Haitian orphan pursues dream in North Texas



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Posted on December 29, 2012 at 12:23 AM

Updated Saturday, Dec 29 at 2:09 AM

WEATHERFORD -- When Vanah Paul was a little girl in a Haitian orphanage, she would see airplanes fly over, and dream.

On Thursday, she took her first flight, starting with a tiny plane taking off from a dirt strip. Then she got on a jet. And early Friday morning, she arrived in North Texas.

"I'm so cold, I'm freezing," she said, bundled in multiple heavy sweaters. It's the first of many shocks, but nothing compared to challenges she's already conquered.

"I only know my father died. That's why they brought me to the orphanage," she said. "I never knew my mother, whether she died or not. I don't know."

She was only two years old. Now 24, Vanah is too old for the orphanage. But not for the House of Moses.

"We're not an orphanage. We're just a Christian family living with 15 children," Christi Barnes said. "We live in the village among Haitians as Haitians. Limited electricity. We filter all our water. Burn our trash."

Christi and John Barnes started the House of Moses, a 501c3 non-profit, in a home in the village of St. Louis du Nord. They moved to the impoverished island from their comfortable home near Weatherford.

They had adopted a Haitian toddler, named Ava, right after the 2010 earthquake. Last December, they moved to Haiti for mission work, but decided to live outside the mission to work with young villagers.

"We felt this calling on our life," Christi Barnes said. "The lows are low. But the highs are high."

Like being asked to take in 12 young people who had aged out of the adoption system. Including Vanah.

"We had 15 stockings going up the banister," Christi said.

Another Christmas miracle was waiting for Vanah. Despite her background, her school achievements astounded the family.

"Her physics and chemistry were sky high," Christi said.

So they got her enrolled in Weatherford College on a student visa. She hopes to eventually study aviation engineering to work on airplanes.

"Especially in Haiti, people always think for a woman that's impossible to do it," Vanah said. "And since I was a child, I said I want to do it. Show them there's nothing impossible, as long as you believe it."

Her goal is to return to Haiti and use her skill and knowledge to help her homeland. Christi Barnes said all 15 of their children are taught to serve -- to improve Haiti, not abandon it.

"Lead and make a difference," she said.

Vanah already has a roommate to help start her life at Weatherford College. Jessica Tankersley spent a summer working at the House of Moses. They cling to each other like sisters.

"I got to share her house in Haiti," Jessica said. "Now she gets to share my life here."

Vanah wipes away tears on her first day in Texas; missing the familiarity of the only life she's known, searching for words in English to explain her mixed emotions of hope and sadness.

Christi Barnes said the House of Moses doesn't yet have all the money Vanah will need for her education. When asked where the rest will come from, Vanah replies, "God knows."

To her, that's not an expression of uncertainty. It's a statement of belief.

Against all odds, her dream is finally taking flight.

Learn more about the House of Moses here

E-mail jdouglas@wfaa.com