23-year-old awarded Meritorious Service Cross for work in Haiti

When Morgan Wienberg travelled to Haiti to volunteer after the devastating 2010 earthquake, the recent high school graduate had every intention of returning home to attend university.

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The Whitehorse, Yukon native was placed in a locally-run orphanage that housed 75 children. Wienberg says she wasn’t there long, before she felt the desire to turn that visit into something more long-term.

"I became so attached to the children," Wienberg told CTV's Canada AM on Monday.

Wienberg has spent much of the last five years in Haiti, and she is now being recognized for her work helping the country’s most vulnerable children.

The 23-year-old has returned to Canada to receive the prestigious Governor General's Meritorious Service Cross for her work in Haiti. The award recognizes an activity that has been performed in an "outstandingly professional manner, or with uncommonly high standards." Previous winners include Olympian Clara Hughes and astronaut Chris Hadfield.

Wienberg said the conditions she witnessed in the Haitian orphanage were horrific.

"You weren't sure if a child would die in the next three days," she said.

Wienberg said she eventually learned that many of the children in the orphanage had families who were alive in Haiti, but had given up their children in hopes that they'd receive more opportunities.

"Those parents who are struggling in poverty think their children would get that (international) aid if they're in an orphanage," she said.

Wienberg said she witnessed children being "horrifically abused and neglected," and felt the need to act.

In 2011, at age 18, she co-founded Little Footprints, Big Steps in Haiti. The organization now operates two safe houses, for children rescued from illegitimate orphanages or life on the street, and provides them with a "family setting" that includes shelter, food, basic education and health care.

Wienberg said, since launching Little Footprints, Big Steps, 120 children have been reunited with their families.

Wienberg has also been a keynote speaker at the United Nations Youth Assembly and been awarded the Rotary International Paul Harris Humanitarian Award and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal.

She said she's excited about the Meritorious Service Cross and hopes the award shines a light on the organization.



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