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.