by Leonard Shapiro

Bill Harvey had made several trips to Haiti starting in 2005, helping a doctor friend who had opened a medical clinic in Cap Haitien, about 100 miles north of Port au Prince. Harvey went along to contribute any odd job necessary, and every time he got home to Haymarket, he tried to convince his wife Debbie to come along on his next visit.

“I didn’t want to go,” she said. She was working as a realtor, with three young children. “I finally gave in. Begrudgingly.”

Soon after the Harveys arrived on her first trip, a Haitian friend took them into town and showed them a ramshackle house where 38 orphaned children were living in total squalor. Dr. Ray Ford, their physician friend, later went back to that home and couldn’t believe the conditions.

“He said he’d never seen anything like it,” said Bill Harvey, who owns a Haymarket-based insurance business. “His jaw just dropped. He told us if those kids didn’t get help right away, they’d be dead within six months.”

At that point, Debbie Harvey no longer was the reluctant tourist.

“When I got home, I was sick,” she said. “Couldn’t sleep, couldn’t stop thinking about what we’d seen. I just couldn’t get over it.”

The Harveys knew they had to do something more. And now, eight years later, there is housing for the orphans on a 40-acre parcel called Kay Ani village that also houses a school, a church and eventually a medical clinic and administrative offices.

After Debbie’s first trip, they hosted a party at their home and “we told our friends to bring a checkbook or don’t come,” she said. “We raised $16,000. That was the seed money to get started.”

“We bought a beat-up home for the kids to stay in and hired four or five local women to come in and feed them,” Bill Harvey said.

“We really didn’t know what we were doing,” Debbie added. “We had no clue.”

But they learned. Quickly. They formed a non-profit, called Helping Haitian Angels, and it’s making a huge difference in many lives, including their own.  Over the years they’ve enlisted friends, neighbors and total strangers to help the cause. Five local churches, including Trinity Episcopal in Upperville, have contributed funds, food and volunteers to travel to Cap Haitien. They’ve received donations of clothing, furniture, plumbing supplies, electric wiring and much more from a number of Northern Virginia businesses.

Dr. Ford, who practiced in Charlottesville, visits his clinic four times a year, bringing physicians and nurses from all over. On one flight back home, Bill Harvey met a dentist from Harrisonburg. When Harvey told him about his work in Haiti, the dentist immediately made plans to visit and treat patients. He’s now going four times a year, taking dental technicians along to treat patients.

Trinity Rector Rob Banse and his wife Jane have visited several times, with a number of Trinity volunteers also regularly heading to Haiti.

“I first met some of these children six years ago, just a couple of years after the Harveyshad rescued them from a near-death situation,” said Trinity parishioner John MacDonnell who has visited several times with his wife, Mary. “Now they’re leaders in church, local soccer team champs, and we’re talking about university options for some of them.

“On our most recent trip when we visited their new village for the first time, these children could now run all over, go to the playground and play on the new soccer field. Soon, a new basketball court will be finished.  For the first time in their young lives, they’re really being children. It’s such a joy to see.”

There are 54 kids now living at Kay Ani village in eight family-style homes, each staffed by a Haitian “mama.” The school has 121 students, with classes taught in Creole. There are 41 staff members, all Haitians earning a living wage.

The entire operation is funded by individual and corporate donations, and Bill Harvey estimates operating expenses at about $16,000 per month. The Harveys, who met while both were students at Ohio State, are both people of strong Christian faith who clearly believe a higher power has pushed them toward what is now their life’s purpose, and passion.

In a letter published on the organization’s web site, Debbie Harvey wrote that “my Helping Haitian Angels team is proof that “ordinary” people are God’s conduit for extraordinary miracles. These children are thriving today. Our goal is to raise the next generation of compassionate, fair, courageous, and educated Haitian leaders. Out of despair, Helping Haitian Angels is creating hope and new beginnings.”

Reluctant tourist, indeed.  

(For more information, go to