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Concordia grad who build schools for fellow Haitians returns to inspire

Children who are educated through TeacHaiti in St. Michel, Haiti, a charity operated by a Concordia College graduate. Special to The Forum1 / 5
Miquette Denie McMahon, a Concordia College graduate, founded TeacHaiti in St. Michel, Haiti. Special to The Forum2 / 5
Children who are educated through TeacHaiti show studying in St. Michel, Haiti. Special to The Forum3 / 5
Children pictured in a new school built by TeacHaiti in St. Michel, Haiti. Special to The Forum4 / 5
Miquette Denie McMahon of TeacHaiti in front of a new school in St. Michel, Haiti. Special to The Forum5 / 5

FARGO—When Miquette Denie McMahon was a child growing up in the village of St. Michel, Haiti, her schooling was interrupted time after time because her family was poor and behind on the payments.

More than 80 percent of schools in Haiti are private, she said, and hundreds of thousands of children there go uneducated because their families can't afford it.

"When you sit home, it's humiliating," McMahon said during a recent phone interview from Haiti.

As a teenager, however, she was fortunate to receive a scholarship to attend high school in Detroit Lakes, Minn., and Fargo. McMahon later earned a degree in nursing from Concordia College.

She turned that good fortune into an opportunity to help others in her native country through TeacHaiti, a nonprofit she's operated for 10 years.

"I was inspired to pay it forward," McMahon said.

She will return to Moorhead and share her story with the Concordia class of 2017 during its commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 7.

McMahon, 36, said she's excited but nervous to speak to the graduates because the school means so much to her.

When she even thinks about taking the stage, "my heart just beats faster," she said.

And McMahon has quite a story to tell.

Growing up in poverty in Haiti, she had a chance to come to the U.S. in 2000 through a Rotary Club scholarship and stay with host family John and Mary Lee in Detroit Lakes.

When that scholarship ran out, the family arranged for McMahon to attend Fargo Oak Grove High School to complete her senior year in 2002.

With dreams of becoming a nurse, she went on to Concordia College the following fall, constantly reminding herself of the blessings that had come her way.

"On campus, I pinched myself. I was the very first one in my family to graduate high school and go to college," McMahon said.

After graduating, she began working as a nurse in Detroit Lakes. But the thought of people like her in Haiti, growing up without an education, stuck with her. She decided to go back to Haiti to try to sponsor 10 children to attend school.

A handful of kids turned into dozens, and now TeacHaiti supports the education of more than 400 children. Donations coming in to the organization cover 95 percent of the students' tuition, school supplies, meals and teachers' pay.

The organization operates two schools in Haiti: an existing one, set up in a rented house in the capital of Port-au-Prince; and a newly built one in McMahon's hometown of St. Michel.

Much of the support for TeacHaiti comes in the form of sponsorships from families in the Detroit Lakes and Fargo-Moorhead areas, and those ties continue to grow.

TeacHaiti board member Kathy Nelson and her husband became sponsors after meeting Miquette 10 years ago, and have enjoyed getting pictures and handwritten notes from the children they've helped educate.

Nelson said McMahon continues to be humble and grateful that everything has fallen into place.

"You can't help but love her. She's that kind of person," Nelson said.

McMahon, a wife and mother of three young children, spends a fair amount of time traveling to spread the word about TeacHaiti.

She'll return to Detroit Lakes in June for a TeacHaiti Golf Scramble and Fundraiser on Thursday, June 15, at Wildflower Golf Course and the neighboring Fair Hills Resort. Proceeds will go toward McMahon's dream of educating as many children as possible.

"As long as we have support, the sky's the limit," she said.