Sunday, April 25, 2010
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
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
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
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
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
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?
Sunday, April 18, 2010
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.
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
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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 email@example.com with the following:
City, State of residence
Contact Phone Numbers
Short 4 sentence bio about your adoption
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you live in the Alexandria, VA area?
Joint Council is in need of short term volunteers over the next two weeks, email email@example.com if you would like to volunteer.
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Joint Council on International Children's Services - 117 South Saint Asaph St Alexandria, VA 22304 - (703) 535-8045
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
All applications must be submitted by April 14th, 2010 to be considered. They must be submitted by email to HaitianAdoptions@dhs.gov. The Embassy will not accept ‘walk in’ appointments. Visit http://www.uscis.gov/ 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.