NEW YORK — Megan Boudreaux had visited Haiti before on short-term business and missions trips, but never did she imagine that God would call her to permanently abandon a comfortable life in the U.S. for a bare-bones one in a third-world country plagued by poverty and child slavery and that was just starting to climb its way out of a devastating earthquake.
Boudreaux visited Haiti in 2010, at the age of 24, at the behest of her employer. It was her second visit to the Caribbean island that just months prior had been rocked by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake.
The earthquake struck Jan. 12, killing anywhere from 230,000-316,000 people, according to CNN. More than a million residents were displaced, with tens of thousands more remaining in that situation today. In addition, nearly 25 percent of Haiti's schools were destroyed or damaged by the quake, the epicenter of which was just 15 miles from the capital Port-au-Prince.
As Boudreaux shares in her powerful book, Miracle on Voodoo Mountain: A Young Woman's Remarkable Story of Pushing Back the Darkness for the Children of Haiti, she was forever impacted by the "devastation and despair" she encountered on that trip.
The-then Louisiana resident found herself for the first time in the town of Gressier, home to Bellevue Mountain, which she would eventually discover was an infamous cite for voodoo (or vaudou) rituals (the Afro-Haitian religion that blends Roman Catholicism and spirit worship).
While seeking respite from the sun in the shade of a tamarind tree on the mountain, Boudreaux couldn't help but wonder about the hunger, sickness, and trauma she had seen among the people. She thought about the "children carrying heavy jugs of water on their heads" which she had watched walking in the hot sun on Bellevue Mountain's winding path.
"Someone needs to come here," she thought to herself at the time.
As she soon found out, that "someone" would be her.
Boudreaux writes in Miracle on Voodoo Mountain: "... as soon as I got back home to Louisiana, the dreams started. They weren't about the women I'd seen or the raggedy children or the dusty tents — just the tree. I longed to see it again and felt as though it was calling me back to Haiti, as if my spirit was being lured."
Less than a year later, Boudreaux had not only been "lured" but planted a short distance away from Bellevue Mountain and the tamarind tree where she had reflected on the desperate need all around her.
In a short time, the then 24-year-old helped expose internationally the corrupt practices at the local Son of God orphanage, and, compelled by the heartbreaking and common practice of children being used as restaveks (household servants), began organizing a nonprofit.
Boudreaux eventually founded Respire Haiti, initially started to help empower Haiti's estimated 300,000 child slaves and get them an education. Through feeding programs, a school, and a medical clinic, Respire Haiti's mission has come to encompass its entire community in Gressier. Not only are 500 school children educated every year at Respire Haiti, but the nonprofit employs more than a hundred locals.
According to Boudreaux, Respire Haiti will keep growing on the property it has come to acquire on Bellevue Mountain, as planning is underway for a church, community center, and library.
"During my time in Haiti, I have experienced many different encounters with evil, including walking and interrupting full-blown voodoo ceremonies on Bellevue Mountain confronting and fighting child trafficking, and battling the abusive restavek situation," she writes in Miracle on Voodoo Mountain. "Prayer and worship are my secret weapons, whether dealing with a voodoo priest, a corrupt pastor running a sham orphanage, or a servant of the head horseman. I am learning to let God fight my battles."
Learn more about Boudreaux's life-changing journey in Miracle on Voodoo Mountain: A Young Woman's Remarkable Story of Pushing Back the Darkness for the Children of Haiti, as she reveals how she came to adopt two young sisters, marry her best friend, and again adopt a second pair of siblings, also former slaves.