Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

Joint Council issued the following letter this morning:

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Joint Council is please to announce that Pius Bannis, from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, will receive the Federal Employee of the Year Award! Congratulations to Mr. Bannis, a good friend and colleague. And thank you for all your amazing work!
When the devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, the nation’s orphans were among the most vulnerable. Pius Bannis, a U.S. immigration officer, stepped into the breach to help hundreds of those Haitian orphans—babies, toddlers and teens—escape the tragedy and find safety in the United States.

In the days and weeks following the catastrophe, U.S. citizens in the process of adopting children in Haiti were desperate to gain custody of the youngsters and bring them to the United States, but were stymied because they had not yet completed all of the paperwork and requirements that can take as long as three years.

Aided by the Obama administration’s decision to authorize use of humanitarian parole to bring certain orphans to the United States, Bannis, a field office director for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), logged 20-hour days, seven days a week to identify and screen eligible cases. He ensured the system was not being exploited by child traffickers or others with bad motives, coordinated with the State Department on evacuation arrangements, and dealt with Haitian authorities.
During the first two weeks after the earthquake, Bannis was the sole American immigration official in Haiti handling the adoption needs. He took it upon himself to set up a make-shift day care in the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, where more than 50 children could be found at any one time, often scared, crying and hungry. He supplied diapers, clean clothes, water and food, and personally drove some of the children to the airport for evacuation flights to the United States.

“What Pius did was the singular most devoted act of public service and humanitarianism that I have seen in all my 30 years in immigration,” said Steve Bucher, deputy associate director of Refugee, Asylum and International Operations at USCIS.

U.S. families adopted 330 Haitian children in all of 2009. Immigration officials said about 1,100 youngsters were allowed to come to the United States through April 2010 as part of the special accelerated program. This enabled their adoptive parents or prospective adoptive parents to remove their children from the devastating conditions of post-earthquake Haiti and bring them to safety. Bannis played a role in each one.

At the same time that Bannis was helping the orphans and their adoptive families, he was providing comfort and support to his Haitian staff who suffered devastating losses—assisting one colleague who lost her home and all seven members of her family, another who lost a brother, and a third who lost her parents and desperately needed medical treatment for family members with life-threatening injuries.

Bannis’ motivation to help the Haitian orphans ran deep, stemming from his humanitarian work in African refugee camps in the early 1990s. He was especially devastated to see the suffering of innocent, helpless children in those camps, and that feeling stayed with him. He said he always takes care of the kids first, and the terrible Haitian earthquake clearly was a time for him to act.

“It was a human reaction to a human tragedy. So many children were dead or dying, and so many were in the process of being adopted. We were all so concerned. My automatic reaction was to take care of them,” Bannis said.
Each family assisted by Bannis has their own story to tell. Thank you letters and e-mails to Bannis, along with photos of the children, have poured into the U.S. Embassy in Haiti and USCIS headquarters.

The family of an adopted girl wrote that “you have dedicated your heart and soul to this matter to ensure that the children have joined their adoptive parents in the United States. What you provided to the children, to Haiti, and to us parents, are immeasurable.”

Another parent wrote, “I want to say thank you for all that you did to help three amazing little boys come from Haiti to the United States to receive surgical care and to have a chance at life! We are so very grateful.”

The severe earthquake and its after-effects resulted in an estimated 220,000 deaths, with many hundreds of thousands left homeless and injured. Of the 117 official government-approved Haitian orphanages, many were left in poor condition or were destroyed in the earthquake.

Originally from the island of Dominica, Bannis is a naturalized American citizen and has worked for the federal government for about 15 years. He went to Haiti in 2008 because he wanted to give back to the children of the Caribbean.

Bannis said he is curious about the hundreds of children who left Haiti and wonders how they are healing and making out in their new lives in the United States. Yet he knows that it is important not to dwell on the situation of one particular child, but rather to focus on the next little one who may need help for a better life.

Tom DiFilipo and I will be Tweeting and updating Joint Council's Facebook status live from Sammie awards while Mr. Bannis receives his award.
For a video about Mr. Bannis and the Federal Employee of the Year Award, go to


Speaking from my personal experience, Officer Bannis has been a passionate advocate for both children in the process of adoption AND their birth families. He and his staff have rigorously investigated all adoption cases to ensure that there was no coercion, illegal procedure, or advantage taken of Haitian families who choose to place their children for international adoption.

During the earthquake crisis, Officer Bannis interrupted his duties to find food, water, and even crayons and paper for the first five children to leave BRESMA. And during our airlift of 54 children on the 18th of January, He and I worked closely together to identify each child and confirm that each was in fact legally abandoned or in the process of adoption.

As other orphanages were evacuated, and children from small orphanages with which Margarette and I were working began to trickle in, he was willing to go outside and into the crowd to look for a little boy in a wheelchair, an orphanage director who had not been to the Embassy before, and whoever else I begged him to go find and save.

I thought Officer Bannis was a hero before the earthquake. But now the whole world will know. For some people, a government job is more than a job - it is a calling. Congratulations, Pius. You richly deserve this honor!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Humanitarian Parole Program Update

On July 16th, the Joint Council of International Children's Services hosted a conference call for Adoption Service Providers and adoptive families updating them on some important new developments for Haitian children admitted to the US on Humanitarian Parole visas.

The National Benefits Center:
All Humanitarian Parole A-files (your child’s immigrations file) have been transferred to the National Benefits Center. The NBC staff is going through the files to ascertain whether your child should be Category 1 (legal adoption in Haiti completed) or Category 2 (no legal adoption in Haiti).

If you know that you are Category 1, do not request your files back at this time. It will delay the process. If USCIS has already returned your child’s ORIGINAL documents to you, consult with your agency to make sure the NBC gets the documents they need to help you.

Changing categories: if your adoption is now complete in Haiti, after the earthquake:
Some of you have changed categories since your child came home, as our partners in Haiti have continued to process cases. If you now have an adoption decree, the National Benefits Center will need scans of the decree and a certified English translation. You adoption service provider should be able to assist you with the process.  The email address for the NBC is:

The one case ABI submitted for a change of category was reviewed and upgraded to Category 1 in under 24 hours!

If you are Category 1:
If the NBC determines that your case is a Category 1 case, where your child was legally adopted in Haiti, your child’s file will be sent to the local USCIS field office. The local office will contact you to set up an appointment to file the following forms:
  • I-485 change of status
  • I-600 (if you did not do so already)
  • I-693 medical clearances
Please give your local USCIS field office until September 30th to contact you. After that, your agency can contact them if you have not been given an appointment. If you had a pending I600 in process, you’ll need to keep your fingerprints current

There is an extensive list of documents you'll need to bring to your appointment, just as your Haitian facilitator would have needed to present them to USCIS in Port-au-Prince.  You agency should be able to help you with assembling the documents and providing certified translations as needed.

Forms and Fees:
Even if you already had an approved I-600, you are going to have to file the I485 change of immigrant status form. This form has a $930 filing fee. We strongly advise ABI families that you do NOT ask for the fees to be waived, as claiming that you cannot afford to pay them may cause USCIS to accuse you of fraud in your home study, where you stated that you could afford to adopt, or of not being able to support your child, which would cause them to REFUSE your request for citizenship.

If you paid the fees for your I600-A, you should not have to pay again for your I600, unless you are adopting a second, unrelated child and did not pay the $670 for his I600.

In some cases, you will receive a Certificate of Citizenship for your child at your appointment. In others, it will arrive by mail within 30 days of your appointment. You will then be able to obtain a US passport and travel internationally with your child.

If you are Category 2:
If you do not have a Haitian adoption decree available to prove your adoption was completed in Haiti, you are Category 2. We’ve been instructed to have you complete your adoptions in your state of residence. Some of you have been able to do so already, with relatively little difficulty. Other states are making the process very difficult, as there has been no proof that anyone with authority has granted you custody of your child. USCIS and ORR are going to remedy that situation within the next few days. ALL HP families will receive a packet of letters, including documentation from ORR stating that your child is in ORR’s legal custody, and that ORR is granting you formal consent to adopt your child.

You do not need to keep your fingerprints current with USCIS. You will have to contact the NBC to get copies or your original documents from Haiti – they will NOT be sent to you automatically.

USCIS is reaching out to all the State court judges so they understand the program.  At a recent national conference for all State court juvenile judges, USCIS attended and presented to all of the judges so that they could understand how to grant adoptions for the HP kids.

After you have legally adopted your child in your state of residence, you will still need to file for US Citizenship. At this time, you cannot do so until you can prove two years of legal and physical custody of your child. You will need to file the forms as listed for the Category 1 families, above.

The Help Haiti act has been introduced simultaneously in the House of Representative and the Senate. It would allow Category 2 families to apply for an adjustment of status immediately. We’ll keep you posted on any news, and of course you can always check the Joint Council website (

 Traveling Overseas:
It is technically possible to travel out of the country with your paroled child and return, using form I131. It is a discretionary request for permission to leave the US and return. However as it is discretionary, generally granted only for emergencies, and does not have to be honored by the foreign country to which you have traveled, ABI very strongly recommends that our families do not leave the US with their children until they have proof of full US Citizenship.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

ABI Webinars

This week marks the six month anniversary of the disaster that brought even greater suffering to Haiti, a nation already on its knees. The state of child welfare was perilous before January 12th, with a 10% mortality rate in children under age 4 and an estimated 7% enslaved. Things are worse now. The need for permanent families for children with no options left in Haiti is great.

Historically, the French people have completed over 50% of international adoptions of Haitian children each year. The French government has now issued a moratorium prohibiting its citizens from beginning new adoptions in Haiti. The United States must help to fill the void, or children will die or be left to waste away in institutions.

All Blessings International will conduct two webinars next week with a general overview of Haitian adoptions, the outlook for the future, and caveats. These are not ‘recruiting sessions’ intended to encourage PAPs to choose our program over others, but rather a general information session for all agencies with interested families and families themselves to hear an update and ask questions. Other Joint Council member agencies with established programs in Haiti are encouraged to join in and participate in the question and answer session at the end of the call. Joint Council has several member agencies who have worked as a team to save the children of Haiti, and we will continue to do so now that the need is greater than ever.

Please share the following dates with your friends, families, staff, and local home study agencies:

Monday, July 19th at 1:00 pm CST
Dial-in Number:
1-218-936-4700 (Midwest)
Participant Access Code:
SharePlus Link:
Enter SharePlus

And again on

Wednesday, July 21st at 7:00 pm CST
Dial-in Number:
1-218-936-4700 (Midwest)
Access Code:
SharePlus Link:
Enter SharePlus

If you are having trouble viewing or following the links for the webinars in this email, please email for an invitation.

Please, help us help them.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Terrible News for Haitian Adoptions

We who work in adoptions in Haiti have the opposite frustration of many of our colleagues. In other countries, prospective adoptive families must often wait months or even years for the referral of a child. The waiting is hard on those anxious to become parents. But in Haiti it is very often the children who wait months or even years for somebody to love and trust. The worst part of my job is trying to answer a child's heartbroken questions: "Why haven't you found me a family yet? Will I ever have a family?"

I fear I may have to answer that one more frequently in the months to come.

Historically, the French people have adopted over half of the children placed in intercountry adoptions from Haiti. France has now suspended new Haitian adoptions for her citizens. Those in process may finish and bring their children home, but no new adoptions may be begun. A friend of Haitian children at the State Department shared the following link:

Terrible news indeed. The need for adoptive families is greater than ever. Even more families are homeless. Relatives are lost. Mothers have died. Haitian culture is often not comfortable with the disabled - children missing limbs or even just a hand or a foot may be rejected by society.

Thankfully the US has no intentions of closing Haitian adoptions (see the Department of State's Office of Children's Issues website) at this time, nor does the Haitian government seem to have any wish to close them on their end. However, now that the French cannot serve Haitian children in need of permanent families, the need for adoptive families from other countries is more urgent than ever. We cannot abandon them to grow up warehoused in institutions. Even the best orphanage on earth... is still just an orphanage. Every child deserves a family. Love is perhaps the most fundamental human right.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Rennovating BRESMA

My sneakers have a layer of red mud on the edges, which I refuse to scrape off in any of the airports I pass through on my way home. That special, magical mud means so much to me! Just this morning I stood in the red clay dirt of the backyard of BRESMA I and watched the workmen set the lines that will guide the forms that will shape the concrete for our new building. The orphanage building will become a complex. BRESMA will be a different and far better place for children.

Our engineer, who has a BS from Howard University, has studied in Italy and France, and is a consulting engineer on the rebuilding of the Haitian National Bank, is confident that he can complete the entire three story structure in five months if we have the funding, and we do indeed have almost all the funding. Everything will be built specifically to withstand another earthquake, and he's going to shore up the existing building, just in case.

BRESMA's supporters have united to move forward and build a complex to support our children:
  • AEH - France




and dozens of individual donors supporting us have raised almost all of the $212,000 needed to build the second building at BRESMA I. Only $23,000 is outstanding. Surely, working together, we can raise that amount before it is needed.

The new building will house a kitchen, work, laundry, and utility areas, a pharmacy and a depot, bedrooms and living space. There will be room within our complex for a regular school for older children and preschool for the little ones. On the roof will be a playground. Behind the new building will be a detached bungalow for our new American or European nurse and young volunteers who will live at BRESMA to nurture, love, and teach the children. There will be running water, electricity, and even a bit of air conditioning! Finally, we will have the facility we've all dreamed of for the kids!

It will still be an orphanage, but at least it will be a comfortable one which will be designed to help the children begin their transition to life in the US or Europe. Glorious mud!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Meeting at the Embassy

Today was the adoption meeting at the US Embassy. The last of these was in November, to discuss the Hague and Haiti. Consul General Donald Moore had planned to have a whole series of discussions and meetings for the adoption and child protection community, but the earthquake changed that as well. Finally we can resume our dialog.

One of the purposes of this meeting was for us all to say goodbye to Linda Percy, Vice Consul for DOS. Linda was in place during the earthquake and subsequent humanitarian parole evacuations. The strain probably took a few years off of her life, but we are all deeply grateful that she was there to help. Linda is an adoptive mother herself. She understood with both her head and her heart what was needed. She will be missed.

I got to meet the new staff members - Emily Godfrey and Du Tran. Mr. Tran will be taking over the Adoptions Unit. Emily hopes to continue working with him once he's up to speed. I hope she will too - I suspect she will be a loyal ally for children's rights. Poor Mr. Tran had just arrived on Monday and appeared to still be suffering from culture shock. He was very polite regardless.

Our meeting was held outside, which was handy for security measures but a bit warm for my taste, even with a seat right by the fan. Almost every adoption service provider I know of was present, as was Mme Pierre from IBESR and an attorney from the Ministry of Social Welfare. On the agenda was a discussion of the new adoption law and humanitarian parole.

As the meeting began, it was an amazing thing to look around the space and see that almost everyone was present. The orphanages of Haiti, despite many damaged or collapsed buildings, experienced a miraculous lack of casualties during the earthquake. Everyone introduced himself and gave a status update. What a thrill to hear each director proudly report the numbers of children evacuated to safety, no fatalities, and that they are processing the rest.

Madame Pierre, director of IBESR spoke next. She thanked UNICEF and the Haitian government for their support, and described the HP evacuation as 'bittersweet'. She stated that IBESR is the only agency in charge of dealing with child protection, and they were not involved with the project. They should have been consulted. But that is past. They are now ready to start anew. IBESR is accepting new dossiers for adoption cases at this time.

The Minister of Social Welfare and Work presented four laws as being the most urgent from his Department. All four address issues of child protection, including the new adoption law. A meeting was held at the Montana some time ago in which stakeholders were allowed to comment on and make suggestions regarding the new law. Several of the changes recommended by the Haitian Creche Directors' Association and Joint Council were in fact implemented in the latest version (most notably, the removal of any limit on the number of children an adoptive family may have already). A few people at today's meeting were upset that some of their recommendations were now included.

We were told that it is still possible to make changes to the law, but that only the Senate itself can do so. Generally laws don't change much after they have progressed through the Chamber of Deputies, as this one has.

The US Department of State is hosting ongoing meetings with child protection organizations to facilitate communication and coordination of efforts. It is going to be a long a difficult summer, as temperatures rise and diseases caused by overcrowding, vermin, and unclean water multiply. At least it seems that a great many of us are united in the fight to defend the homeless children of Haiti.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Name Change - All Blessings International

I am thrilled to announce that I may have heard the question, "Can we adopt from Haiti through your program if we don't live in Kentucky?" for the last time.

When Lucy Armistead founded the agency in her basement (which is a typical setting in which to found an adoption agency), 'Kentucky Adoption Services' really did say it all. But now, many years, adoption programs, humanitarian aid projects, clients, children, and two branch offices later, the name doesn't fit.

Lucy originally got the organization's 501(c)(3) recognition under the name All Blessings International, which is a much better fit and description. That's the name you'll hear if you call our offices. The phone number will not change. We'll keep our emails for quite some time.

Please check out our new website at We're pretty excited about it! Thank you so much for those of us who shared such glorious photos of your children to make the site come alive.

There will be a place on the site for your stories and pictures of your family. If you'd like to share your story with the world, and maybe help another family decide to open their hearts and homes to a Haitian child, this is your chance.

Gillibrand, Inhofe, Landrieu Introduce Proposal to Clear Legal Hurdle for Adopted Haitian Orphans to Become U.S. Citizens

From the Associated Press:

1,000 Haitian Orphans Stuck in Legal Limbo Senators: We Must Break the Gridlock, Protect Our Children.

WASHINGTON — Approximately 1,000 Haitian orphans who left the earthquake-ravaged country for the United States before their adoptions were finalized are now facing legal limbo and fewer legal protections. U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), and Mary Landrieu (D-LA) proposed legislation to clear the way for these adopted Haitian orphans who were granted humanitarian parole to the U.S. to become citizens.

Senator Gillibrand said, "I am relieved that the Haitian orphans who have been waiting for their adoptive parents are finally safe and sound with their proud mothers and fathers. But the unprecedented devastation has turned the adoption process upside down, where it could take years before these children could have any legal status. In this moment of great uncertainty, we must clear the gridlock and ensure that these children have the legal protections that they deserve."

Senator Inhofe said, "Prior to the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in January, many Americans sought to open their homes and their lives to the most vulnerable children in Haiti, the orphans. Unfortunately, the earthquake forced these children and their adoptive parents into an abnormal adoption and immigration process. This bill will alleviate the legal burden facing the adoptive parents of this group of orphans, and finally bring needed relief as these adoptive families begin their lives together."

"International adoptions involve a long and complicated process that requires families to complete dozens of steps before a child can become part of a loving family," said Senator Landrieu. "The process is even more difficult for Americans adopting Haitian orphans. Having entered the U.S under the humanitarian parole policy, these children face additional red tape to complete their adoptions and become U.S. citizens. This bill will simplify that process, providing families some piece of mind and safeguards against the expiration of the temporary status."

After the earthquake halted the adoption process and forced 1,000 adopted Haitian orphans to evacuate through humanitarian parole visas with the permission of the Haitian government, thousands of U.S. parents are now confronted with hurdles in their efforts to provide their children legal status in the U.S. Many Haitian children, although deemed orphans by Haitian authorities, did not have all of the final paperwork required for adoption before they left Haiti.

Under the normal international adoption process, an adoptive child becomes a U.S. citizen upon entering this country.; Without their adoptions being finalized in Haiti, the children who entered as humanitarian parolees face a technicality that would result in parents and children waiting years before prospective legal immigration status is granted.

There is no safety net to assure that these children would become citizens, as they would have otherwise been under conventional channels. So long as their status is in limbo, these children are left with fewer legal protections, may not be eligible for critical resources and risk being forced to return to the ravaged country if something were to happen to their adoptive families.

The Gillibrand-Inhofe-Landrieu legislation addresses these concerns by recognizing the extenuating circumstances following the earthquake facing these Haitian orphans by cutting through the legal limbo and clearing the way for Haitian orphans who were granted humanitarian parole to join their adoptive families in the U.S. to become citizens. These orphans have been vetted by Haitian and U.S. authorities for inter-country adoption to the United States. Under the Help HAITI Act of 2010, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano would allow families, who are U.S. citizens, to apply immediately on their adopted children's behalf to become legal permanent residents and eventually qualify for citizenship.

As a follow up, here is the press release from Senator Landrieu's office:

To clarify, there seems to be a minor inaccuracy in the article. I have been told directly at USCIS DC that once you have adopted your child in your state of residence, there is no possible way he can be expelled from the US unless he is over 18 and commits a felony prior to your obtaining complete citizenship for him, and even then it would be difficult. He CANNOT be 'returned' to Haiti if you, his adoptive parents, were to die. One less thing to worry about...

I think the odds of this bill passing, given the current political climate and popular support for Haiti, are excellent. If you'd like to thank someone for this excellent news, I recommend a donation of any size to the Joint Council. This bill, like the Humanitarian Parole program itself, would not have been introduced without their constant lobbying and advocacy.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Latest Version of the New Adoption Law

The following excerpt was translated by Isabelle Gaellemart of France from a scan of new law as approved by the Chamber of Deputies on May 7th. The law, along with the unfortunate news that there were not sufficient Senators present to form a quorum, and that no voting on the law could occur until after elections, was shared with me by the US Consulate in Haiti.

Here are the qualifications for adoptive families as described by the latest draft of the pending adoption law:

SECTION 1 – Regarding adoptive parents

ARTICLE 2. – Adoption may be requested jointly by a married heterosexual couple not living separately, after five (5) years of marriage or 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 (10) 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 (35) 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 couple 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 doesn't apply for inter family adoptions.

ARTICLE 7.- The adopters must be at least sixteen years older than the child they wish to adopt.
The minimum age difference is 9 years in the case of the adoption of the child by a common-law partner or of a close relative such as a sister, brother, nephew, niece, uncle, aunt or other close relative.

ARTICLE 8.- The birth in a home of one or more biological children does not constitute an obstacle to the adoption of one or more children placed earlier with a couple and who continue to benefit from their care.

ARTICLE 9.- When the sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, cousins, uncles, aunts or other close relatives, and even godsons and goddaughters, have been taken in by close relatives or their godfathers or godmothers, following the deaths of their biological parents or during a fairly long imprisonment, or when the parents are absolutely incapable of meeting the basic needs and providing basic care for their minor children, adoption is possible even if the close relatives already have biological children, depending on the conditions stated in Article 7.

ARTICLE 10.- A Haitian may adopt a foreign child according to the laws of the child’s country of origin.
A simple or plenary adoption is recognized in Haiti depending on the registration of said adoption in the government office of the petitioner’s home.
In the case of the conversion of a simple adoption into a plenary adoption, a request must be made of the Dean of the civil court of the petitioner’s home in order to obtain a judgment for cause.
The plenary adoption gives the child a right to Haitian nationality.

Article 5 originally specified that families with NO children could adopt any child, while families with one or two children could only adopt those with special circumstances - over age five, or with special needs. The current version is quite literally a life saver, as many of the children we place are members of sibling groups, or would do best with experienced parents.

Article 4 continues to be problematic. The way it is worded could exclude all single women who have never married. A great many of our most successfully parents are single women who have never been married. There is some chance that lobbying may be able to change this language. If not, I've heard that you can get married and then divorced in Vegas in less than 48 hours...

But all joking aside, a new law with explicit protections for protection of children and their birth families is a necessary step for Haiti. Despite the overwhelming number of children whose parents are now seeking to relinquish them, there will still be unscrupulous adoption facilitators who fail to tell birth parents the truth of the loss that accompanies every international adoption. Yes, your child will live. Yes, he will be loved and have opportunities beyond what he would have here. But no, there is no guarantee that you will ever see him again. Only when a full explanation of what international adoption means for every birth parent is made into law will we know for sure that all adoptions in Haiti are made with the families' fully informed consent.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Graduation Day

Today was a day of amazing firsts. My son stood with his classmates of the class of 2010 to receive his high school diploma. As the oldest, he is the first of our children to graduate. As the first member of his birth family to attend school, he was the first one to be able to read and write in any language. And as the oldest child placed by BRESMA orphanage, he is the first BRESMA alumni to finish school and enter into adulthood.

Garlise fit in very well with his class. He was well liked by his classmates, who helped him overcome his shyness and learned to understand English spoken with a strong Haitian accent. They appreciated his kindness, his superb tackling skills on the football field, and his help in French class.

His teachers found Garlise inspirational. He started school at age 14. He was able to read and write a bit in Kreyol, could add and subtract double digits, so long as there was no carrying or borrowing involved, and understood the concept of multiplication. He had never heard of world war II and did not know how many continents there were. But he was classically Haitian, and his absolute dedication to performance in school, attention to dressing nicely, and the polite manners to teachers ingrained since birth inspired them to go to extraordinary efforts to help the immigrant student pack 13 years’ worth of learning into just four. They all stayed late with him after school and modified assignments when necessary. Our tiny high school’s Special Education room and teachers had to convert themselves into an English as a Learning Language program overnight. Teacher Bonnie Dowling served as Garlise’s personal tutor and must have spent hundreds of hours helping him catch up.

Usually when a child graduates, he has a long list of people to thank. Garlise does as well, and he’s done an excellent job of thanking, even without too much prompting from Mom and Dad. But in our situation, we have some thanking to do as well.

We’d like to thank Garlise’s birth family for the honor of trusting us raising our mutual child for the last four years. We do not take your sacrifice for his welfare for granted for one moment of our lives. We’d like to thank the nannies of BRESMA who raised our son for almost two years, during one of the longest and most difficult adoptions of that time period. And finally, we’d like to thank Margarette Saint-Fleur. None of this could have happened without your endless determination to bring Garlise out of Haiti and into our home, where he would have opportunities that every child deserves, but which are still a very distant dream for Haiti.

Garlise is the first, but many more will follow. Around the world, in Holland, France, Spain, the UK, Canada, and here in the US, the children of BRESMA will finish school, graduate, and begin adulthood.

They are all very fortunate, and the world is wide open to them. They have all been given an opportunity which will be denied to their fellow Haitian children, even though it should have been their right. They will be able to go as far and as free as their abilities and temperaments will let them. They are probably not going to be grateful, because no one should have to be grateful for what we all deserve – love, permanency, family, freedom, opportunity to pursue our dreams. But we should be. We have all been given the gift of trust and faith of those who allowed us to raise their children as our very own. It’s grace, or Grace, and we are blessed. I am more aware of that then ever today. What a miracle. My cup runneth over.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Promise of What Could Be

Vacation day! My husband always says I’m running off for a Caribbean vacation when I travel to Haiti. Today, for the first time, it was true. We spent the day at Kaliko Beach Resort, just North of Cabaret on the Caribbean sea. It is Haiti as it could be, Haiti as it should be. A tropical vacation paradise. It was amazingly beautiful, and a constant breeze from the sea kept us from being made miserable by the unseasonably hot day.

The beach at Kaliko is made of pebbles and round rocks that were really hard on our feet. The water was crystal clear, blue and turquoise, and warm and still unlike any ocean water I have ever seen. Garlise and I saw brilliant yellow tropical fish marked with black bars swimming around our legs. Men walked up and down the beach selling very large live rock lobsters and crabs which are cooked on the spot for guests. Personally, I’m afraid of lobsters, so we opted for the buffet. Our $30 day passes included all we could eat plus a drink, or two non-alcoholic drinks. Garlise and I had fresh watermelon juice by the pool.

This is what Haiti could be! It is already happening here. There is such potential in Haiti, with it’s tropical climate and varied beauty, and it’s culture of hard work and honesty. So much hope. Seeing how Haiti could be and should be gives us all the determination to go on and create an economy here. The people deserve it.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


Four of my five Haitian born children are siblings, born in the mountains above Cabaret. I’ve been twice before. It is fascinating to be allowed to participate in the life of a rural Haitian family for the day, and I am considered one of the family. We were counting on Garlise to remember the way, because I surely cannot after just two visits. Garlise hasn’t had a visit for three years, but he did live here until he was twelve and he has an excellent sense of direction.

We drove for two hours on National Route 1, North along the coast on what is probably Haiti’s best road. Dennis managed to reach speeds that made me mildly uncomfortable as we whipped past children and livestock right by the side of the highway. The land becomes a desert North of Port-au-Prince. Some of the land is not in use at all, which is unusual for Haiti. Denis tried to drive his van along the dirt road up into the mountains, but I begged him to stop before he caused any damage to his vehicle and main source of income. It is quite incomprehensible to my colleagues in Haiti that I like to walk in the country.

Before we even reached our stopping point, Garlise and neighbors had already recognized each other. And just a little while further on, we came across a woman sitting on a donkey. We had almost passed her before Garlise and I recognized her at the same instant – Miracia! The birth mother of my children!! We had learned of her survival a week earlier, but I was still weak with relief to see her with my own eyes.

We abandoned the van, sending Denis back to Cabaret to wait more comfortably and started up the mountain in a train – one loudly complaining burro, two neighbors carrying various tools and supplies, Miracia, Garlise, and I. We received joyful greetings from everyone who knew Garlise and puzzled looks from those who did not. It was great fun to see how surprised everyone was to see Garlise as he is now. He has grown eight inches and gained forty pounds. He is not the little boy who left Haiti four years ago.

After a half hour walk, slowed somewhat by the reluctance of the donkey, we arrived at the farm where Miracia lives. It’s about five acres, mostly surrounded by a fence constructed of living shrubs. It seems everything here in Cabaret has thorns – even the trees. Pitimi (a grain similar to millet) is grown here, and Garlise’s stepfather owns quite a bit of livestock. The small concrete house is about 8’ x 10’. It was damaged in the earthquake, but is repairable. The other buildings are ‘kay pay’ – woven stick and thatch structures. They are somewhat temporary and one of the most common forms of housing in Haiti.

Miracia wanted to cook us a feast, and was upset that she didn’t have any meat. Garlise and I stopped her from running to the neighbors to borrow some. We explained that we came to visit, not to eat. I added that we all already knew that Miracia was an excellent cook, which made everyone laugh and Miracia smile with great pleasure.

We lugged my laptop all the way up the mountain so that we could show everyone a slide show of our four children at home in the US. Such a contrast – my 21st century laptop in an environment that is unchanged from how it would have been when the island was first colonized.
My Haitian born children have had a very different lot in life from the kids here in Cabaret. We met a half-brother who is eleven years old and the size of an American seven or eight year old. He and his older brother (my kids’ stepbrother) came over dressed in their Sunday best. They were not clothes that we would have thought of as special here. They both wore their shoes over, although children and even many adults save their shoes for special occasions. The Haitian expression for being poor is “I am feet on the ground” (barefoot) is not just a figure of speech. Shoes are a luxury item in Cabaret. This village is very different from that I visited above Bainet a year ago. Perhaps it is the harsh desert environment that makes life so hard. On this particular trip, I did not see any children who were obviously malnourished. Previously I have seen many with the dry, yellow-red hair and bloated bellies of Kwashiorkor, protein deprivations malnutrition. I did see many who were quite small.

As people filtered in to visit throughout the day and Garlise made a running round of friends’ and relatives’ houses, I was once again amazed at the generosity of the Haitian people. If anyone felt anything but pride and joy at Garlise’s good luck, they did not show it. I heard and saw nothing to indicate envy at his nice clothes, his education, his future plans to go to University.

It’s almost impossible for me, as an American born into an assurance of comfort and security, to imagine what it is like to be Haitian. When I first met Miracia face to face, during our adoption of Garlise’s three younger siblings, I asked her through an interpreter if she really wanted to do this. Miracia said simply that she wanted all of her grandchildren to live. She wanted all of her children to have an opportunity for a better life. She remains grateful to me for raising her children. I cannot really comprehend how, because I am so grateful to her for allowing me to do exactly the same thing. International adoption is certainly not the solution to the problems of a struggling nation, but it certainly has brought great joy to our two families and the children we have in common.

Garlise came back to the farm where he’d left me at a gallop just as the day was ending, grinning, dirty, covered with sweat, and surrounded by relatives. We took a few big group photos and had to leave to get home before dark. Next time he’ll stay for a few days to have more time to see everyone. So glad that after all, he is still Haitian.

Friday, April 23, 2010

UNICEF, the Consulate, and Beyond

No grass grew under our feet today! We were up from very early until well after dark. I owe our driver Franck a big favor…

First stop was the US Consulate, where I met with a director of the Hands and Feet Project in Jacmel. We’re trying to wrap up one of the final Humanitarian Parole cases. USCIS asked for a second letter from the mayor of Jacmel, and Michelle came all the way to Port –au –Prince to deliver it. I figured it was the least we could do to meet her and hand it over in person.

Inside the Embassy, we delivered what I HOPE will be the final document to USCIS. Lucy and I got to speak to Linda Percy, the Vice Consul of the Embassy. We are very sad to learn that she is leaving her post for Mali in June. Linda has been a powerful advocate for children’s rights while in Haiti, and everyone is going to miss her very much. We did get to meet her replacement. Lucy and I both had a very good feeling about her. There is going to be a transition meeting in June, which I expect I’ll attend, so that everyone can get to know one another.

After emailing UNICEF for a meeting several times, we decided to just show up and ask. I knew enough names to get inside the UN compound, and it was really something to see! I wish I could have taken pictures, but I didn’t dare.

The UN has set up an entire city of tents and temporary buildings on a flat spot near the airport. It must cover at least 50 acres, and at least a dozen nations are represented. We passed the barracks of the Uruguay air force. Officers from Taiwan and Brazil abounded. There were representatives from CARE, the World Food Program, the UN, and dozens of others. It was an amazing world village of hundreds of aid workers, soldiers, and administrators speaking dozens of languages in their own self-contained city. We passed generators the size of Volkswagens, a grocery store, and hundreds of portable small buildings that could be used individually for housing or hooked together for a gathering or work space. Many workers were housed in tents which were larger than those accommodating the Haitian people outside, but without a great many more amenities.

I hope and pray that with so many nations finally aware of Haiti and working together, that lasting change can come to Haiti.

We met for just a few moments with a high level UNICEF official, who apologized for not having responded to my emails. She had to meet with IBESR, so she asked us to return later in the afternoon. I was able to greet the IBESR representative and watch his face change from suspicion to a big friendly grin when I explained I worked with BRESMA and Margarette Saint-Fleur. It really does pay to have a sterling reputation, and I’m sure his recognition helped us with credibility with UNICEF as well.

We used our few free hours to visit Notre Maison, another orphanage in the La Plen area that ABI/KAS has supported for a few years. Finding the place was an amazing challenge, and we succeeded only after they sent someone out on a bicycle to find us! Many of the children of Notre Maison have special needs. The demands of caring for a child who will never be self sufficient, or one who is unable to walk, can be completely overwhelming to a Haitian family struggling to find enough food just to survive. Many of these children are abandoned in the streets. Notre Maison is one of the orphanages that will take in abandoned children with special needs. Sometimes the parents can still be located, and many of the Notre Maison children have visitors on Sundays.
As do most dedicated orphanages, Notre Maison supports family preservation programs as well. Sadly, the room used for the sewing project which allowed several families to support themselves is no longer safe.

Later in the afternoon we returned to the UN camp and made our way back to UNICEF. I asked the secretary to let our contact know we had arrived for our meeting, and she rattled something back to me that sounded like rapid-fire Kreyol – but I couldn’t understand a word! Eventually my bewildered stare must have registered with her. This happens to me a lot in Haiti. People assume that because I am white I can speak French. They are surprised when I cannot, and even more surprised when they learn that I do speak Kreyol. One of these days I really must learn French too…

Our original UNICEF contact was on her way to Jacmel, but she had arranged for us to meet with two of her colleagues. We discussed what the orphanages should do about displaced children and had a discussion about the possibilities of foster care for them. Garlise at last had a chance to say a bit about what he thought was best for children. As he was the only person present who has ever lived in an orphanage, I can only hope they listened to him well.

As usual, the UNICEF people stated that they are not anti-adoption, but their statements following that declaration did not always agree. They were outspoken about what they described as ‘illegitimate visas’ being issued to the children evacuated on Humanitarian Parole. This is quite troublesome, as although UNICEF did not agree to the HP program, the Prime Minister of Haiti did, as did the government. One of the officials made comments about how many of the children in orphanages were still in contact with their birth parents, and implied that this meant they should not be removed from the orphanages and placed in permanent families. Garlise, who received regular visits from his birth parents, begs to differ on that point. We as adoptive parents and children’s rights advocates must never relent in our lobbying until it is recognized around the world that every child has the right to a permanent, safe, and loving family. The best orphanage in the world is still just an orphanage.

Our last stop of the day, just before dark, was at the Haiti Poverty Project. A small group of missionaries cares for children temporarily as they help their families get back on their feet and become self-sufficient. This is exactly the sort of solution Haiti needs. The group is young, but hopefully they will thrive and grow and serve Haiti well.

We returned to the guest house where I spent the evening being teased by my son about my sunburn. Garlise says that in the US, he’d like to borrow my skin, but here in Haiti he quite prefers his own. Stinker.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Orphanage Visits

Orphanage visit day. Since it’s impossible for us to go to talk to the Director of IBESR herself, we’re interviewing other competent and ethical facilitators to compare notes. Today we visited Dixie Bickel at God’s Littlest Angels and Dr. Jacob Bernard at New Life Link. Both houses are in the mountains above Port-au-Prince on the way to the city of Kenscoff.

Dixie is an American who came to Haiti with her husband John over 20 years ago. Most of her grown children now live in Haiti at least part time to help with their ministry. God’s Littlest Angels provides a variety of services to preserve families and help the surrounding community as well as doing adoptions. We spent some time reminiscing about the terror of the earthquake. For Dixie, like most orphanage directors, the fear for her own life was secondary to the concern for how to feed dozens of children when the world has fallen down all around you.

The day before the earthquake, for reasons then unknown, Dixie’s driver said he wanted to buy 12 big sacks of rice. They normally buy far fewer, and Dixie told him to only buy the normal number. But he felt compelled to disobey her wishes, and he bought a dozen. When the earthquake happened, Dixie’s children had enough rice to fill their bellies for weeks, if nothing else.

The US-bound GLA children were airlifted to safety in Miami, and Dixie is diligently working to complete the adoptions of those bound for France.

We next visited Dr. Jacob Bernard at his guest house in the mountains. The beautiful five story structure was miraculously undamaged, but New Life Link orphanage was destroyed with no loss of life – another absolute miracle. Dr. Bernard has brought all of the children to live in the guesthouse while he rebuilds right nearby. He never wants the children miles away from where he lives again.

Lucy and her team went to heroic efforts to assist Dr. Bernard and others with evacuating children from Haiti right after the earthquake. It was a real pleasure to see how delighted he was to see her again.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Homes and Tent Cities

Visiting day… This morning we went to see our beloved Manmi Robert. For those of you who are not familiar with BRESMA history, Manmi Robert was our head nanny for several years. She was and is dearly loved by children and parents alike. We heard from her just a few days after the earthquake and I was beside myself with relief.

I have visited Manmi Robert before in her home. This time I was amazed to see a bare cement box transformed by lots of furniture, art, and even a book shelf. They now have a refrigerator, but of course no electricity. Several of her daughters are now living with her, and one is employed at a bank. Her small salary supports the whole family. They are blessed in that the house, a cement structure about 25’ x 20’ with two bedrooms and a living room, belongs to a niece who lives in Miami who lets them use it rent free. Rent of Port au Prince rivals that of any major US city.
Manmi Robert told us that when the quake happened, she was sitting in the living room. Suddenly everything started moving, and all of their possessions crashed to the floor. She leapt out the door crying out to Jesus, and as she watched the whole house swayed back and forth. Finally she ran up a rubble filled staircase, blinded by the dust of collapsed houses, and out to the street. I can’t imagine how the weak, flat, concrete ceiling of her home did not collapse on her. I can’t imagine how no one in her family was injured. Manmi Robert is quite sure she knows – Grace.

With a friend and neighbor to escort us, Garlise and I were able to enter a small tent city. Lucy wanted to do so yesterday, but it is far too dangerous for two white women to wander among the desperate with digital cameras in tow. Manmi Robert’s neighbors allowed us to enter and take photos. The ‘tent cities’ aren’t really made up of tents. Only the very lucky have actual tents. The rest are camping out under tarps lashed with bits of string to stick frames, buildings, and piles of rubble. They are in no way watertight, and every strong wind takes them down, drenching the occupants and what few possessions they managed to save from the ruins of their homes. The tarp shacks I peeked into were unbearable hot in the sun. Most people escape to sit under trees during the day.

Management of latrines has always been a major problem in Port au Prince. Now the earthquake has shattered the various deep, concrete lined pits people were using. I really don’t know what will happen when the rains start in earnest. I’m frightened of what the death toll might be from preventable disease.

Manmi Robert explained to us that there have been radio announcements from President Preval in which he tells the public another, larger earthquake could be coming. He said the government cannot be responsible for those who choose to sleep indoors. This may a reason, along with the severe trauma, why so many who do still have houses are camping outdoors. I’ve heard the same warning from seismologists in the news back in the US. But what are these people to do? The next earthquake could happen tonight or ten years from now or somewhere else altogether along the fault line.

This afternoon we went to visit another miracle – BRESMA’s free school was spared. Even the second story, which was under construction. The Port au Prince school is primarily supported by French sponsors. Children receive two meals a day, a uniform, and a free education. Over 100 children are being served. We believe the school helps to keep children in their birth families, as well as preparing them for any economic opportunity which might arise in Haiti. The new school in Jeremie was also undamaged, and classes will be able to restart eventually.

There are two delightful French women staying here at the guesthouse with their daughters, awaiting documentation from the French consulate to get their daughters’ passports and go home. They have been here for weeks. It’s amazing what we will do for our children.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

BRESMA I Building

Today we went to IBESR to hand them the letter requesting an appointment. Although I did see Madame Pierre sitting at her desk, we were unable to get her to commit to meeting with us at all. A bit frustrating after a fairly long wait. IBESR looks intact, but all business is conducted outdoors under tarps at long tables set up along the side of the yard. UNICEF has the opposite side of the yard. The yard was full of people wearing T-shirts with the IBESR logo on one side and UNICEF’s on the other.

UNICEF was collecting blood samples from various people. Garlise was curious, and went over to ask what they were doing. He was told rather aggressively that they were not going to tell him anything, and that he needed to ask the IBESR director if he wanted to know. Very strange, for Haiti, where people are generally very chatty, open and friendly. Now I’m curious too!

This afternoon we were hoping to visit with Dr. Bernard, but were unable to connect with him. We went to visit BRESMA I instead. I had Franck stop 'my' BRESMA II on our way. It is so strange to see the house empty and silent. I could hear the phantom voices of dozens of children from over the years. It seems a sad thing until I remember that almost every one of those children are now safe at home with their families – what a miracle!

We are absolutely blessed that BRESMA I, the one building BRESMA owned, is largely undamaged. We went inside to check it out. No cracks were visible. The backyard was a bit of a shock, but Chantline, who was staying there, told me that Margarette’s construction crew had dismantled damaged patio concrete and was rebuilding. There are a few people camping in tents in the tiny front courtyard. Chantline says that she is afraid to go inside the building, so she and her three children are camped out in a tent with a TV, dorm refrigerator, toaster oven, and thick mats for bedding. I wonder if she will change her mind when the rain comes?

Manmi Lis, who was in charge of BRESMA II, came to meet us. I was thrilled to see her, and even happier to witness the reunion between Manmi Lis and my son. The love there is undeniable. Garlise is now taller than Lis, and stronger. I could see how proud she was of him.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Back in Haiti

We arrived in PaP after an exhausting journey involving a layover of almost 12 hours in Salt Lake City and an overnight flight to JFK. This is my first trip to Haiti since the earthquake, and Garlise’s first in several years. Garlise came home to us from Haiti at age 14, and at age 18 he is still very much a Haitian man. On this trip, he’ll serve as interpreter and security.
I think what is hardest to understand is the complete randomness of the destruction here. Some buildings are untouched, yet surrounded by the rubble of their neighbors which have collapse completely. The airport is ruined, though still standing. We left the plane via a jetway, rather than the familiar stairs, and were herded into a structure obviously donated by an organization from somewhere else. It was a self-contained building, complete with heaters(!). Thank goodness they still had the Digicel band, or I wouldn’t have known where I was. Immigrations and customs are being conducted in an old metal warehouse, which seemed undamaged.

My first encounter with the new reality occurred the moment we left the warehouse, where I was immediately met by my regular luggage guy. He is my luggage guy because he is deaf and mute. Unlike the rest of the porters, he has never heard me insisting in Kreyol, “I have no money, I don’t need any more friends, and I’m not going to pay any of you anything!” which has always made the mob of eager baggage handlers laugh and back off. But my guy can’t hear me, which makes them all laugh much harder. I’ve been through the airport enough times by now (27!) that I am recognized and pointed out to my man. But this time, while we waited for the van, he showed me blurry photos of three children and was able to explain via gestures that all three of his children are dead. All I could to was tell him I was sorry. They were all very small.

Street markets continue as always, and if you didn’t know which piles of rubble had been there before, you would hardly know that Haiti has changed. This land looked like an earthquake or hurricane had stuck long before January 12th. Where I can see the difference is when I talk to the people I know. Who lost whom. Whose house is not safe to enter, collapsed, or burned down. Who is living in a tent. Who still hasn’t heard from her sister and is beginning to lose hope that she is still alive.

Lucy tells me that when she was here, right after the earthquake, the smell of death and decay was in the air. I can’t smell it now, but a film of concrete dust clings to everything still, and there are tents everywhere. Inside the walled yards of many houses are tents and tarps. The inhabitants are too traumatized to enter their own homes. I can’t blame them.

We are staying at the BRESMA guest house. I’ve visited here a lot, but never to stay. I always preferred ‘my house’, BRESMA II. I had my own room there, which was mine when I visited and used for others while I was in the States. I miss it, despite how luxurious the guest house is. This is a beautiful house. My bed is very comfortable, and Garlise and I have a room as large as our living room back home with two full-size beds. We even have air conditioning. I’d rather stay at my second home, but we cannot enter the building.

Tomorrow we will continue our quest to get an appointment with IBESR. Margarette has already been there as well as calling, trying to get an appointment for us. They asked for a letter on letterhead formally requesting a visit, but today they would not allow her to give it to them. So some things in Haiti have not changed at all.

Monday, April 12, 2010

We Are The Truth: A Campaign and Call to Action

Dear Friends and Families,

The following message was sent out by Joint Council for broadcast to everyone who believe that children have the right to grow up in families.

The recent inhuman behavior of one adoptive family, who put their very young son on a plane to Russia by himself with the intention of abandoning him there, has caused government officials to consider closing all Russian adoptions and jeopardizes international adoptions from all nations. If you believe that child abusers, rather than abused, neglected, orphaned and abandoned children should suffer the consequences for this heinous act, please follow the instructions below and share this letter with everyone who values the rights of children.

From the Joint Council of International Children's Services:

(View as a web page. )

The outrageous treatment of Artyem by his adoptive family has rightfully resulted in outrage by the Governments of Russia and the United States and all who care about children. The tragedy has cast a light on intercountry adoption that says it is not safe, the system failed and adopted children cause insurmountable problems. The heartbreak of Artyem Saviliev’s abandonment has once again elevated a singular incident to a level which may result in the suspension of intercountry adoption. Suspending adoption, even temporarily, will only cause thousands of children to suffer the debilitating effects of life in an orphanage.

You, the community of adoptees, adoptive parents, adoptive grandparents, child welfare professionals and child advocates know that the outrageous and indefensible actions of one parent are not indicative of how children are treated by adoptive families. You know that families who encounter difficulties do not simply abandon their child. You know that help is available, that solutions are found and that families can thrive. And you know that suspending adoption does not protect children but only subjects them to the depravity of an institution…and an entire life without a family.

You, the adoption community know the truth. You live the truth. You are the truth.

Join our campaign to bring the truth to light and help children in need find a permanent and safe family.

What You Can Do

1) Sign the letter to President Medvedev and President Obama: The letter asks both Presidents to ensure that intercountry adoption continues uninterrupted and to aggressively investigate and prosecute anyone involved in the abuse of children. You can sign anytime, but doing so before Tuesday night would help us get the letters to both Presidents before President Medvedev leaves the U.S. To sign the letter, click here.

2) We Are The Truth – an adoption blogger day: To ensure the world knows about every successful adoption, on Thursday, April 15, 2010 blog about your adoption or the adoption of someone you know. It doesn’t matter if your adoption is with Russia, domestic or otherwise international. Let the world know your truth!

3) Tell Your Truth with Video - make sure the world sees, hears and feels the thousands of successful adoptions from Russia by:
Send Joint Council your successful Russian adoption video via email to
Video should be a maximum of 3 minutes.
A release must be sent to Joint Council or we cannot accept your video. For a copy of the release, click here.
Joint Council will translate the video into Russian and post it on our YouTube Channel.

4) Tell Your Truth with Words and Photos
Send Joint Council your successful Russian adoption story via email to Send us your stories through:
Photos (please do not send more than 10)
Essays (maximum 500 words)
A release must be sent to Joint Council or we cannot accept your story and/or pictures. For a copy of the release, click here.
Joint Council will then compile the stories and pictures, translate them into Russian and post them on our website and/or blog.

5) Share Your Truth
Joint Council will post, forward and share your stories via Facebook, Twitter, and blogs. Joint Council will be updating our YouTube Channel and Facebook page as the stories get compiled and translated, please subscribe to us on YouTube, Twitter and Fan us on Facebook.
You do the same by posting on your Facebook, Twitter, blog and website!

Want to help more?
Are you willing to speak to the media about your Russian adoption? If so, please email with the following:
Your name(s)
City, State of residence
Contact Phone Numbers
Contact Email
Short 4 sentence bio about your adoption

Do you speak Russian?
We are in need of individual volunteers who can help our staff translate the videos and text quickly. If you are interested in helping, email Joint Council at

Do you live in the Alexandria, VA area?
Joint Council is in need of short term volunteers over the next two weeks, email if you would like to volunteer.
Our Website Donate Now Email Us About Us
Joint Council on International Children's Services - 117 South Saint Asaph St Alexandria, VA 22304 - (703) 535-8045

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Humanitarian Parole Program Draws to a Close

The Haitian government has requested a final list of children for whom the US will grant humanitarian parole. Over 1,000 children have already been granted parole, and perhaps 200 more are expected to be processed and accepted.

All applications must be submitted by April 14th, 2010 to be considered. They must be submitted by email to The Embassy will not accept ‘walk in’ appointments. Visit and look in the ‘Alerts’ section in the upper right hand corner for details.

Haitian adoptions have begun again (please see our posting on the subject), so families who wish to adopt a Haitian child will be able to do so again through the normal channels.

Reputable orphanages and agencies will all take great care only to place children who were orphaned or abandoned before January 12th, 2010, or those who are relinquished by surviving birth parents afterwards. Children orphaned or displaced in the earthquake must not be removed from Haiti until exhaustive efforts have been made to locate birth relatives who might care for them.

The economic situation in Haiti, always very precarious, is now even more desperate. KAS/ABI is focusing our efforts on family preservation whenever possible. On our upcoming trip to Haiti, Director Lucy Armistead and I will visit a women’s economic development program to learn more about how to help women stand on their own, and support their families with independence and pride.

The humanitarian parole program was an amazing gift in the face of catastrophe for hundreds of children. Now it is time for us to start picking up the pieces and do our share of rebuilding Haiti. We’ll keep you appraised of our plans, efforts, successes and failures on our journey.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Haitian Adoptions Reopen

Dear Friends,

It is with cautious optimism that All Blessings International, Inc., also known as Kentucky Adoption Services is beginning to again accept applicants interested in adopting a child in need from Haiti. There are rumors abounding about expedited adoptions from Haiti, although we do not expect this will be the case. In fact, we anticipate greater challenges in pursuing adoptions from Haiti than the previous process which was already fraught with uncertainty. We are also both scared and excited about our upcoming trip to Haiti (beginning April 9) – scared because we already have witnessed the terrible devastation first hand of the earthquake and realize that with the rainy season beginning we will bear witness to additional tragic consequences of one of the worst natural disasters to occur in our lifetimes. We are excited to be with our friends in Haiti again, to hold the children we care so dearly about and to attend to multiple areas of business, such as meeting with IBESR, the US Embassy, Haitian magistrates, humanitarian aid groups working in Haiti, etc. We hope to visit some of the tent cities and to assess the needs of children and families residing in the overwhelming aftermath of the January 12 earthquake.

To best explain to prospective adoptive families the current risks in embarking on an adoption from Haiti we have created a Haiti Full Disclosure Statement, which you can request from our main office. We will continue to be cautious in our acceptance of prospective adoptive families and anticipate accepting only :
  • couples who are both 35 years old or older

  • married or living together for the past 10 years
  • maximum of three biological children living at home
  • single female applicants 35 years or older
  • maximum of two biological children residing within the home

Prior to the earthquake, families meeting these qualifications were most readily accepted within the Haitian adoption system.

We are truly amazed and blessed at the number of families who became aware of the plight of orphans in Haiti following the earthquake and who have expressed interest in providing a permanent home for these children in need. For years we have been hard pressed to identify suitable families for the children we serve. We thank you for your interest, your support and the love you are offering to children we consider “our own”.

We will continue to dedicate our resources and our advocacy toward various humanitarian efforts in Haiti centered around the best interests of children. We ask that if you are unable to proceed with an adoption from Haiti that you consider a tax deductible gift to allow us to continue to further our mission of service, compassion and love toward the children and families of Haiti. We also ask that you consider possibly contributing toward the adoption expenses of a family who may lack the financial resources to pursue an adoption.

We will be conducting two webinar series to discuss the process of adopting from Haiti, costs, risks, etc. on Thursday, April 1st at 8 pm CST and Tuesday, April 6th at 8pm CST. If you are interested in attending either of these free informational sessions please RSVP to


A. Lucy Armistead
Director, All Blessings International / Kentucky Adoption Services

Saturday, February 20, 2010

BRESMA Children Moved to Safe Haven

We are very fortunate that the orphanage directors in Haiti have a long standing tradition of working together for the good of the children they serve. Over the years, BRESMA orphanage has repeatedly sent very sick children to God’s Littlest Angels orphanage, up in the mountains near Kenscoff.

GLA is directed by Dixie Bickel, who is a registered nurse, has worked in Haiti for almost two decades. Her house is very well equipped with medical supplies and well trained staff. Her house is almost empty – almost all of the children have gone home to their forever families.

BRESMA orphanage is damaged. Although two engineers have visited and stated that the building is stable and will not fall, staff members remain too frightened to enter it at all. The nannies and children remained camped out on our very small, sloped concrete front patio under tents and shelters. Conditions were miserably uncomfortable at best, and with the rains coming, we were frightened for the children’s health. Pneumonia is a very common cause of death among young children in Haiti.

Margarette and Dixie have cooperated to bring ALL of the BRESMA children to God’s Littlest Angels. On the 19th of February, Margarette brought all of the children except for a few who were already sick, and on the 20th they joined everyone else at God’s Littlest Angels.

Dixie reports that the children who arrived on the 19th appear to be in good health. A few needed some Pediasure for weight gain, but no medical intervention was necessary.

Thank you to Dixie and her staff for showing once again that it’s all about the children.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Small Town, Big Hearts!

The students in the small town of Watertown, S.D. decided to welcome two new classmates from Haiti by showing their concern for the children remaining in Haiti:

Lincoln Elementary in Watertown, SD, celebrated their 100th day of school by revealing the amount of money collected in their "Hundreds for Haiti" fundraiser. The school has been eagerly awaiting two new students who have recently arrived from the BRESMA orphanage in Haiti. Students and parents were encouraged to empty their piggy banks over the past two weeks to help support Kentucky Adoption Services and the BRESMA orphange houses in Port-au-Prince. Their hopes were to help rebuild damaged buildings and to provide needed food and water. Each day as donations came in, $10 blocks were added to the cafeteria wall in groups of 100. The school's mascot, the Lincoln Leopard, is shown with students from each grade and a check for over $2600 to Kentucky Adoption Services. The outpouring of support and good wishes from BRESMA adoptive families' communities has been overwhelming!

Thank you, Lincoln Elementary. Your donation will help children who have were separated from their families in the earthquake. We will keep them safe while we look for their relatives.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Kids Helping Kids

These amazing children raised just over $2,000 for Haiti at their bake sale!

Hi Diana,

Here are two photos from Rocky Mountain Christian Academy's 3rd and 4th grade "Hearts for Haiti" Bake Sale to raise funds for KAS. My class and my team teacher's class is the 1st one (Mrs. Tadewald and Mrs. Fraser 3rd grade) and Trent's 4th grade class,Mrs. Weber, and the second 4th grade class of Mrs. Townsend are in the 2nd picture. I'll e-mail you a dollar amount after we total the funds from the sale and we also have a service project for individual RMCA families in 3rd and 4th grade to raise funds through February 11th for the support of KAS. I'll keep you posted on that endeavor also. Not "tooting our horn", but we all want you to know that your hands are where so many hands want to be there, HELPING! We pray for your strength and the Lord's continued guidance in your work!



BRESMA has about 50 children in care - some from before the earthquake, some who came in afterward in desperate need of aid. Every penny helps us to keep them alive. Thank you, RMCA!

Children Coming Home

The following was written by an adoptive mother whose daughters flew into Miami last night:

John, Gina, Josh & I are at the Ramada Inn in Miami! We had quite an adventure today including two lovely ladies from Southwest gettting us on a quick plane to Ft. Lauderdale from Orlando! Glory to God!

As we were getting our 12 passenger rental van to drive to Miami, I received a call from Christina! A red cross worker that she had been talking to about her family & showing pictures of us, let her use his phone! God bless, Micha! What an intelligent girl we have to bring her Mom & Dad's cell phone numbers with her! She immediately said, "We are in Miami". I forgot where I was so I said, "We are in Miami too!" She said "Ahhh, oui?!?!" with relief. She said she didn't have a good trip & that she was hungry & tired. I explained that they would be going to "The Children's Home". She said ok. I said I talked to the director & she is nice & they will feed you & let you sleep. I said you might sleep there, but we will be working to come to you. She said "Ok, come quick". I said ok & that we are praying that everything willl go quickly. Then, Carme Suze, Daana, Samentha & Claudia all said Hi & apparently, everyone besides Christina had a good trip ;) What touched me the most is that they were all saying I'm hungry & laughing. I don't know why it was funny, but I said they would get to eat soon. But, they kept laughing! I said they are having a party in the U.S.A.!

Then, we headed to His Home for Children where we would be processed by the Office of Refugee Resettlement & where the girls will be staying - hopefully, for just tonight. When we walked inside, I could feel the peace of God all over the place. They greeted us warmly & asked, How are you? I said, Great & started to cry & said I got to talk to our girls. Someone immediately gave me a hug. This is God's Home for Children & their mission statement includes taking care of the fatherless. I wish our girls were here at the hotel with us, but I felt comfortable knowing this is where they'd be (that is NOT how I felt earlier this evening!).

So then we met with someone from ORR & he was really nice. Looked at all our paperwork asked a few questions & said that they'd have to contact the USCIS for the fingerprint clearance that we did last week & that everything else looked good. They will merge our files with the ones that will come with the girls! We left the home at about 11pm & the girls had not arrived yet. Micha had said that there were many children to be processed while they were waiting at Miami Airport. They wouldn't have let them see us anyway. We can go back at 9am & have visitation at 10am. It is very likely that we will be approved to take them home by then. That's what we're praying for. It was all very smooth & very well done.

God has really been with us through it all & I can see the light at the end of the tunnel! Thanks, Diana & Lucy for making this happen! God is GREAT!


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Amazing Airlift

On January 18th, 2010, Jamie and Alison McMutrie with the assistance of the Governor of Pennsylvania and a local Congressperson, succeeded in airlifting 54 BRESMA children out of Haiti. The children were flown to Pittsburgh, where they were taken to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Their parents were allowed to visit them, and after paperwork was processed, take them safely home.

What a miracle! Well done, ladies.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Homeward Bound

An update on our kids, who are on their way:

Gen Lepper/Mr. Peters--

As you know by now, we have lift off! What a great day for me-- I can only image what it is for the parents.

Tail number: C-17 is xxxxx
Departed 1734
ETA: 1904
Destination: xxxxxxx

Despite our small shuffle getting everyone together at the airport, everything went well. CNN was there with full coverage of the event. It will be on tonight.

I am so impressed with the embassy workers. Charly (sp?), their escort, is riding up with them and turning right around. Her home was completely destroyed.

I am grateful to have been a part. What great, well-behaved kids (I miss that age).



Lt Col Randon Draper

A Glimmer of Hope in the Darkness of Haiti

The US Government, in particular USCIS and DOS, are working overtime in an effort to grant Visas to children who have already completed the adoption process in Haiti. The first five children from BRESMA orphanage are currently at the US Embassy, safe from harm.

This effort was coordinated only through extraordinary efforts on behalf of the UN, the US military, USCIS, DOS, the Joint Council of International Children's Services, many parent volunteers, the US Air Force, and of course our brave staff at the orphanage.

The message below was shared by Lt. Colonel Randon Draper, who along with Mr. Julius Fondong of the UN Foundation enabled the children to reach and enter the Embassy safely.

Gen Lepper/Mr. Peters--

I just left the embassy. The children are doing well.

Although I did not get any of your messages notifying me of the UN driver and Pius Bannis until I got back, I was directed to Linda Percy and Pius Bannis while I was there. In the course of our conversations, the UN driver arrived with the children. I felt privileged to help lead them by the hand into the reception area and teach them how to eat their first MRE. They were hungry. I hope their parents don't mind, but I gave them a tootsie roll before dinner! They were very calm, bright-eyed and submissive to their environment.

Jenna is a little sick -- running nose and had vomit on her, but she appeared to be doing well overall. The oldest (maybe 10 or 12) held her and was very attentive. I tried to get her to sit in the cushioned chair so she could better attend to Jenna, but she kept giving the best to the little ones. Very tender. A nurse was going to look at Jenna when I left. They had a lot medical from New Jersey. I've got to say that the plight of these people choke you up at times, and I have not come close to seeing the worst of it.

The kids, as are all adoptive kids, are first priority on the plane. As there were no other adoptive kids, they are on the first plane out.

Mr. Bannis was processing paperwork when I left. As I had traveled with OSI and they had to return, I could not stay with the children.
However, Mr. Bannis will notify me when they are transported to the airport and I will hook up with them there if at all possible.

The process with these little travelers had additional good as the embassy realized that other adoptive kids had been turned away in the chaos because they went to the wrong processing gate -- a simple matter, but so is the minor switching of a train track toward another destination.

Mr. Bannis and Ms. Percy are a God Send. They had damage to their own homes and were working tirelessly. Ms. Percy had her two adopted kids evac'd out to stay with family after the quake. I also saw whispers, tears and embraces among a couple of embassy staff consoling each other for loss of their own family members or friends.

I will send this message twice -- one with photos and one without to make sure it gets through. I appreciate the privilege to be involved with this.



These children are the first of many our government will save.
Thank you to all of you heroes involved!