Reporter sponsored Haiti kids because “I am a human being first.”

Readers of the Toronto Star, inspired by the example of reporter Catherine Porter in sponsoring the education of three-year-old Lovely Avelus and of her cousin and friend, pitched in to send other Haitian students to school.

The story is one of several told in “Lovely’s Haiti,” a Star series and multimedia project launched October 17.

As Porter acknowledges, she was treading in new territory when she put aside her detachment to help kids go to school after January’s earthquake:    

…Lovely had survived hell to live in misery, I thought, as she grabbed my pen and drew squiggles on my notepad. “Comme ca,” she said. “Like that.” Right then, I decided to help.

In the end, my husband and I agreed to a sponsor not just Lovely, but Sofone and her 4-year-old next-door playmate, Angelica. That way we would prevent resentment. We didn’t want to create more problems than we fixed.

We would cover their school costs for two years, long enough to get them back on their feet, we thought. And we would give Lovely’s mother $100 a month for six months to restart her business.

In total, we would spend around $1,650 to help them. For us, that was a little more than one month’s mortgage payment. For them, it was more than their annual income.

I understood the arrangement was unorthodox. As a journalist, I am supposed to remain detached. My role is to be an impartial observer and documenter.

But having witnessed a mountain of tragedies, I couldn’t stand by numbly any more. Here was one small problem I could easily fix. Where my profession ruled I couldn’t, my humanity demanded I must. I am a human being first, a journalist second. I had my conscience to live with. Plus, after documenting all that destruction, I needed some hope as much as they did.

So, on April 27, Rosemene dressed Lovely in her newly tailored red tartan dress — the uniform for a private primary school I enrolled her in nearby — and took her to school for the first time. It was her third birthday.

The story might have ended there. Except, once back in Toronto I wrote a column about my decision. And the floodgates opened.

Minutes after the story went up on the Star’s website, emails started filling my inbox. More than 100 that first day. Readers wanted to send me money for Lovely’s education. They requested I enroll other children in school for them.

What had I gotten myself into? It was one thing for me to directly help a Haitian family; quite another to broker the assistance for dozens of families. I am still a journalist, not a charity worker. On the other hand, how could I refuse to help, knowing how many other Lovelys there were in Haiti?

I directed readers to charities I had seen working on the ground in Port-au-Prince. I couldn’t give them a tax receipt, I warned.

They would not be dissuaded….