At just 12 years old, a local South Florida girl has made a world of a difference.
Rachel Wheeler of Lighthouse Point just returned from a 3-day trip to Haiti to visit a Rachel's Village, a school and community she helped build after raising $320,000 through bake sales, collecting money at homecoming games, selling homemade potholders at school, and appealing to her members of her church and Chamber of Commerce to donate to the cause.
Rachel worked with Coconut Creek-based nonprofit Food for the Poor, which feeds millions in 17 Latin American and Caribbean countries.
In three years, she raised $320,000 to build Rachel's Village, a community of 27 families in the small fishing town of Leogane. She also used to funds to rebuild the Reap de Morel, a school completely destroyed in the February 2010 earthquake, said Food for the Poor's director of public relations Kathy Skipper.
After the quake, school staff tried to recreate a semblance of a structure to continue classes. With Rachel's fundraising, the 320 students now have a concrete school with a cafeteria, offices and classrooms, Skipper said.
“I saw poverty and really horrible conditions of health,” Rachel said after visiting Reap de Morel in November 2011. “The children were living in makeshift homes built with things they find in the trash. It differed from my classes in the United States in many ways, such as the way we learn, and the things we have. For example in some of my classes we have digital whiteboards, and we have online classes – but in Haiti, most of the time they don’t have chalkboards.”
Rachel was inspired to start fundraising for the poor country in 2009 when she was just 9. She attended a Haiti charity meeting with her mother and was moved by the devastation there, especially when she heard that food is so scare in some places that parents make “mud cakes” for their children to eat, NBC reports.
Rachel first visited Haiti in May 2011 to attend a ribbon cutting ceremony for Rachel’s Village after her fundraising efforts stateside. The 27 homes each have two rooms, giving families a place for beds and a living area, according to CBS Miami.
“I am really happy that Rachel and her mom made this happen to me because that is a great improvement in my life,” Ciceron Wilkins, one of the families who moved into Rachel’s Village, told CBS Miami last year.
This weekend, her third trip to Haiti, she was able to see the completed Rachel's School.
"I feel like that I've changed those kids' lives with the school, because now that they have an education they can get a job and they can teach their kids," Rachel told the Sun Sentinel. "It was a really good feeling, when I saw them all."
But she’s not satisfied by her work yet. Still fundraising, she hopes to house an additional 20 families in Rachel’s Village, according to Food for the Poor.
"She certainly has a big heart for such a little girl," Skipper told HuffPost Miami.
Check out her fundraising page for ways you can help.
PHOTOS: See moments from Rachel's recent trip to Haiti.