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.

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