Friday, December 18, 2009

The Current Haitian Adoption Process

The many steps listed below are those all the Creche Directors of Haiti must follow for each and every adoption. Add to their number the extreme difficulty of accomplishing each one: every step must be accomplished in person and by hand.

Most of the offices listed do not have computers. There will be no communications by fax or email or even by official phone calls. Facilitators must visit each office personally to check on the status of each case, and carry it by hand through the traffic of Port-au-Prince to the next stage of the process.

Pre-IBESR
While you are gathering your dossier and before your case ever enters IBESR, your adoption facilitator had to gather each of the following documents:

  1. Passport pictures of the child
  2. Birth Certificate
  3. Attestation of signature on Birth Certificate or extract from the National Archives
  4. Legal relinquishment of custody to the orphanage from the local judge
  5. Psychological evaluation
  6. Medical evaluation
  7. Laboratory tests
  8. Social history
  9. Proces Verbal (A legal document in which the biological family grants the creche the right to place their child with your family for international adoption. Can only be completed after your dossier is in Haiti.)

IBESR and Dispensation
Your dossier can now be submitted to IBESR. If your family does not meet the criteria of the law of 1974, your dossier can be pre-approved for Presidential Dispensation and delivered to the Presidential Palace by IBESR. Dispensations are published in Le Moniteur. Following Dispensation, IBESR will sign off on your dossier and grant an Authorization of Adoption.

Time lines for this step have been highly inconsistent in the past year.

Parquet Court
The 'step' we refer to as Parquet court is actually a very complex series of steps and processes involving multiple offices and repeated trips between them.

  1. Attorney addresses a Request for Judgment to the Chief Justice of Parquet Court
  2. Birth parents are interviewed in Parquet Court
  3. Parquet Court signs off on "approval judgement for adoption
  4. Facilitator takes approval to DGI for stamp of authorization
  5. Back to Parquet for enforcement of the approval judgement
  6. Authorization and redaction from the Civil Registrar Officer for legal Adoption Decree
  7. Verification in parquet of the adoption documents by the Civil Registrar before signing the adoption decree
  8. First Legalization of the Adoption Decree, in Parquet Court
  9. Second Legalization of the Adoption Decree, at the Ministry of Justice
  10. Third Legalization of the Adoption Decree, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  11. Obtain attestation of Adoption Decree from the National Archives

Ministry of the Interior
All international adoption cases are reviewed by the Ministry of Interior. In order to obtain authorization to request a passport, the following documents must be submitted for each child:

  1. Four passport sized pictures
  2. Birth Certificate
  3. Attestation for the Birth Certificate
  4. Extract from the National Archives for the Birth Certificate
  5. Relinquishment
  6. Proces Verbal of adoption
  7. Adoption approval judgement
  8. Adoption Decree
  9. Attestation of the Adoption Decree
  10. Power of Attorney for creche director and/or attorney
  11. Stamp from DGI
  12. Notary letter for the passport
  13. Identification card of facilitator and/or attorney on the case
  14. Biological parents' identification cards
  15. Adoptive parents' MOI form, identification, and passport photos

The Ministry of Interior will grant authorization to submit the dossier to Haitian Immigrations for a passport.

Haitian Immigrations
The facilitator will submit authorization to apply for a passport to Haitian Immigrations. This is generally a quick process - one to two weeks, if all equipment is working properly.

US Immigrations
Note to international readers - US Immigrations performs the most rigorous investigation of international adoptions. Other nations' Immigrations process are different. Please check with your agency to learn about the process for your home country.)

Parts of the US Immigrations process can occur concurrently with the Haitian process, however USCIS cannot sign off on the case until they have verified the final Adoption Decree and the child's passport. DNA may be requested at any time.

American families are advised to work closely with their agencies to ensure a smooth and efficient US Immigrations process for their child.

Approximately three to four weeks following completion of all USCIS investigations and adjudication of the I600 for the child, the case will be forwarded to the Department of State for issuance of a Visa. The Department of State also has the right to request DNA testing for birth parent and child. Adoptive parents need not be present for the Visa appointment.

Parents who can prove that they visited their child prior to the issuance of the Adoption Decree by Parquet Court will be issued an IR-3 Visa. Their children will be automatically granted full US Citizenship upon arrival in the US.

Families who did not visit their children prior to the date of the Adoption Decree must file for citizenship for their children. Failure to file for citizenship will leave the child as a legal immigrant and unprotected by the rights of full citizenship. Please refer to the USCIS website for form N-600 and instructions on how to file.

Summary

These steps were provided by Margarette Saint Fleur of BRESMA orphanage. All legitimate adoptions facilitators must follow each one of them, and must do so under extremely difficult conditions.

Haitian adoptions are taking far, far too long. Children are waiting in orphanages for months and even years while the process drags on. And yet, when we look at the immensely complicated process, we must realize what a miracle it is when each child comes home.

When you travel to pick up your child at last, thank the people who made your adoption possible. No amount of money could ever cover the exhaustion and frustration they endure for each case, and most of them work for very little or no pay at all. Their reward is seeing the children they live for go home with families who will love and cherish them for the rest of their lives.

Thank your facilitator by telling her how grateful you are for her work, and thank her by sending her pictures over the years of your child growing up safe and happy. It is their sacrifices that make our adoptions and our families possible.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Visit from Quisqueya Christian School

Margarette has arranged for the children of BRESMA I to have visits from the ninth grade class of nearby Quisqueya Christian School

The message below is from Quisqueya teacher Denise Blesh.

The QCS 9th grade students are beginning to bond with & becoming friends & care about the children at Bresma 1. It is good to see them responding so well! It is getting them to think about a lot of things!

These children at QCS will have the ability & education to be part of the governing body for the future of Haiti if they choose. We hope & pray that these types of mission trips will help the students realize the many different needs of Haiti, help them to think about others & not just themselves & why it is important to have goals for the future to be able to help Haiti by creating a honest, educated & productive government.

Thank you again for participating with Quisqueya Christian School in this matter,

Denise Blesh & the 9th grade QCS class


Here is Denise's update from the latest visit, just yesterday:

Today went really well. Thank you again for this opportunity. Every visit seems to go even better than the previous one, which is wonderful. I believe ALL of the children both young & older had a great time today :)

Highlights for your kids today were:

Lunch & then Christmas cake
Christmas stories, each page read in English by one student then immediately translated in Creole by another student...the B1 kids loved it...
Playtime outside


Thank you Denise and students for your time and caring. It couldn't be more obvious that you
are bringing great joy to the children at BRESMA I!


Thursday, November 26, 2009

A New Family's Thanksgiving Letter

This letter is posted by permission of a new family living in Colorado in their wish to give hope and encouragement to everyone waiting for their children to come home from Haiti.

Hello friends and family,

Just a quick holiday greeting and update before the festivities begin! So the past couple of weeks were scattered with more firsts....Jazzie's first hair appointment, Cameron's first haircut, their first ride in a Lotus, their first friend home from BRESMA orphanage, first trip to the hot springs....etc. I've attached some photos I've taken over the last couple weeks, some might be repeats as I've finally got a computer that allowed me to download and I wanted all their pics in one album!

Anyways.....we've certainly been busy, having play dates, visitors, house guests and such. It's been wonderful to share Cameron and Jasmine with all our friends and family and we so appreciate the yummy foods, treats and company since their homecoming!

I'm working on completing their validation paperwork and almost have it finished. The adoption is recognized federally but the state of Colorado requires that you legalize/validate the adoption for the state! So more paperwork, more notaries and more money!! I'm hoping to get it out before the week is out. We obtained their citizenship papers and their social security cards this past month and this will be one of the last steps to finalize everything!

As we approach Thanksgiving I wanted to write a message about all the things I'm Thankful for......not sure if this will still be a brief email but I'll try to make it abbreviated! :)

I'm thankful to have a loving and supportive husband, whom I could never of made it through this journey to parenthood without. I'm incredibly blessed to have him in my life. I'm thankful for our two beautiful children, Cameron and Jasmine whom proved miracles are possible! I'm thankful for Cameron and Jasmine's birth parents who made a selfless decision to give their children a better life, without their decision, we wouldn't be filled with the joy of having Cam and Jazzie in our life. I'm thankful for Jamie and Ali for their love and support of our children and for keeping them and the children of BRESMA safe while their families wait to bring them home. I'm thankful for our family and friends that have provided us support and love throughout this entire process! I am truly grateful for all the blessing we have received this past year!

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone....May blessings be bountiful in your life!

Love, Liz, Jon, Cam, Jazzie and Daisy too!
Help make our blog better - share your stories of kids at home, your trips to Haiti, or even how you are dealing with the pain and frustration of waiting for your children to come home. Email your story to me at diana@kentuckyadoptionservices.org.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

DOS Hague Panel Discussion

I’m only writing this tonight because I’m afraid I might forget something by morning if I don’t. I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck, and home has never looked so good. And they even had a really good supper waiting for me…

The panel discussion was held at the home of Consul General Donald Moore. The panel and a few invitees sat in salon which had been set up for our meeting. The Consul’s house has airconditioning, which impressed me as much as anything else. It’s been pretty hot down here!
I was one of three adoption workers asked to speak. Vera Valdivia and Mansour Masse spoke as well. Dixie Bickel had been invited, but she was in Canada and unable to attend. Judge Rock Cadet of Parquet Court and Madame Jean Bernard Pierre, Director of IBESR participated as well. The attendees included representatives from most of the major crèches, the Swiss Ambassador, UNICEF, and the press.

All three adoption service providers were unified in our message – implementing the Hague prematurely in Haiti would be disastrous. Mine was unfortunately the longest speech, although I did cut it short. I had practiced many times with a stop watch, but I never thought to allow for the translation of everything I said into French. My translator and I had some troubles hearing each other. I ended up translating some of my own remarks into Kreyol, which got me a big laugh. Probably at least in part because of my fumbling speech.

My speech included a case study between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which is a Hague country. Like other Latin American nations who have implemented the Hague, there are almost no intercountry adoptions out of the Dominican. I pointed out a large discrepancy in statistics. Although the DR’s average Gross National Income is 6.3 times that of Haiti, the mortality rate of children under five in Haiti is only twice that of the Dominican Republic. I speculated that perhaps the crèches, with their children in care, their schools, their nutrition programs, and their temporary care might be part of the reason. I also asserted very clearly that if we ratify the Hague prematurely and shut down international adoptions, children will die.

After the panel spoke, a UNICEF staff member rose and stated that if Haiti ratified the Hague, no children would die. I hope that means that if it happens, UNICEF will come to my house with food for all the children living here. Although UNICEF’s official position is that it approves of international adoption as a last resort for children, in practice UNICEF is often content to settle for children remaining in orphanages in their native countries. As UNICEF’s primary funding source, the United States really must make clear that every child has the right to a permanent family.


Overall I think the panel went very well. I was so honored to meet all the important people present. It is fortunate I was asked questions about adoption, about which I feel so passionately, or I would have been completely tongue-tied and foolish before them. As it is, I am very relieved that it is over and I lived! On to the next one!

Margarette dragged herself to the meeting, despite just having arrived from France. We had a very quick meeting at the office this evening, and then I nagged her about turning off her phone and going to bed. I begged her husband to hide her phone and unplug the internet. Margarette insists that she’s going right back to work tomorrow, but she was visibly exhausted. Nobody can keep up that pace.

I leave tomorrow with a small friend riding in my lap all the way to Denver. I’ve finished my book, but somehow I’m sure that I’ll have enough to do spending the whole day on airplanes with a 17 month old boy.

Another successful trip. The kids all want to know what day I’m coming back. I think this time I’ll stay at home for at least two months, but I know I’ll miss them before that.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Haitian Workday


What a whirlwind of a day! It started at 6:45, when Jamie and I went to the Embassy for a Visa appointment with my little buddy. It went very smoothly, and we were out by 9:00.
Then we were off to the bank, fighting morning traffic, to see if the child care funds KAS wired days and days ago had finally arrived. You can’t just call the bank here –you have to go there. No luck. Lucy and I made frantic arrangements to track the money, and to use MoneyGram to send Jamie more funds. In the meantime I gave her all the money I had with me except for $20 US. It’s funny how I think of money here in Haiti. I have a place to stay and food to eat at all times, and what more do you need? In Haiti, money feels like a luxury. All those things I think I need in the US are not needs at all, but just wants.

My friend Alison was waiting outside the house when we got back to whisk me back out to the barn. We enjoyed an hour of VERY hot stress relief in the sun. When we finished, her car thermometer read 104. Quite the change from South Dakota – no wonder I was woozy from the heat! My cold water bucket bath never sounded (or felt) so good.

And then, on to another really delightful task. One of my adoptive Moms who is a worker for Haiti herself arrived. We had never met before in real life. Her toddler son, also at Jamie’s, is doing very well. He had been in BRESMA II, but then he got sick and they moved him to BRESMA I. I have a strong preference that all of ‘my’ kids stay at ‘my’ house or at Jamie’s, so Margarette agreed to let me move him. Moving is always a trauma for a child, and he had a few rough weeks at Jamie’s after two moves. He is noticeably happier since my last visit just a few weeks ago. His Mom seems really pleased with how he is doing. I thought it might be too much for him to go and stay with her after so much upheaval in the past few months, but Jamie and the little man in question disagreed. He was quite happy to go off with Mom for a few days of time together. It will be very hard for her to leave him, but at least she’ll know he is happy in his new home.

Once we sent the two of them off together, Jamie and I went to a bank to pick up the money Kentucky Adoption Services had wired down using Moneygram to tide us over until the child care wire is located. Everything here takes forever. Between the paperwork and standing in line, it probably took a good hour to leave with cash in hand. Jamie had already spent all the money I gave her while I was at the barn to buy diapers and a few meals’ worth of food for her house. When you can’t buy in bulk in Haiti, you really pay extra.

Next we had to come back to BRESMA II to get my wallet, and to Jamie’s to collect Ti Ness. Ti Ness is Margarette’s younger brother. He is married to Bielen, the nurse at Jamie’s House. He drove us to Bainet to visit the birth mother of one of our children (see my blog entry from April 18th, 2009). I had to arrange for a rental car so that he can go back, leading USCIS officers, for an interview with the same woman. You have to have a credit card to rent the vehicle, so I guess I just have to hope that all that comes of my signature on that blank credit card slip is a hold for renting the car which will be cancelled after Ti Ness pays in cash when he returns the car.
Finally I came home for a few minutes, where I rested, ate something at last, and eventually fell asleep. But I was back up in less than an hour to go out one last time, to celebrate Jamie’s birthday with a few friends.

Tomorrow is the big workshop meeting. I’ll read my speech out loud a few more times to practice, and then Mansour Masse from Holt International will come to get me. We’ve given ourselves an hour of meeting time before the workshop to come up with an alternative plan for solving all of the problems in Haiti’s adoption process. Luckily Mansour has had a few years to think about this one!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Pointers for Adopting Families


A rare slow day. In the morning I went to the stables with a friend, wearing one of the other hats I am forced to wear in Haiti – unlicensed practicing veterinarian. Her horse is lame, and there really is no large animal veterinarian on this half of the island. We had a leisurely morning sitting on the patio at the barn chatting when we were done with the horse. I’m feeling very stressed out about my meeting on Tuesday, and any distraction is a welcome relief. In fact, I’m going back out to the barn tomorrow after my Visa appointment. Nothing like exercise and the great outdoors for fighting stress!

I spent the afternoon with Jamie. I got to meet the niece of one of my adopting mothers. Hillary is here in Haiti teaching at a Christian school called Quisqueya. I had a million questions about how she managed daily life here. Without all the help I get from my nannies here, I’d be totally lost. Here in Haiti I am like a child. I don’t know how to cook over charcoal. I’m perfectly awful at figuring out the money – all the bills are marked in gourdes, but everyone tells you the prices in Haitian dollars. One Haitian dollar is five gourdes, but it takes me far too long to multiply and divide it all out my head, while at the same time trying to manage numbers in Kreyol. They are a lot more complicated than they are in English. I wouldn’t have the first idea how to rent an apartment, figure out which taptap to take, order water delivery. I am still just as in awe of Jamie and Ali as ever!

Jamie and I had a good long talk. She remains concerned that parents are not hearing our message that all of these children have experienced trauma, and that trauma is going to come out in some form when they get home. Many of our children are less traumatized than most of the adopted children in the world. But still, each and every one of them has lost his parents. And when we bring them home, they lose their whole orphanage family, their culture, their country, and even their language. Our gain is very much their loss. Those losses are bound to show in some way at some time.
It is so important to remember that in fact, most of the children are normal children. And if normal children lose their entire families and live in a institution with no parents for several years – even an institution as good as BRESMA – there will be damage. It is inevitable. None of us would allow the daycare center to raise our child. Even though I believe that Jamie’s House is better than any commercial daycare center I’ve ever seen in America, it is still not a real family. Loving, consistent, paid caretakers are not as good as a real family. We’ve seen this over and over again in the US, where children raised by the best foster parents are still hurt by never having a family of their own.

Most BRESMA kids come out on top in the end. Almost all adoptions from BRESMA II and thus far all of those from Jamie’s House are going very well. But most of them have had a few rough spots. These children will be grieving losses that we will never have to endure at the same time as we are rejoicing that they are home at last.

Do you want to ensure that your family is one of the lucky ones? Well, you can’t really ensure anything about parenting. But you can certainly improve your odds. DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Learn about grieving and angry children. Learn how to be empathetic and how to build attachment. Consult with a professional about your expectations for your new child’s behavior upon arrival at home, in a year, in ten years. Are you adopting a child because you hope to become someone who can love him, or because you hope him to become someone you think you can love?

There are a few characteristics I’ve found happy adoptive parents have in common:



  • Flexibility

  • A sense of humor

  • Reasonable expectations

  • The ability not to take a child’s feelings personally (it’s not about us, most of the time!)

  • Faith

  • Support

  • The knowledge that love is a verb, not just a noun

  • Absolute commitment to their child

  • Eagerness to become a whole new kind of family

Have you completed your adoption or spent a lot of time with your child in Haiti? Please put in your two cents. What do adopting parents need to know when recreating their families?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

On the Road Again...


After only a few weeks at home, here I am back in Haiti again. The kids and staff were very surprised to see me. For once the amazing Haitian grapevine failed to notify everyone of plans. But they were very happy to see me nonetheless, and the older kids made sure to assure me that Manno had indeed bought chicken with the money I left here last time.

A few things have changed. One little girl at BRESMA II has left for France, and a pair of toddler twins from Jamie’s House is now safe at home. The little boy I brought here from BRESMA I on my last trip no longer has any sign of the scabies or scalp fungus afflicting him before.

The kids played a long, loud, and rowdy game of Kidnappers. The older boys were the bandits, of course, and they marched back and forth from the front yard to the back, chanting ‘left, right, left ,right’ in unison. They would select a target (one of the older girls, or even me, once) and drag their victim back to the front yard amid wild shrieking and giggling. Then Manmi Lis would run to the front yard and pretend to chase the boys around with the belt she wears around her shoulders as a threat. The game went on for hours. I couldn’t help but think over the deafening noise of 29 children, that this place does not sound like an orphanage. It sounds like a noisy home.

I am here on such short notice as I have been summoned by the US Consulate. Vice Consul Linda Percy has asked me, three other adoption professionals, Judge Rock Cadet of Parquet Court, and Madame Pierre Bernard, the Director of IBESR, to a workshop to discuss the feasibility implementing the Hague Convention on International Adoption here in Haiti.
Initially I was flattered, intimidated, and a bit confused why I, of all people had been asked. I am quite ignorant of the Hague. Or at least, I was until a few days after the invitation. After quite a bit of intensive study of legal documents, statistics, and history, I am grateful to be given the chance to speak.

The Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-Operation in Respect to Intercountry Adoption is a simple document. It is only fourteen pages long, and covers many basic human rights, as well as outlining structure for uniform processing of adoptions throughout and member country. It’s the implementation that is tricky. And expensive.
The United States signed the Hague Convention in 1994. And then it took us fourteen YEARS to be able to create and implement policies allowing us to conform before we ratified the treaty in 2008. And we still have loopholes, bureaucratic struggles, and allegations of politics interfering with the accreditation process.

I am grateful to have a chance to speak before a group who seems pre-disposed to listen so that I can say that I think the Hague could be a wonderful thing to Haiti, IF and only IF it were implemented correctly! This would involved a multistep process, taking several years, culminating in Haiti successfully following all Hague standards internally for at least 12 months before ratifying the Convention. Reform is certainly needed in the adoption process, but as Tom DiFilipo, President of the Joint Council always says, we must not try to remove a splinter with a chainsaw.

I hope to witness a step of the process I have not done yet on Monday. Margarette is still in France, rallying for more funding for more new schools and attending BRESMA reunions of French children. She’s assigned me the task of taking him for his Visa appointment, which the Consulate was so kind as to grant me immediately so that I can hopefully escort the young man in question all the way home to Denver on my lap.

I’m no fan of escorting, but this little guy’s mother was just here a few weeks ago to file form I-600 and He’s super outgoing. I made a point of spending some time with him this afternoon. I think he’s feeling pretty comfortable with me, because threw a really impressive, first class tantrum when I put him down because I had to leave.

The few times I have agreed to escort a child, it has been a real thrill. Seeing parents reunited with their children is one of my greatest joys in this stressful, challenging work. My favorite escort trip had to be one where I brought a little boy bound for Canada to meet his mother in Miami. Upon my arrival, I suddenly realized I had never met the woman, nor had I ever seen her picture. While I was in Haiti I kept thinking I would identify her the same way I always identify and adoptive family I’ve never met before when I pick them up at the airport – they will be the white ones. A highly effective system of identification here, but not so useful in Miami.

I needn’t have worried. Not only did the baby lean towards a particular woman in the crowd, but I imagine one only makes that face once in a lifetime, at the moment of greatest joy.
I don’t know what this mother looks like either, and there are a lot of white people in Denver, but I’m not worried. We’ll find each other. This baby boy is coming home, after months of working and waiting. It was meant to be.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

IBESR moves forward

Some good news from the front: late on Friday night I came home from a high school football game to find an email from Margarette - 7 children were out of IBESR!!

I got to wake up several families with some wonderful news. When I tell you that I will call you, day or night, weekend or Christmas, with any good news, I am not kidding.





The statistics are as follows:

  1. in IBESR 6/19/2009, out 10/22. Family has two bio children.

  2. second child for the same family

  3. in IBESR September 2008, out 10/22/2009. Family had two bio children at the time of application and had been married for 9 years. No idea why they had to wait so long - perhaps they sat on the case until the parents' 10th anniversary?

  4. in IBESR 6/19/2009, out 10/22. Family has two bio children

  5. in IBESR 6/19/2009, out 10/22. Single mother meets the law of 1974

  6. in IBESR 3/4/2009, out 10/22. Family has three bio children

  7. same family as above

My heart breaks for the children who had to wait for so long during the long period where nothing was moving forward. We have one family who started two separate adoptions well over a year apart, and it appears their daughters will leave Haiti on the same plane.

As you read the statistics above, please keep in mind that what has happened in these cases does not necessarily predict what will happen in your adoption case. Really the only thing you can count on is that Margarette and I will do everything in our power to bring your children home as fast as we can.

These quick Dispensations for three of the families gives us great hope. At this time, Parquet court and the Ministry of the Interior are generally processing legitimate adoption cases smoothly. We must hope for swift passage home for all of the children at BRESMA, and all of the waiting children of Haiti.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Notre Maison

Every year I vow not to visit Haiti in August (although generally I end having to do so for one reason or another. This year I avoided August and arrived in October to a record breaking heatwave. I’m just not getting used to it, but neither is anyone else. Everyone is complaining about the heat. It’s too hot to eat or sleep. I just don’t know what I would do if we did not have our working inverter so that I can have a fan in my bedroom.

This morning I visited Notre Maison, a small orphanage primarily serving handicapped children. The house is down on the plain, aptly called ‘La Plenn’, behind the airport. I was quite impressed with the care of the children. Keeping children with serious physical and developmental handicaps healthy is not easy even in the States.

These children appeared healthy, and they had the alert and eager look of children who have been loved and played with as a matter of course. Some of them might have a very different future in the US. I was particularly drawn to one bright eyed little girl who does not have the use of her legs, but certainly has the use of her intelligence. In a country where the bright, beautiful, and able-bodied can starve to death while searching for work, without the aid of a place like Notre Maison she wouldn’t have a chance.
I spent a few more hours lounging around the house, watching and playing with the kids, and braiding hair before Franck came to pick me up in the late afternoon to meet with Margarette.
Margarette was tired but invigorated from her trip to Jeremie. The BRESMA foundation has built and inaugurated the first school in Jeremie. Prior to this year, children who wished to attend school had to walk for three hours each way. Read that again – three hours. A six hour walking commute for children, five days per week. Now they won’t have to walk, and those who can’t afford it won’t have to pay either. Free education, uniforms, shoes and a generous meal every day will allow many children who would otherwise have had to be placed for adoption to remain with their birth families.

We went over my case load. This is the most encouraging meeting we’ve had in years. Cases are moving! Nineteen children will be leaving for home shortly, and many more are making steady process. A few remain frustratingly stuck, but we will never give up on a child.

In the evening Jamie and I discussed their plans for their big fundraiser on November 28th. The girls need to raise much of their rent money, and some extra to cover the costs of care for the children they take in before they are matched to a family. I’m hoping to find a way to attend, and maybe even bring some of my own kids to show everyone exactly what we do for kids here at BRESMA.

Tonight was time for phone calls. Parent after parent called in to talk to their older children on the phone. The kids can’t understand much of what their parents say, but they are thrilled to hear their voices. They all have one burning question – when are you coming to see me? My families are always anxious that the children won’t understand why their adoptive families leave them here at the end of a visit. But the kids to understand. We talk to them about it all the time, how the families will come and visit and go away, and finally Manmi Margarette and Manmi Diana will finish their adoption cases and they will be able to go on the airplane. They all know that their families are just as sad as they are that they cannot go home today. The bonds that form between parents and children are worth the pain of parting repeatedly. When at last the children can go, they are not going home with strangers and they have no doubts left that they want to go ‘home’ to the home they have never yet seen.

I’m on my way early tomorrow morning, and I won’t arrive until the wee hours of the 14th. It’s a long day, and I’ll spend it missing all of my kids in both of my homes. I must admit I’m looking forward to air conditioning, and snow, and scheduling my next trip to Haiti.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Megamart and the cockroach war

Megamart is a fascinating international version of a Sam’s Club or Costco. You have to have a membership card to be allowed to shop, and you can buy products in quantity. But they have many unfamiliar brands and labels from all over the world. Some are from South America, but French products are also popular. There are even a few labeled in the Arabic alphabet.

I bought a few packages of sponges, all of the generic dandruff shampoo they had, about 20 bars of soap and 24, count ‘em, 24 aerosol cans of roach killer. I ended up paying about what I might have expected to pay in the States. Most things here cost more than we are used to paying, as everything is imported.

We brought our loot back to the house and I had the older boys help me carry it all in. They actually love it when I give them chores. It makes them feel useful and important. Then Manno, our groundsman and janitor, and Manmi Lis, now head of the house, went to war. All the cabinets in the kitchen area of the house were thrown open. The skittering of hundreds of tiny feet was audible, and the walls seethed with motion, and the battle was on! I had to leave the room quickly, and I herded the kids out with me. Over my shoulder I called a warning to Lis and Mano not to inhale too much poison, but I think they failed to hear me in the frenzied joy of killing hundreds of roaches at the touch of an aerosol button. We cheered them on from the doorway. The carnage was unbelievable. There was literally a coating of dead roaches on the counter and floor when they finished, and hours later they are still limping out of crevices and falling from the cabinet doors. There must be well over a thousand dead in the one room. I’m trying hard not to think about just how much company I undoubtedly have in my own room right this moment…

I got to spend the afternoon just relaxing with the kids, which is what I like to do best. They are amazingly inventive with the limited number of toys surviving at any given time. Three scooters whizzed back and forth between the backyard and the front. Smaller children played games of pretend with dolls and small toys under the tables. A large group of mixed ages and both sexes played with the one jump rope they have not yet destroyed from the last missions group. In the background a group of rowdy older boys played some sort of very complicated ‘police and bad guys’ game with squirt guns. As today’s high was 98 degrees with 100% humidity, I was very tempted to join their game. The older and quieter girls retreated to their bedroom upstairs to color, draw, look at books, and play with dolls.

I braided a few girls’ hair, and Gertride and Beattha gave me thick cornrows twisted up into a bun at the back. Generally I need to remove their creations before I leave the house. Tonight I went out to a restaurant with a really beautiful hairdo by American standards. Every girl whose hair I did not braid today wants hers done tomorrow. Sure wish I had more time and less arthritis!

Our current number of 30 kids and 8 to 10 staff members seems to be a really good ratio. I’m noticing tremendous improvements in the respect for each others possessions and better overall order and discipline in the house.

I don’t quite understand how this is, but I am the boss of this house. I am younger than Manmi Lis by quite a bit, I’m a foreigner with very mediocre Kreyol, and I never tried to assert authority when I began visiting Haiti, but there it is. I guess that can be advantageous. If I ask for something to be done, it does seem to happen even in my absence.

On my last trip, I noted that the children were eating their food with their hands, unattended and uncorrected. I told my nannies that it embarrasses us all when the children go to the hotel and eat like pigs. That made them laugh. I asked that someone sit in the dining room at every meal to enforce some sort of table manners. Granted, lower socio-economic class Haitian are not greatly concerned with table manners, but they do know how to use utensils. Six months later, at least one person is in attendance at every meal, everyone but the smallest or most challenging kids are using their spoons, and those who do not are corrected.

I’m really pleased on two levels. The kids are learning better manners, and it’s hard to bully or tease anyone with a nanny looking over your shoulder. More importantly, I’m living in an orphanage in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and I’m worrying about table manners? We are so blessed! I will not write about some of the other orphanages I have seen in Haiti, or what my colleagues have described in other countries. Let us just be grateful that we are able to be annoyed by someone eating rice with his fingers.

As usual, I can’t begin to imagine anything to work on with the care of the kids at Jamie’s House. It’s better than the daycare any of you will be able to find once you bring your children home. The only better place is at home with a permanent family.

Here at BRESMA II, I feel that we need more meat and that the kids need to be eating fresh fruits and vegetables each day. We need a lot more shoes (they go through them so fast!) and I’d like to throw some of the clothes into the rag bag. We’ll need to replace them. Our big issue remains simply the slow speed of adoptions. Some of these kids have been waiting here far too long.

It’s getting late, so I’m off to take my cold water bucket bath. The light in the bathroom is broken, so I’ll wash in the dark. I suppose that is an advantage, because then I won’t be able to see any of the roaches I am absolutely sure are waiting for me. I’m sure they’ll want vengeance for their fallen comrades.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Empathy training

A much slower day today, thank goodness…

In the morning I took pictures at BRESMA II and then went to Jamie’s in the hopes of downloading them to my computer using her card reader. No luck there, which is a real shame. I would have liked to show the pictures and film clips to the kids on a bigger screen.

I spent some time just playing with and observing the kids at Jamie’s House. It’s amazing to see the changes in those who were so sickly when last I was here. A very high staff ratio, rigorous rules and training, and excellent nutrition can work true magic.

In the afternoon we went to the Karibe hotel to meet with the director of a new non-profit. I was told that they were looking for projects to fund, but unfortunately at the moment they are looking for non-profits to buy their products at cost, and then their company will donate into a projects fund. It’s a great idea, and a fantastic deal for non-profits who need to buy t-shirts. Unfortunately what we need is money for the newly arrived medically fragile infants and Jamie’s and the renewal of BRESMA’s women’s literacy, education, micro-grant and empowerment program.

I tried to check my email from the Karibe, but the connection was just terrible. It’s easy to forget that I am still in Haiti when I’m inside the luxurious Karibe, but one really can’t count on electricity, much less internet, when in Haiti.

Two new children whom I brought over here yesterday from BRESMA I are thriving and having great fun at ‘my’ house. It’s nice to have a day with time at home just to be with them kids.
Discipline here is a difficult thing. I’ve done a head count, and we have thirty kids in the house. There are about 8 to 10 adults here at any given time, but many of them have specific duties other than childcare. Someone has to wash the laundry, cook the meals, and clean the house. It’s pretty easy to get away with being destructive or even bullying other kids. The little children have learned that they can stay near a nanny while they are playing with toys to ensure that they get to keep them, but we do have several kids in the house who like to tease on purpose. I’ve been working on that today some. I’ve seen a few instances of bullying or mean teasing, and taken that child (in all cases, one of the older boys) aside, leaned down, and whispered in his ear.

“How do you think xxx feels when you tease him?” I ask.

“Mad,” or, “Sad,” the little perpetrator will answer.

“Yes, you are right. You don’t like it when people tease you and make you sad or mad, do you?” I ask.

Usually I get a bit of embarrassed and regretful headshaking here.

“What do you think you need to say to xxxx?” I ask.

I know those ‘sorrys’ are coming more from embarrassment than from genuine regret, but it’s a good way to demonstrate the behavior I want them to have. I’ve already seen a few boys who were bullies themselves just hours ago telling other kids to be nicer. Too funny!

It’s interesting to see how respect works here too. I’m not quite sure what the difference is, but I’ve never had trouble getting most of the older kids to obey me. The little ones are a different matter. Sometimes I’m about to drown in very hot, small bodies, and I can’t get them up and off for the life of me. Perhaps because I’m not genuinely disappointed in them, and just overheated? But I do know the kids tend to be raucous and wild when missionary trips come to visit. It would help if all of the ‘blan’ would insist on good manners before they handed out treats. I feel sorry for the kids living in the orphanage too, but I feel even sorrier for them when they are learning to behave in ways that will cost them friends when they go home at last.

Tomorrow Jamie and Ali and I will head out to Megamart to buy a few necessities. Manmi Lis asked me for roach poison. This morning, there was a cockroach will over an inch long in my bedroom. So I will certainly be complying with that request!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Liberty, justice, and bureaucracy for all...

A busy and somewhat frustrating day. Margarette is still in Jeremie, so Irlande and I attended a Visa appointment with a pair of toddler twins whose adoption is complete, passports are in hand, and I600 form is adjudicated. Imagine my surprise that even when I pointed out the Power of Attorney form in the packet from USCIS as the Consular officer looked over our paperwork, and was told that they cannot accept copies of powers of attorney. Which would make perfect sense, except that USCIS had sent the copy, not us! The original was included in the I600 packet. So apparently the copy of the officer’s legal document adjudicating the case is acceptable, but the copy of the power of attorney for me that he included was not. And we tend to think of the Haitian government as difficult and overly bureaucratic…

We left the Consulate with arms full of toddlers, but no Visas. On to plan B.
Holt International employees Mansour Masse and Mike Noah picked me up outside the Consulate and took me to the Villa Creole hotel while Jamie and Ali took the babies and Irlande back to BRESMA. Mike, Mansour and I had lunch, strategized for our meeting, and discussed various current issues in Haitian adoptions. We are very lucky to be working in a supportive community of honest adoption agencies and orphanages. The cooperation we share has benefitted all of us greatly.

At two we went back to the Consulate for a meeting with Garry Pierrot, Adoptions Unit Chief, and Linda Percy, his new co-chief. Ms. Percy will take over the Chief position for a few months when Mr. Pierrot leaves his post in December or January until his permanent replacement arrives. Ms. Percy lived in Africa for 13 years prior to coming to Haiti five months ago. She has an obvious heart for our kids, and was visibly disturbed when I described the effects the extreme delay in the issuance of Presidential Dispensations has caused to our children who wait and wait.

We discussed the quality of service at the Embassy. When I went this morning, our staff was somewhat skeptical that I would be allowed into the Embassy without a printed copy of the email confirming our appointment. I went in ready to fight for my right, as an American citizen, to appear for an appointment with or without a copy of an email! But I had no trouble whatsoever walking right in with Irlande and the kids after a quick check to verify that we did in fact have an appointment. I discussed entrance requirements with Mr. Pierrot and Ms. Percy, and was assured that nobody would be required to present an email to prove an appointment, and that verification with the Adoptions Unit or USCIS staff would be required regardless. Overall we were able to report that service has been excellent, although we were not able to get a consistent timeline for processing. We were assured that DOS will attempt to respond to all emails in a minimum of 72 hours.

The recent decision of Judge Rock Cadet to enforce the section of Haitian law requiring that adoptive parents appear in court. Although nobody has yet done so, apparently the law states that both the adoptive and biological parents must appear in court together at the time of relinquishment of the child. This presents immediate and grave ethical issues – at present no ethical facilitator allows any family to meet a child as their referral for adoption prior to the complete and legal relinquishment of that child to the orphanage. If birth and adoptive parents meet prior to the relinquishment, there is great potential for disaster. Adoptive families may be accused of incentivizing the Haitian family into giving up their child. Or the Haitian family might change their minds about the adoption when the implications are explained to them again by the court. Having a family change their minds and find a way to parent their own children is always our first and best hope for any child about to be relinquished. But if that child has already been introduced to an adoptive family as his very own, there is a chance for heartbreak on both sides.

Thus far Judge Cadet has accepted proof of visitation from families who began their adoptions prior to his ruling, and has accepted the signature of others before the same justice of the peace after the birth family relinquished their child. We’ll have to hope that he continues to do so.

The Department of State is in a most difficult situation. It is of course their duty to support Haiti in adhering to its own law, and yet the State Department has maintained a travel warning against Haiti for years.

Exhausted, filthy, and very, very hot, I returned to BRESMA II to find a bowl of excellent hot and somewhat spicy soup waiting for me. It was greatly appreciated, as I seem to have a knack for managing to miss meals here. There is no refrigerator filled with snacks waiting for me either – around here if you miss a meal, you just have to wait for the next one. And as hot is it has been today (just like it usually is in August!), missing more than one in a row is unpleasant. I am so spoiled as an American. Most of these children ate just one meal a day before they came here.

This late afternoon and evening were presents and phone calls time. I got to distribute care packages, photo albums, and gifts to the kids. They all ask the same question: “When are my parents coming to see me?” And then, like children everywhere, they examine their gifts and list what they want their families to send next time. I have to tell everyone I don’t take orders again and again.

I do hope that by next time I have a new cell phone with a good quality speakerphone feature. I’d like to be able to just sit back and translate conversations for children and families, and let them hear each other’s voices.

Tomorrow I’m off to another appointment at the Embassy; this one with USCIS-DHS. It’s only 8:00 but I’m ready for bed. It’s at least 90 degrees in this room, so it could take quite a while to fall asleep. Not to mention that there are about fifty noisy children in the house…

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Lakay se lakay

October 7th, 2009

Arrived in PaP after six months away. This is my 25th visit to Haiti. I’m running out of pages in my passport, and the city feels absolutely familiar. Jamie and Ali picked me up their marvelous air conditioned car and we drove to the office.

Margarette is in Jeremie at the opening of a new BRESMA school, so tomorrow I will attend my first Visa appointment for a client family. I’m pretty excited to be able to be present at the very last step of the process for two of ‘my’ kids. We were hoping to find a copy of the power of attorney the adoptive family notarized for me, but we had no luck. The originals should all be with the Department of State at the US Consulate, as they were given to USCIS when the family’s I600 was adjudicated. But I’m holding my breath. We did try calling DOS directly, but their number is disconnected. I tried USCIS, and voice mailbox of the person I needed to speak to is full. When I called back, the operator tried to transfer me to DOS and dropped the call. Typical Haiti!

The rules were changed just recently so that no representative who does not have power of attorney can attend a VISA appointment, with or without the adoptive parents. This would prove a real problem in this case, as the children are 17 month old twins. I’m imagining chasing them both around the Consulate by myself while I try to file the family’s paperwork! As it is, our secretary Irlande will attend with me. We have a power of attorney form for her in hand. I’m going along, hoping that they’ll just let me in as I’ve been there a few times before. If not, I guess we’ll see how fast Irlande can run while she is filing paperwork!

Next stop was Jamie’s House. The new house is really beautiful, and it’s an easy walk from BRESMA I and BRESMA II. It has a much better play area for the babies and toddlers outdoors and the neighborhood is safer too.

Jamie’s landlord agreed to build a new room onto the house as part of the lease conditions, but now he is reneging on his agreement. Unfortunately, here in Haiti there is really nothing we can do about his dishonesty. I do wish the house were a bit bigger. We have at least three children who will go home by the end of the month, but I must agree with Jamie and Ali that the house is overcrowded and that they should not let in any more children from the waiting list. A crowded house leads to a lower level of care. I’ve asked her to look into the cost of having a new room and bathroom built, and perhaps we’ll fundraise for that addition.

As always, the children are thriving. One baby boy who was so sick and starving the last time I visited that I burst into tears at the sight of him has become a sleek, healthy, very American looking boy. He retains his sweet ‘old soul’ eyes, but he laughs and plays and bounces up and down in his walker as if he’s never had a real problem in his short life. This does NOT look like an orphanage. It resembles a very high end daycare center, but with a better staff ratio.

Jamie and I went to pick up two of the oldest children from preschool. They go five days per week. One of them is my ‘nephew’, Fredo. He is the half brother of four of my Haitian children. Jamie’s parents are in the process of adopting him. He reminds me so much of my son Greg at the same age. Even his thick, strong wrists and hands are just the same.

Fredo is very proud of himself in his little uniform. All Haitian school children wear uniforms, and the girls wear lacy socks and usually matching ribbons in their hair every day. No matter how poor a family is, the children will be immaculately dressed and groomed. Haitian culture places great value on hard work, pride in personal appearance and behavior, and education is more important than anything else. A birth mother once told me, “L’ekol se la vi”: “School is life”.

On the way back from school Jamie dropped me off at ‘my house’, BRESMA II. This is the home of all of our older children, starting at about age four or five. The noise from the house deafened the whole street outdoors when I stepped out of the car. More than fifty voices let me know that it had been too long between visits, all at once. As I entered I was mobbed my small bodies until Manmi Lis herded them all into the main room and had everyone sit down at the tables. The children performed a welcome song for me. There are at least ten new faces, and I felt the familiar bittersweet joy when I missed those of a beloved pair of twins who recently went home. I’ll have a lot of sorting out to do with Irlande and Margarette about who is looking for a family when we get a day in the office together.

This evening Manmi Robert dropped by for a visit. Manmi Robert was the house mother for BRESMA II for several years, and was and is dearly loved by the children and staff. We were overjoyed to see her. I was able to deliver several albums and photos for birth families from adoptive families who have already brought their children home. Everyone was thrilled to see their dear friends so obviously thriving, and it gave hope to the children who are still waiting here. One considerate French family had sent an album of their baby, now a chunky and indulged toddler, just for the nanny who raised her with such love.

As we pored over the albums, the nannies told me about the many parents who come to the house again and again, praying and waiting for a photograph of their children. Some of them come more than once a month and leave in tears every time. Some have been coming for years, hoping against hope for some word about their lost children.

To those of you reading this blog, please don’t forget your child’s birth parents. We will never know what it is like to have to choose to place a child for adoption because we cannot care for him or her. They never forget for their little ones for one moment. Would you? In Haiti, children die every day. It is very hard for me to convince a birth mother that her child is still alive if I don’t have the pictures to prove it. You can do the right thing and ease your children’s first family’s heart just by sending a little album every few months or even once a year with someone who is travelling. And then, later, when your child grows older and has more questions about his adoption, you can show him how much you respect and value his culture, his birth family, and therefore himself. You can let him know that you cared enough about his birth family to remember them and give them peace that they made the right choice for their precious baby.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Joint Council Haiti Children & Families Initiative

Dear Friends,

Over the past three years, the processing of adoptions in Haiti have slowed to a crawl. Abandoned children are enduring adoption processes lasting two or three years before being united with adoptive families.

Not only is such lasting institutional care damaging to the children who wait and wait, but the slowed process has had a negative effect on the many desperately needy children of Haiti who are not waiting in orphanages. Orphanages in Haiti have traditionally been providers of humanitarian aid to their communities. Many support free medical clinics, schools, feeding programs and family preservation programs. Orphanages have been a resource for temporary care for children following a family crisis, such as a fire or illness. But now that children are languishing in orphanage care for years, orphanage directors report that the beds are full, the food and medicine supplies are insufficient, and the children needing temporary care are left on the streets with little prospect for life.

In a laudable effort to move towards transparent and democratic government, Haitian officials are now adhering to the Haitian Constitutional law regarding adoption, written in 1974 by Jean Claude Duvalier. While the law of 1974 places severe limitations on the size and age of those who may adopt, it does allow for Presidential Dispensation for those not meeting the family size or age limitations. Unfortunately, Haiti lacks an organized and transparent system for obtaining Dispensations. This confusion along with the absence of a sense of urgency regarding institutionalized children has caused extensive delays in the adoption process and further victimizes children who have already lost much.

Haiti has a pending solution to this legal logjam. A newly proposed adoption law will clarify who may adopt, increase protections for Haitian children, their birth parents, and adoptive families, and streamline the adoption process. This legislation is supported by the United States and French governments along with the NGO community and UNICEF.

The children of Haiti, the crèche directors who serve them and the adoptive families who wish to raise them need your help. We must encourage the Haitian government to pass the new adoption law and efficiently grant Dispensations in the interim.

What can you do? Make five simple phone calls and write one letter.
1. Call your U.S. Senator.
• You can find your Senators’ phone numbers at www.senate.gov
• Ask to speak with the Legislative Director or Chief of Staff

2. Call your second U.S. Senator.

3. Call your representative to the U.S. House of Representative.
• You can find your representative at www.house.gov
• Ask to speak with the Legislative Director or Chief of Staff

4. Call or fax UNICEF Haiti
• Ask to speak with Julie Bergeron
• Their number is 011-509- 2245-3525
• Their fax number is 011-502- 2245-1877
• Their email address is portauprincehaiti@unicef.org
Please note that calls and faxes to Haiti are international calls

5. Write letters for the Haitian Prime Minister, President of the Haitian Senate, and the Minister of Social Welfare.
• Your letter can contain the same information as specified below. If you are an adoptive family or are close to a Haitian-born adopted child, insert a picture of the child or your family in your letter.
• Describe your family’s commitment to Haitian culture and the country’s well being as a result of your contact with a Haitian-born adopted child.
• Mail your letter to Holt International, which has volunteered to collect letters and transport them to Haiti for hand delivery to the above government officials.

Holt International
Haitian Children & Families Initiative
P.O. Box 2880
Eugene, OR 97402

6. Forward this message to everyone you know who cares about the welfare of abandoned children in Haiti. Individuals need not be personally involved in a Haitian adoption to let their voices be heard on behalf of children who have no one to speak for them!


When should you call? August 13th, 14th, and 17th, 2009
• For maximum affect, we are asking you to make these calls within a 72 hour window!


What should you say or write to member of the U.S. Congress? Speak from your heart and give them the following information.
• Inform them that you are calling regarding Joint Council Haitian Children & Families Initiative
• Inform them that the Haitian international adoption process is unreasonably delayed.
• Inform them that children referred to U.S. families are anguishing in institutions
• Inform them that the backlog of children in the process of adoption is preventing orphanages, who serve as local humanitarian aid providers, from continuing to assist their communities.
• Inform them that due to the interruption of services provided by the orphanages, Haitian children outside the orphanages are needlessly dying.
• Ask that their office to sign the Dear Colleague letter regarding the pending Haitian adoption law, sponsored by Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Senator Sam Brownback. The letter asks that adoptions currently in process be speedily granted Presidential Dispensation and that the new adoption law be passed.

Sample Statement
Hello,

We are calling/writing on behalf of the Joint Council Haitian Children & Families Initiative. We, as your constituents, are asking that the Senator/Congressperson send two letters. First, the a letter to the Prime Minister or Haiti, the President of the Haitian Senate, and the Haitian Minister of Social Welfare. Second, a letter to UNICEF.

As you may be aware, the Haitian adoption process is unreasonably delayed.
Children already matched with adoptive families are languishing in orphanages for two and three years. The orphanages, which have traditionally served as humanitarian aid outreach centers, have run out of resources and are no longer able to offer assistance to their communities. Haitian children outside the orphanages are dying needlessly as a direct result of the delayed adoptions.

We are calling/writing on behalf of the Joint Council Haitian Children & Families Initiative. We, as your constituents, are asking that the Senator/Congressperson sign the Dear Colleague letter regarding the pending Haitian adoption law, sponsored by Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Senator Sam Brownback.

Sincerely,
(Your name here)

What should you say or write to UNICEF? Speak from your heart and give them the following information.
• Inform them that you are calling regarding the Joint Council Haitian Children & Families Initiative
• Ask them to support the rights of children and lend their considerable influence to ensuring that intercountry adoptions currently in-process be speedily processed to completion under the existing Presidential Dispensation clause.
• Inform them that many adoptions are taking two or three years to process, during which time children languish in orphanages.
• Inform them that due to the overextension of their resources, orphanages are no longer able to provide their traditional humanitarian aid services to their communities, such as free schools, medical care, temporary child care for families in crisis, and family preservation programs.
• Inform them that as a direct result of the orphanage’s inability to provide humanitarian aid due to overly taxed resources, children are needlessly dying in the streets outside the orphanages.
• Ask them again for their support of the Presidential Dispensation and the swift passage of the new adoption law.

Sample Statement
Hello,

• We are calling/writing on behalf of the Joint Council Haitian Children & Families Initiative
• As financial supporters of UNICEF (through our tax dollars), we are asking that UNICEF lends its support and considerable influence to the Joint Council Haitian Children & Families Initiative

As you may be aware, the Haitian adoption process is unreasonably delayed. Children already matched with adoptive families are languishing in orphanages for two and three years. The orphanages, which have traditionally served as humanitarian aid outreach centers, have run out of resources and are no longer able to offer assistance to their communities. Haitian children outside the orphanages are dying needlessly as a direct result of the delayed adoptions.

UNICEF must get involved to ensure that adoptions in process be speedily granted Presidential Dispensation so that they can be completed in a timely manner, and that the new adoption law be passed.

Sincerely,
(Your name here)


Can you explain the problem behind the current crisis? Here is some additional information…
• The current constitutional law, written in 1974 by Jean Claude Duvalier, severely restricts who may adopt from Haiti. The only method by which the Haitian government may permit adoptions to non-conforming families is via Presidential Dispensation.
• The lack of a defined and efficient Dispensation process has caused delays of up to three years for children in the adoption process. Prolonged institutionalization has been scientifically proven to be highly detrimental to children.
• As orphanages expend their limited resources caring for children in the process of adoption over extended periods, they are unable to provide their traditional humanitarian aid programs to their communities.
• The existing adoption law provides almost no protection for the rights of abandoned children, their birth parents, or adoptive families. It offers no safe guards against human trafficking.
• A proposed adoption law will alleviate the crisis by standardizing and streamlining adoptions, and will far better protect abandoned Haitian children from child trafficking.

What else can you do? In addition to your primary calls to U.S. Congress and UNICEF, you can call the the Haitian Embassy:

Embassy of Haiti in the U.S.
2311 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008
Office Phone 1- 202.332.4090
Office Fax 1- 202-745-7215
embassy@haiti.org

Thank you to Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA) and Senator Sam Brownback (KS) for sponsoring a Dear Colleague letter and support among their colleagues.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A New Ruling from Tribunal Court

At the end of last week colleagues in Haiti shared a summary of a meeting between our attorney, Sarah Pean Vieux, and Rock Cadet, chief justice of the Tribunal Court. At a work session on Hague issues UNICEF personnel reported incidents of abuse and lack of post-placement supervision following the international adoption of Haitian children. According to Mr. Cadet, coming in Haiti to meet the children first, then to pick them up, is an obvious manifestation of the adoptive parents desire to adopt the child and also a brake on any abuses.

Mr. Cadet has decreed that adoptive parents must appear before the justice of the peace who draws up the adoption act to confirm their willingness to adopt the child. The adoptive family will then sign a statement to that effect. BRESMA families which have already visited Haiti may provide evidence (passport copies, etc.) that they have met their children.

It is questionable whether Mr. Cadet’s ruling will stand, as clauses in Haitian law state that supplicants to the court may appoint a proxy using a power of attorney. In the case of adoptions, that proxy is the adoption facilitator. I will share any news from our attorneys and others working to overturn Mr. Cadet's ruling.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Traveling to Haiti to Meet Your Child: Some Advice for Newbies

This posting was written by Ross and Jean, first time parents and first time travellers. If you have insights, advice, or information you would like to share with other families, please email your story to dboni@allforchildren.org.

Our recent trip was full of firsts: It was our first time in Haiti, our first time meeting our son (Alexander, 10 months), and our first time being parents. During our stay, we kept a list of things we were glad we brought with us and a list of things we wish we had. We also include some tips about the trip itself. Some of what we say here applies only to taking care of little ones, but hopefully we can help those of you adopting older children to create your own lists. We also hope that some of the more experienced travelers currently in the adoption process will supplement our meager attempts here.

Traveling to Haiti: We found this video to be a good primer for arriving in Port-au-Prince. Our experience looked just like this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6J2vAg7mbc

A few random tips about preparing for the journey:

1. Pack a “life-raft.” We had a carry-on bag that included essential items so that if our checked baggage didn’t arrive, we could survive for a few days. In it, we packed things like medication, diapers, a change of clothes or two for each family member, and some key toiletries.

2. Haiti uses its own currency, but we used credit cards and American dollars. Be sure to call your credit card company and let them know of your travel plans so they don’t shut off your card.

3. We stayed at the Karibe Hotel. Many members of the staff there speak some English, and almost all of them speak French (and Kreyol, of course). The wireless internet connectivity in the central part of the hotel is very good and we were able to have a (free!) Skype video chat with the grandparents. The connection to the wireless in the rooms themselves is less reliable. You can make reservations on-line: http://www.karibehotel.com/karibehotel/index.asp

4. Book Denis, the driver whom Diana recommends, in advance. He is always on time and makes an impressive effort to avoid cavernous pot holes (the roads are in terrible shape). He’s also a good guide should you have questions regarding Haitian social customs and the like. He will require cash at the end of the trip, at which time, he’ll specify the exact amount, but a full day of driving is about $100.

(Denis Frantz is a Haitian citizen who grew up in Boston. He speaks perfect English and understands Americans' cultural needs. You can call him directly to schedule transportation at 011-509-3402-0932)

5. Your room will likely not have a clock in it, probably because the power goes out frequently and a plugged-in clock would always be wrong. The hotel has a generator that turns on almost immediately when an outage occurs. But if you want to know what time it is, bring a battery-powered travel clock or keep your watch/cell phone handy. Haiti is in CST.
Our cell phones through AT&T worked fine, but calls were expensive: $1.99/minute.

The arrival in Haiti and after:

1. When you exit customs, an official will likely check your baggage tag. Be prepared for them to stop you and request it.

(On the plane, you will be given two forms to fill in: a visitors form - usually green - and a white customs form. At you go through the lines where your passport is stamped officials will take the larger section of the green form and give you the smaller portion to keep. DO NOT LOSE THIS PIECE OF PAPER. You will need to present it when you leave Haiti. The white customs form will be collected when you leave the airport with your luggage.)

2. When you leave the airport (you’ll see that green fence in the video), go to the left. Several airport-approved drivers will approach you and offer to take you. If you have an arrangement with Denis, tell them you’re meeting someone and keep walking. Denis will find you once you exit the boundary of that fence.

3. Red-capped men will follow you very closely in the hopes of loading your bags into Denis’s van for a $2.00 bounty. They are persistent, and we found it wasn’t worth arguing with them. As long as just one person is following you, it seems easier to give him a few dollars.

4. Because the roads are in terrible shape, you may want to take something for carsickness if you are prone to it.

5. Within a day or so of your arrival, have Denis take you to a grocery store. You can only use bottled water for drinking, tooth brushing, and the like, and extra 20 oz. bottles (a junior suite gets 2 a day) cost $2 each at the hotel. At the grocery store, you can stock up on large liters of water for the same price, in addition to other essentials. Kid messes, we soon learned, taxed both the hotel room’s tissue box and its tiny trash can, so we purchased paper towels, trash bags, etc., and we were able to do so with a credit card. We left whatever water and supplies we didn’t use at Jamie and Ali’s house when we dropped Alex off.

6. When you pick your child up, be sure you ask about what they are bringing with them and what their schedule at BRESMA is. Ali gave us a stroller (that doubled as a high-chair for feeding), a few bottles, a change of clothes, formula, jarred food, and a pack and play. We arrived with clothes, toys, baby toiletries, a first-aid kid with some basic meds (Tylenol, etc.), and diapers.

7. Use hot tap water and dish soap (bring your own) to wash bottles. Allow them to air dry COMPLETELY before using them again.

8. The floors in the rooms are tiled, and while BRESMA is tiled as well, we didn’t want Alex crawling around on the hotel room floor because, well, it had the things you might expect to be found on a floor with lots of traffic (a small shard of broken glass, for instance). When we got home, we mentioned this to family members, two of whom asked, “why didn’t you just throw the bed spread down and let him crawl on that?” Duh.

Things We Were Really Happy We Brought (Not Necessarily in this Order):

1. A travel kit of laundry soap, a sink stopper, and a drying line for hand-washing clothes
2. Dish soap, hand sanitizer, and extra wet ones for cleaning everything else
3. Toys for Alex
4. A Kreyol dictionary, which we consulted on the sly when necessary
5. 100% DEET. Seriously

Things We Wish We Brought But Didn’t

1. A travel baby-changing mat (we really needed this!)
2. Beach towels for the pool
3. Tupperware for food and snacks (there are several foods like cereal at the Karibe’s breakfast buffet you can grab and have later)
4. Toys for the big kid house. The kids asked us if we brought them anything, and we felt like schmucks that we hadn’t
5. Baby bath towel (the hotel towels are kinda scratchy)
6. Wash clothes (the hotel does not provide these, so you if you are accustomed to using them at home, bring your own)

Diana will most logically suggest that newbies travel with families who have made the trip before, but as in our case, that’s not always possible. Hopefully, these lists will help those who have to go it alone for the first time. Above all, we hope that those of you traveling for the first time feel prepared enough to relax and enjoy the first days with your child, as we did. It’s an incredible journey. Good luck.




- Ross and Jean and baby Alexander

Friday, May 15, 2009

Dossiers With Dispensations Signed Out of Parquet

Another bit of good news firsthand from the source - one of our trusted colleagues in Haiti reports that the three dossiers with Presidential Dispensation which she has presented to Parquet Court came out in approximately one week! May they all proceed as smoothly once they conform to the law!

The Haitian Adoption Process


Current Haitian adoption law

The current Constitutional law regarding adoption reads as follows (translation):

Article 2. Adoption is only allowed for people of both sexes who are older than 35. However, it can also be requested by a married couple who are not separated, as long as at least one of them is over age 35, if they have been married more than ten years, and do not have any [biological] children from this marriage.
The adopters should have neither children nor descendants on the day of the adoption.

The adopters should be 19 years older than the people they propose to adopt, unless the latter are the children of their spouse. In this case, the minimum age difference required shall be no more than ten years and may even be less if given a dispensation by the Head of State.

Article 3. Without the dispensation of the President for Life of the Republic, adoption is only permitted in the absence of legitimate or biological descendants;

It was written in 1974 by Jean Claude Duvalier. Historically, the Haitian social welfare and legal systems disregarded the specific clauses of the law, and the Director of Haitian Social Services would specify the requirements for prospective adoptive families. These were typically as follows:

Couples with both parties over age thirty, married for five years, and with no more than three biological children. At present, only couples with both parents over 35 who can prove ten years of marriage or co-habitation are being accepted by IBESR.

Singles over age thirty or thirty-five, depending upon the individual Director’s guidelines. A few single men have adopted, but most orphanage directors will only work with single women.

At the present time, adoptions are proceeding smoothly for families who do meet the law of 1974.


A rough time line for conforming dossiers as of 11/15/2009:

IBESR 4 to 6 months

Parquet Court 2 to 3 months

Intermediate processing 2 to 2 ½ months

MOI 3 to 4 months

US Immigrations 2 to 6 weeks



Adoptions for families who do not meet the legal criteria of the law of 1974


Since the election of President Rene Garcia Preval in 2006, the country has been steadily moving towards a more lawful and transparent government. Parquet district court in Port-au-Prince began refusing to legalize adoptions authorized by IBESR to parents who did not conform to the law of 1974. Families who do not conform to the law must be granted a Presidential Dispensation in order to legally adopt a child.

Families which do not meet the law of 1974 and yet are pre-approved by IBESR will have their dossiers submitted for Presidential Dispensation. At this time there is no consistent estimate for the waiting time for a Dispensation.

The first Presidential Dispensations were granted in January of 2009. Thus far there have been no denials of Dispensation to families already provisionally approved by IBESR (Haitian Social Services). At this time there are hundreds of cases awaiting Dispensation. A few are granted each week in a slow but steady stream.


The pending adoption law

At the same time, a new adoption law has been proposed. It was authored with input from IBESR and UNICEF. The law is currently awaiting discussion, modification, and a vote from the Senate. Joint Council agencies and the Haitian Creche Directors Association are working together to lobby for specific changes to the proposed law, primarily consisting of broadening the criteria for adoptive families, especially in the cases of older children, sibling groups, and children with special needs.

As the proposed new law is currently written (as translated for us by Isabelle Gaellemart of France), the section discussing criteria for adoptive families includes to following:

SECTION 1 – Regarding adoptive parents

ARTICLE 2. – Adoption may be requested jointly by a married heterosexual couple not living separately, after five years of marriage if one of the couple is more than thirty years old.

If the request comes from one of the non-separated couple, the consent of the other is necessary.

ARTICLE 3.- Two people of opposite sexes, living together for at least ten years, may request to adopt a child. Their living together must be established by a certificate delivered by the competent authorities of the host country and the consent of both is necessary.

ARTICLE 4.- Candidatures of women, widowers or divorced, who are at least thirty-five years old, with no biological child, are accepted. A man must be a widower or divorced, with no biological children and at least 35 years old.

ARTICLE 5.- Priority is given to couples who are married or living together who do not have biological children at the time of the adoption. When the aforementioned heterosexual couple has a maximum of two biological or adopted children, they may only adopt children with special circumstances (handicapped, with health problems or older than 5 years of age).

If the couple already has biological or adopted children, the latter should give their opinion if they are 8 years of age or more.

ARTICLE 6.- The age of the adopters may not be over 50 for the oldest of the married couple or those living together in a common-law relationship.

This limitation of age does not apply for inter family adoptions.

The pending law offers far greater protection for Haitian families, their biological children, and even adoptive families than is afforded by the current law. It is important to note that independent adoptions (adoptions in which the adoptive family is not represented and monitored by a licensed adoption agency in their country of citizenship) will be discontinued. Specific post-placement reporting requirements are mandated, and all international adoption agencies will be registered with IBESR.

Summary

At present, the adoption process remains rocky and frustrating for non-conforming families and waiting children alike. However, it is very encouraging to see the rapid progress being made towards making the adoption process function within the law, and towards the passage of a much-improved adoption law for the future. All in all, at least in my opinion, the outlook is far brighter than it has been for a long time for the homeless children of Haiti.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Dossiers With Dispensations Signed Out of IBESR


A bit of good news for a Monday morning - we are aware of four dossiers which have received Presidential Dispensation and been signed out of IBESR. One is from BRESMA. All four were released from IBESR approximately one month after Dispensation was granted.
To learn more about Dispensations and the current state of international adoptions in Haiti in general, you can read my posting about the Haitian Adoption Process.
We're hoping for more good news soon. All of the member agencies of JCICS are sharing information, so that we can share it with all of you who are waiting.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Success at Last!

To the untrained eye, this looks like a picture of a stack of ugly boxes. Actually, I must admit it looks like that to me too... But this picture fills my heart with joy and relief.

Almost two years ago to the day, our organization was granted an amazing gift from Feed My Starving Children. We were given an entire forty foot cargo container filled with donated food.

Inside each box are several plastic packets of what looks at first glance very much like rice with a few simple spices. FMSC food is very easy to cook - all we have to do is add water and boil, and the flavor appeals very much to children. But it is not just a simple rice casserole. FMSC's food is specifically engineered to meet the nutritional needs of malnourished children. In addition to providing macro nutrients (vitamins and minerals), it has a very high ratio of highly digestible crude protein.

The majority of our children arrive at the orphanage suffering from protein deprivation malnutrition - either kwashiorkor ('dry' malnutrition) or marasmus ('wet' malnutrition). Once the body has become weakened by protein deprivation, it becomes even more difficult for the digestive tract to extract protein from less expensive food sources such as rice and beans and wheat. FMSC's soy additives are highly digestible even for the most fragile, at risk child.

Other organizations benefiting from the generosity of Feed My Starving Children have reported not only dramatic weight and growth increases for their children, but have noted a drastic reduction in illnesses and other conditions which can easily attach a child with a weakened immune system. Scabies, worms, and other parasites will suffer as our children gain strength.

We are deeply grateful for the many individuals who donated the money which enabled us to ship the container, all that time ago, and those who helped pay the 'ransom' to get it out of customs. We are particularly grateful to Lime Studios of Santa Monica, CA and Carousel Dinner Theater of Fort Collins, CO for their corporate level support.

The food will provide all the children of BRESMA who are on solid food with one meal a day for several months. As they are eating, I will be chasing down sponsorship and help for our next container. There are so many organizations who need our help - FMSC food is for sharing. We'd like to share it with the women participating in our Women's Literacy, Education, and Self-Sufficiency / Haitian Family Preservation project. We'd like to serve it every day at the two free schools BRESMA sponsors for children of Haiti's poor. We'd like to pass along a pallet or two to Angel Missions Haiti to use in their trainings for the parents of children with special needs. We'd like to share it with other orphanages, with hospitals, with anyone who needs it. And next time, we'll have some IGO and NGO help to be sure the container arrives in a more timely and less stressful manner!

It will cost us approximately $10,000 to ship another forty foot container, carrying 43,000 pounds of 'superfood' custom tailored to meet the needs of starving children. You can help feed some of the most desperate people in Haiti exactly the food they need to address not only their empty bellies, but the malnutrition that makes them such an easy target for parasites and disease. Go to The Alliance for Children Foundation to make a tax deductible donation, and specify that you'd like your donation to be used for our Food for Haiti program. It's a very concrete way to make a difference in the world.