Helping Haiti

Educating minds and enriching lives.
Oakland Middle School student thrives in Minnesota after being adopted from Haiti.

Sara Lein never dreamed of riding on the back of a motorcycle on a Caribbean island, running a school in a foreign country or helping find homes for three special kids—but she feels honored to say this is all been part of her journey. At a conference in 2011 she jotted down one word in a notebook: Haiti. She didn’t know what she was going to do there but she felt called to go.
Lein decided to spend a month volunteering at an orphanage in Port au Prince because that’s where her sister had adopted two sons. As an educator, Lein started teaching English to a handful of kids, and eventually found a natural fit as director of an orphanage that had been transformed into a school.

Most of the kids were adopted after a catastrophic earthquake the year before, but the need for quality education was so great within the surrounding communities that Lein and her Haitian staff felt drawn to respond to that need. “After you see it, you can’t un-see it,” says Lein. They trained teachers, established funds and worked with partners around the U.S. to help the orphanage along in its transition from orphanage into a primary school dedicated to providing quality, free education to kids in the high-poverty community of Pernier. Kozefò—which means “to speak in a loud voice” in Creole. The school is entirely funded by donations, and students are able to attend the school for free thanks to student sponsorships.

This fall Kozefò will enroll its first class of ninth graders and is looking to expand to a new building as soon as funds allow. Lein is eager to move to their new location, which she describes as “a beautiful little spot, with mango trees,” she says, because they have outgrown their current building, with 100 children currently. Lein feels inspired and awed by the Haitian enduring spirit as she watches students study happily in tight spaces, well dressed and eager to learn, despite many obstacles.

When the 2010 earthquake struck Haiti it had a ripple effect that reached all the way to Minn. Lein, a youth leader at her church, discussed Haiti and the orphaned children with her church group, who in turn, shared the stories with their own families. Ann Pearcy of Oakdale remembers a Sunday at church in July 2012 when she learned her good friend was going to start the adoption process for a boy at Kozefò. “I remember getting this feeling—who’s left?” says Pearcy. There was one boy left at the orphanage, and Pearcy could not help but feel like he was meant for them. What started out as a hypothetical question soon turned into a serious discussion with her husband and biological children. “It was very much faith-led,” she says.

In January 2015, Vinny arrived in the U.S. (two other boys found homes in Woodbury) and started his new life in Minn. This fall Vinny will be in seventh grade at Oakland Middle School  and is engaged in the soccer and football community. “He is just so tough. It’s a natural part of his life to go through difficult things that he is so resilient and brave,” says Pearcy. The entire family remains engaged in Kozefò: Each sibling sponsors a Kozefò student of their own and has taken service trips back to their brother’s first home. “We still have and build relationships there,” says Pearcy. “[Vinny] is not a ‘one and done’ for our relationship with Haiti … That’s how we honor him, being a part of Kozefò.”  

To sponsor a student or contribute to the building project visit