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6031: Former 'Playmate' fights off gangs, diseases to help Haitians , (fwd)

From: nozier@tradewind.net

November 28, 2000
 Former 'Playmate' fights off gangs, diseases to help Haitians 
 By Valerie Richardson THE WASHINGTON TIMES 

ASPEN, Colo.  Susie Krabacher's friends describe her as a candidate for
sainthood, but that's probably a stretch. After all, Mother Teresa   
never lied about her age so she could pose for the cover of Playboy.
Mother Katharine Drexel was never Miss May.And Mother Cabrini never
partied with Hef at the mansion.
What they did, of course, was devote their lives to caring for          
impoverished children in the world's most desperate slums.Just like,
well, Susie Krabacher. Six years ago, former  Playboy centerfold Susan
Scott Krabacher visited Haiti with a friend from church, and it
trasformed her life. Within months, she and her husband,Joseph, had
started the Foundation for Worldwide Mercy and Sharing, a charity
dedicated to serving the children who make up 75 percent of Haiti's 8
million-plus people.She now spends four to six months each year living 
and working in Cite Soleil, known as the most hopeless of the
Port-au-Prince slums. In that time, she's taken in hundreds of starving
children abandoned on street corners. She's rocked babies as they died
in her arms and cared for sick children stuck by their sores to hospital
mattresses. She's spent days digging through the morgue for the bodies
of dead children so she could give them a  proper burial.For her
trouble, she's contracted lice, scabies and mange, and was treated for
encephalitis. She's been menaced by gangs, confronted by voodoo witch
doctors and shaken down by bureaucrats who wanted bribes to let her
continue her work.In the process, she has become a local legend,       
branded with the moniker "Mama Blanche" by the locals for her work with
children, her fair skin and long,pale-blond hair. "A lot of celebrities
go in and they do great work, but they're there for one or two days and
they're surrounded by bodyguards," said Richard Dusseau, a longtime
friend who first showed her the country in 1994. "To be surrounded by so
much poverty, to watch people die on a daily basis, is incredibly
draining. But it really doesn't wear Susie down. It's almost like it
energizes her," he said.That the glamorous wife of a wealthy man would 
willingly leave her pampered life to tend to sick and dying children
under the worst possible conditions is amazing enough. What's even more
incredible is that she's good at it: Her Aspen-based foundation now    
operates six schools, five orphanages and a hospital ward for abandoned
children. With a staff of 82, she feeds,clothes, educates and nurses
1,652 children on a shoestring budget of $13,500 per month. "How does a
Playmate become the mother of 1,600  children?" asks the 37-year-old
Alabama native in her soft drawl. "Well, I always knew I wanted to be
remembered for doing more than posing for Playboy. My epitaph will     
not be, 'She was Miss May 1983.' " The roots of her devotion to Haiti's
neglected children can be found in what she describes as her own "very
rocky childhood." Growing up in Huntsville, Ala., she was sexually
abused by a male relative and temporarily placed in a foster home at age
12. A few years later, the family moved to Salt Lake City, Susie left
school and began working full time as a computer programmer. Her
relationship with her parents still was strained when she and her
brother and sister posed for a local photographer for a family picture.
Afterward, the photographer asked Susie if she would pose for him in a
bikini, and she agreed. He then sent the photos to Hugh Hefner.         
When Playboy called, Susie was initially horrified. "I said, 'No, no,
no,' " she recalled. "Then they sent me two dozen yellow roses and a
first-class ticket to L.A. Well, I wanted to go to L.A., but I didn't
want to tell my parents,so I told them I was going camping."She was just
17, but she lied about her age and became the first Playmate from Utah.
She spent the next 10 years doing acting, modeling and promotional work
for Playboy, enabling her to pay her bills, get her own place  in Malibu
and bring her younger brother, Mark, to live  with her. But the
experience also had its drawbacks. "It was a blessing and a curse," said
Susie. "I really was very content, but I think a lot of people with my
background have low self-esteem. I was around beautiful women all the
time, and I became anorexic  I wound up in the hospital and I nearly
killed myself. "None of that was Playboy's fault," she added. "Bless    
his heart, Hef personally made me go to therapy, and he paid for it." A
brief marriage brought her to Aspen, where she met Joseph Krabacher
while shopping for a divorce lawyer. Mr. Krabacher had never handled a
divorce, but he agreed to do hers, and they married shortly after it  
became final.
One night she was up late watching a program on the street children of
Mongolia when something inside her clicked. "I told Joe, 'Why can't I do
something like that? I could sell all my antiques and go over and build
 orphanages,' " said Mrs. Krabacher. "Then a friend of mine from [First
Baptist Church of Aspen] said, 'Why not Haiti? It's 10 times poorer than
Mongolia, and it's right here in our back yard."  They began planning a
trip to Port-au-Prince, and, instead of trying to talk her out of it,
Mr. Krabacher was supportive."I thought it was a pretty good idea," he
said. "I wasn'tfamiliar with Haiti, except what I saw on TV. But I knew
she always wanted to have an orphanage."He might have changed his mind
if he had known what she would do next. Mr. Dusseau says Mrs.Krabacher
was immediately drawn to Cite Soleil, which he describes as "250,000
people living on a garbage dump."The Krabachers began their work by
founding Mercy House, an orphanage for children ages newborn to 15.    
They soon added a school and nutritional center, where many of her young
charges receive their only meal of the day; and the "abandoned
children's ward" at the General Hospital. The foundation also has taken
over the  operation and financing of four more orphanages and five     
schools. When she started taking in orphans, government bureaucrats saw
an opportunity to take advantage of the  wealthy white woman, but their
tactics backfired.Initially suspicious of her work, the bureaucrats now
bring her children they can't place elsewhere. Her facilities are filled
with the chronically ill, the disabled,the mentally retarded."She
literally takes the kids nobody else wants, the throwaway children left
for dead," said foundation board member Tracy Chapman, who serves as the
foundation's director of volunteers and medical services. Next to
Third-World giants like UNICEF, the Krabacher foundation is small: She's
raised $1.1 million since she started, about half of that from her own
pocket. But every penny goes directly to Haiti, while she and Joe     
cover the foundation's administrative, publicity and travel expenses.  
The foundation also has struck deals for food and  infant formula
donations from firms like Del Monte and  Ross-Abbott Laboratories, while
textile giant Springs Industries has chipped in new pillows, blankets
and bedding. At Mrs. Krabacher's behest, American Airlines  has thrice
shipped tons of food, diapers, shoes, socks and other supplies to Haiti.
And Mrs. Krabacher has big plans for the future. She recently opened two
clinics and purchased 9* acres of land with plans to open same-sex
orphanages as her children start hitting their teen years. She'd like to
provide uniforms for her schoolchildren, but so far the cost has proven
prohibitive. Ultimately, she wants to adopt out some of her orphans to
families in the United States, but bureaucratic fees and paperwork are
blocking the way. In the meantime, she's negotiating with a U.S.
manufacturer to build a plant in Haiti where her older children can
learn skills to help them obtain jobs upon graduation. She's started a
Web site (www.haitichildren.com) and an e-mail address
"Haiti's problems won't be solved in my lifetime, but these kids are the
future," said Mrs. Krabacher. "They can change the world."

This article is excerpted from a version that originally
 appeared in Philanthropy.