how the rest of the world lives. I just lived so long with blinders on, intentionally not looking," she concluded. "The rewards I have received are much greater than anything I have sacrificed. My heart has never been fuller or happier."

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