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Difference Maker

People Making a Difference: Nadia Bitar helps Liberian orphans

The fashion model-turned-philanthropist aims to build a new home for them.

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"I wanted to help the kids as soon as possible," Bitar says, urgency evident in her voice.

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The sisters set to work. They bought beds, mattresses, sheets, pillows, clothes, shoes, and food for the children. Bitar's mother now brings food supplies once a month, pays the staff, and checks in on the orphanage. A younger sister, Caldelia "Love" Williams, helps as well, and Laila is hands-on whenever possible.

Bitar gratefully acknowledges the support from her family, including her boyfriend, who actively encourages her work with Haven Missions. They now live in Greece with a toddler son. Bitar is starting her own line of resort clothing, and 10 percent of the profits will go to Haven Missions, she says.

Helping others is nothing new for Nadia, Ms. Toe says. Her daughter used to spend a portion of her allowance on needier children even as the war meant she received less. In turn, Bitar says it is her mother – a pastor who still lives in Monrovia and raised 11 children, eight of whom were not biologically hers – who taught her generosity.

"Giving back is something that was ingrained in me," she says. "When you grow up in a world where every day you see people in need," it's hard not to help, she says.

Yet the Childcare Foundation is still far from ideal. The metal-roofed home is cramped, and the low ceilings are covered in peeling newspaper. The kitchen consists of a small fire on the ground inside the school building, itself a dark space with rickety benches and bare walls. There is no running water or electricity.

Recently, the government updated the required minimum standards for children's institutions, says Lydia-Mai Sherman, a spokeswoman for the Liberian government's Department of Social Welfare.

The Childcare Foundation site is too small, and expanding it would be too costly to turn it into her dream for Haven Missions, Bitar says.

For $20,000, she recently bought 10 acres of wooded land about 40 minutes outside Monrovia. By 2010, Bitar plans to build an ecofriendly orphanage there, with solar panels, separate dorms for boys and girls, a school for up to 500 children, and a six-acre farm so that Haven Missions can grow its own food. A fundraiser in May netted about $15,000, with more donations likely, Bitar says. The new facility is expected to cost $50,000.

Bitar plans to visit Liberia in the fall to check on her project. While she remains the driving force behind Haven Missions, as well as its principal fundraiser, for now she makes only one annual visit so she can save up for construction of her new site.

While making clear that the Bitar family will have to work with the government, Ms. Sherman applauds their efforts. "We embrace what [Nadia Bitar] is trying to do," she says. "The government can't do it alone."

r For more information or to make a donation, visit www.havenmissions.org

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