Thursday, September 22, 2011

Orphanage Care

Sometimes a photo is worth a thousand words...

We believe that no orphanage care can ever truly meet the needs of a developing child, but BRESMA comes pretty close.  Here are some photos of Margarette Saint-Fleur, Director of BRESMA orphanage, interacting with a baby in our care.

I think R.'s smile says it all!

Monday, August 8, 2011

When All Else Fails

Today was another one of those really mixed days.  Intake day. 

We met with two families who BRESMA has been financially supporting for over a year.  One includes a grandma and her two adult children and her daughter-in-law.  The daughter's husband was killed in the earthquake when she had one toddler and was just pregnant with their second child.  The son's eighteen year old girlfriend has a baby boy.  The second family is a single mother with a baby boy and a five year old girl.  All of these adults are absolutely resolute.  They believe that they cannot raise their children in Haiti.  They are adamant that they want to place them for adoption.  We must respect their judgement as adults and parents who know what is best for their children.  I went through the speech with them - that the children will never return to Haiti, that adoption is forever, that I will beg for photos and updates but I can't force adoptive parents to consider the feelings of the birth parents - but they've heard it all before several times and will not change their minds.

We don't know where the biological father of the five year old girl is, and we can't place her without his consent.  Her mother begged me to find a family for her anyway, but I had to tell her that Margarette was right.  We must find him first.  I told her to try everything so that I can place her delightful little girl.

Four of the children will come into BRESMA when Margarette returns from vacation in a few weeks.  I spent some time with each child and parent, getting to know what I can about them.  Times like this I really feel the weight of my responsibility to these families.  They are trusting me to find parents who will cherish and raise their own children.  I pray that I have the wisdom to serve them well and earn the trust they are giving me with no recommendation other than blind hope.

Margarette handed out packages of beans and rice to everyone - lots of bags, this time, as she'll be on vacation for about two weeks.  We packed everyone in the bus and drove to BRESMA to load everyone up with baby formula, powdered milk, and ibuprofen.  Margarette handed out some emergency cash too, just in case.

When it was time to go, the five year old girl said quietly, "M'ap rete avo."  ("I'm staying with you.")  I told her mother to look hard for that birth father.  Some of our older kids seem to be so aware of how precarious their family's situation is that they actively want to be adopted, even though they love their parents.  Perhaps she'll find the missing biological father.  Perhaps something will change.  I sure hope so.  Such a bright and personable little girl deserves a solid future.

I spent the afternoon with my friend Michelle Meece from Hands and Feet.  I love this group.  They really understand the purpose of an orphanage, which Michelle demonstrated beautifully. 

"This is what Hands and Feet does," she explained as we lounged on the upstairs patio at the guest house.  "When a kid is walking right off a cliff, this is us."

She pantomimed grabbing the back of a child's shirt.  It's the perfect image.  There sure do seem to be a lot of cliffs in Haiti.  But at least in Jacmel, and soon in Gran Goave, there will be vigilant guardians on a few of them.

Time to rest
I'm leaving tomorrow.  I have distributed all the little gifts that filled my duffel bag, and packed it away in my carry on suitcase.  I have about 300 emails to answer, paperwork to distribute, case updates to share and referrals to make to waiting families.

I don't believe I'll be checking any bags on the way home this time.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Up to Fermanthe

Today I travelled to visit the home of Dr. Jacob Bernard, up in the mountains above the city.  To his great joy, I didn't even ask Franck to drive me and got a ride from my colleague Denis Frantz instead.  I send all of my families to Denis when they need to hire a driver.  He spent a lot of time in Boston as a kid.  Denis speaks perfect English, is extremely conservative about safety issues, and is the only person I know in Haiti who is early for everything.

Naturally, we arrived at Dr. Bernard's house early.  He wasn't even home from church yet.  I spent a very peaceful and restful half an hour enjoying the cool, fresh air of the mountains and the astonishing scenery from Dr. Bernard's small hotel.  Anyone wanting to experience the beauty of Haiti really should spend a night with the Bernards!

The first car to return from church was an SUV carrying eighteen small children, all dressed to the nines and obviously thrilled with their visit to church!  They are all going to bible camp this week.  It's pretty obvious that the Bernards' choice to sign them up for camp was a very popular decision.

Dr. Bernard and I had only a few minutes together as he was headed out to Leoganne, but we conferred about the one case we are working together and about the process in general.  Dr. Bernard says his cases are moving along smoothly.  Like the rest of us, he's not sure what President Martelly's statement about ending independent adoptions means.  He suspects that there will need to be a licensed creche involved in Haiti, and a licensed agency involved in the U.S.  This will affect Dr. Bernard profoundly, as he is the only creche director we work with who still works with families with no agency in their home nation.

Our brief meeting over, I went with Mrs. Bernard to visit the kids.  They're still living in a separate building at the guest house, where they are within easy reach if a disaster were ever to strike again.  As ever, the care here is very, very good.  The kids are happy, organized, and in superb health.  I may have seen the fattest baby thighs I've ever seen today.  Her upper legs were almost as wide as they were long!

I agreed to stay for lunch with a few of the guests.  The Bernards tend to serve American food.  I imagine for most people it's comforting to have familiar food in a strange country.  I've come to dislike it.  Sure, I'll eat a turkey and cheese sandwich here, but it just doesn't seem right in Haiti.  Bring on the banan prese!

Although they just had a group of sixty-five guests during the week, today the Bernards had just six visitors.  One of them was a single lady interested in adoption.  I had to confirm what Dr. Bernard had already told her - under Haitian law, she is not allowed to adopt a Haitian child.  Such a shame.  Obviously she's already committed to Haiti, and at age thirty she's probably quite mature enough to be a good parent.  I sure do hope that new law passes someday, with the changes the Creche Directors' Association has recommended.  The one we have now is just not designed around what the children most need.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Visiting Day

Happy kids at Sonia's house
A relatively mellow day today - only three stops.

In the morning, Margarette and I went to visit our friend Sonia Andre's orphanage.  Sonia primarily places children with German families (as she can no longer work with the French families).  She's our partner on a number of cases, providing child care for a few cases Margarette is working, and checking up on all of our cases in IBESR regularly whenever Margarette is out of town.  Margarette helps Sonia with processing tricky cases.  It's an excellent arrangement for everyone.  This is still a fabulous house.  Truly exceptional child care!  It would be very difficult to find any American day care center that was cleaner, better supplied, or better staffed than Sonia's place.

It always makes me laugh to come here because of the reception I get.  Sonia has quite a few babies and small toddlers at the moment.  One look at me, and there is a huge chorus of wailing from at least ten frightened babies!  Separation anxiety in kids this age is a sign of healthy attachment, and there is no question that these little guys know who their caretakers are.  All I have to do is look at them and I set them off again.  It was quite challenging to get a happy photo for one of my adoptive families of a baby boy who was not at all pleased to see me.  At least the older kids were very pleased to see me again.  They had a few new dance moves to show me.

Sonia has asked me to find families for two of her children in particular: a little boy to whom she is so attached after his long residence that she just wants him closer to Haiti, and a little girl who was recently abandoned.

Chistina and me
The girl's story is probably a common one, except for the ending.  Christina was living with just her mother in one of the tent camps.  Last January, her mother died of cholera.  There was absolutely no one else in the world to care for this child.  Someone in the camp was aware that the mother died, and Christina was brought to the community leaders of the camp.  Someone called IBESR, and luckily for Christina, IBESR chose to call Sonia and Sonia had space for her at the moment.  She is one of the lucky ones.  I can still see the immense grief in her eyes, but she will have a family and an opportunity that so many never will have.

Next we went to Giant Market.  It's a bit higher up the hill in Petionville than our old market, the Caribbean Market.  That building was entirely destroyed in the earthquake, killing many in the collapse.  There was a remarkable story of a survivor pulled from the rubble days and days later.  It's amazing Giant Market didn't collapse too: it's built up on stilts over a parking garage.

Haitian food prices are much like they were before.  They are comparable to what they might be in a Manhattan market for most foods, and higher for certain things that must be shipped in, such as baby formula.

We stopped by BRESMA again on our way back to the guesthouse and office.  The boy and girl twins who arrived the day before I did seem to have settled in completely.  They are amazingly resilient children!  One of our little guys was at the dentist when we arrived.  He has the worst teeth I've ever seen.  I'm a bit anxious as to the quality of dental care, although I might just be prejudiced.  I have no reason to think a Haitian dentist would be any less competent than an American dentist.  Our little boy came back with a few abscessed teeth removed and instructions to only eat liquids for a few days.  I suspect the damage was from a very poor diet combined with a great fondness for sugar cane!  I know that his birth father has good teeth.  Wislande was already hovering over him trying to plan a lunch he could eat.  He's in good hands.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Sort of Homecoming

Fretnel, Simone, Miracia, Wislande, and Fanni
The house is empty and silent no more!!

This morning I visited BRESMA orphanage and passed a few happy hours with our seven children in care.  We have four full time nannies and a cleaner, so they are just as indulged and well tended as one could possibly hope for.

The nannies include a few familiar faces.  Manmi Fanni has worked for us for about nine years.  Those of you who know and love her will be pleased to hear that she is not and will not be doing any laundry at all!  The kids will benefit enormously from Fanni's kindness, patience, and wisdom.

Wislande is a very beautiful young lady who worked at BRESMA I before.  I credit her personally with saving the life of the child who had the worst case of  wet malnutrition I have ever seen.  He was so edemic that he was losing skin all over his body, particularly on his hands, feet, and genitals.  I took photos to record the disease, but I've never been able to bear showing them to anybody.  Wislande.decided that he was her personal responsibility.  She couldn't touch him much - it was too painful for him - but she would stand or sit by his crib for hours, talking to him and loving him and never letting him give up.  It worked.  She is young and fun and enthusiastic and is a great companion for the kids.

Miracia has worked at BRESMA on and off for several years.  She is one of the most patient human beings I know, and I have never seen her angry or even irritated.  She loves nothing more than playing with small children.  She's an absolutely terrible disciplinarian, so I'm very glad she's not there alone.  Every child in her care without a balancing influence is sure to turn out too spoiled for his own good.

I don't know Simone or Fretznel yet, but Wislande and Fanni approve.  That's a very good sign.\

The children arrived in BRESMA starting on July 6th.  That was a very big day for us.  A year and a half after the earthquake, BRESMA was ready to shelter children under her own roof.  These toddlers and preschoolers are being housed in the old building, which was undamaged.  It's been freshened up with new paint and we have new appliances care of Answered Prayers.  The kids are eating a lot of meat!  And manners are a focus.  As they were busy feeding the kids, Fanni, Simone, and Wislande each had Aslin and Bodelais say Grace for the same meal, unaware that the others had done so.  Everyone has to say thank you and take turns with toys too.

The twins
A few of the kids will go to Argentina, but most will come to the US until France or Holland reopens adoptions for their citizens.  I'm amazed at the resilience of a pair of boy/girl twins who just arrived yesterday.  They actually seem quite happy here, despite all that they have lost.  They are getting a great deal of attention, and we have all sorts of fascinating toys, but they have lost their family.  I suppose that having each other helps too.

I'm delighted to spend some time with Aslin.  He and his brother came into care first, after their mother died of what I believe to be cholera.  He deep in grief when I met him in May.  What a changed child he is!  Once he decided I was okay, he invited me to participate in car races and all sorts of games, chattering away and grinning like the clever and happy little boy he deserves to be.  We've already made a positive difference for him.  He is visibly content and happy, even in the orphanage.

Bodelais has also had great loss in his life.  He's a very serious little guy.  He had nothing to say to a stranger, but the nannies say he knows every word of many of the hymns they like to sing with the kids.  He eventually allowed me to pull him up onto my lap, and once there, he snuggled in and agreed to stay.  I asked him if he enjoyed playing with any of the kids, but he denied having any friends at BRESMA.  Good thing that's not true - he and Aslin are obviously best buddies.  But the only person he says he wants to play with is his sister, Loutiana.  She is somewhere on the streets in Cabaret.  Margarette is going to try to find her.  I'm going to pray that she can, and that if she does, that Loutiana is not hardened by what she has experienced and that we can find the right family for the two of them together.  An enthusiastic young Red Cross worker said that it must be very rewarding working with real, individual people rather than big programs as she does.  She's right; it is. But on the other hand, she does not have the image of one lost little girl to haunt her.  We fail at least as often as we succeed.

I had an early afternoon meeting with the Adoptions Officer at the US Consulate.  She has been very good to work with, and I'm sorry that she is leaving in November.  I had a few questions for her this meeting, and she introduced me to her successor.  It would seem we're in luck.  Kim also seems like a very kind person.  She's been in Haiti for over a year, and she seems to want to be here.  She also seems pretty excited about working on orphan Visas.  I gave her my traditional one minute lecture that I habitually give to all of the new Adoptions Officers when they start.  She is the very last protection against human trafficking, and she must never let down her guard when protecting Haitian children and Haitian families.  Adoptions must be safe and legal if they are to continue to exist.

An aside about how our government works: we're always complaining that the Haitian government is inefficient and full of red tape.  DOS wants to investigate one of my right now.  However, somehow the formal approval of the forms I600 did not come through from the NVC - just the forms and scans of the kids' documents.  Emily has an email from me from before, which includes scans of those letters of approval, and she's been working with me for years and has confidence that I would not have forged those letters.  However, she can't accept the scans that I or my clients made of the letters.  Only scans made by the NVC are acceptable.  She and I will both remind the NVC about the case until the letters are sent to her from their office.  Once before, years ago, scans of notarized Powers of Attorney that were sent from USCIS proved inadequate for DOS to allow me to attend a Visa interview for a family.  We do seem to have quite enough problems with red tape in our own government.

The gang at Notre Maison
Final stop for the day was Notre Maison, an orphanage which houses children with disabilities as well as standard abandonment cases.  I found the orphanage looking well.  Gertrude has been taking guests in on the second story of the house, which used to be supported financially by her large guest house.  That building was destroyed in the earthquake.

Gertrude told me a truly ironic story.  A few months ago, her kids were invited to a special party hosted by IBESR for the children of various orphanages.  At six a.m., a bus arrived to take them to the party.  They hadn't had breakfast yet, but off they went to a very exciting day.  Sadly, the real excitement was just beginning after they came home. 

Gertrude was awoken in the wee hours be a nanny, who said that the children who had been at the party had diarrhea.

"Which children?" asked Gertrude.

"All of them," answered the nanny.  Yep, all thirty of them.  Gertrude tried Pepto Bismol and Immodium, but in the end 17 of the children were so sick they had to be hospitalized.  Gertrude kept calling IBESR, which kept wanting to know exactly which of the kids were sick.  Eventually it came out that all of the children at the party had gotten food poisoning.  Neither IBESR nor UNICEF offered to help pay the medical bills, or for the extra nannies Gertrude had to hire to watch the kids still at home while their familiar nannies went to stay with the kids at the hospital.  Fortunately she was able to move them all to Doctors Without Borders' facility, which is very near her orphanage and did not charge her for caring for the children.  Gertrude says that if she'd hospitalized 17 children from her house from food poisoning that had happened at home, there would have been an inspection and consequences.  But she paid all the consequences in this case alone.

We agreed that it had been a very expensive party.  But the kids still thought it was really fun!

After I finished my visit with Gertrude, at around 4:30, I got back in the van and told Franck that I needed to go to Sonia's house, which is on the other side of town.  Much to his credit, he said nothing and just started the van with a frozen look on his face. 

"I'm kidding," I told him.  "That's enough work for one day."

He just shook his head and smiled.  Poor Franck.  He must just dread my trips here.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Opinions at the Airport

Today I went back to the airport to get my luggage.  For those of you who have not spent much time in Haiti, or have not read my previous posts about what is involved in retrieving lost luggage in Haiti, allow me to bore you with the story of my day.

There was a number to call on my 'delayed baggage'slip, but of course there was never an answer at that number.  So Franck and I drove back to the airport to arrive around noon, which is when the flight from Continental was due to arrive.  I did know where Continental had set up their lost baggage department because my usual baggage guy showed me yesterday.

A brief digression to explain my baggage guy.  I don't need help with my luggage.  Ever.  And I'm fortunate enough to be able to say so clearly in Kreyol, generally adding, "Even if you take my bags, I'm still not going to pay you anything", which is the only surefire way I've found to make everyone leave me alone when I travel alone.  But my baggage guy is deaf!  My first few trips where he met me, I brought great amusement to all of his colleagues as I told him very loudly and in no uncertain terms that I did not want any help.  Actually, I suspect he's in on the joke.  At this point I've given up, and he gets to carry my suitcases for me every time.  His genuine pleasure in soundlessly welcoming me to Haiti each trip is worth the five bucks I give him. But in any case, on this trip he really earned those five dollars and more.  I would never, ever have found the unlabeled closet Continental is using for a baggage office, tucked away behind another building. 

Unfortunately on this trip, Continental's one flight per day from Newark to PaP was delayed by three hours.  Nobody at the airport, including Continental employees, could tell us what was going on, and if the plane was even in the air.  I say us because I was not alone.  There must have been 20 people, all waiting to retrieve luggage lost on the flight from the day before.  At one point I was told that the plane had set down in Santo Domingo because of Tropical Storm Emily.  I finally had to call the States and have someone in my family find out that the plane had in fact left the US, and was in fact due to arrive in PaP in another hour.  By this time, Franck and I had been waiting for three hours.  Franck was remarkably cheerful about it all, considering everyone else had the day off because of the possibility of the storm, and here he was stuck with me in the airport parking lot all day long.

Finally the plane arrived, about four hours late, and the other luggage-less people and I stampeded backwards into the Immigrations/Customs/baggage area.  My things arrived with the general luggage, and I was able to walk out with them.  I declare, never has a carry on suitcase and a battered duffle bag looked so lovely, so desirable, as did mine this afternoon!

I can't quite describe the day as a complete waste, although I accomplished nothing on my very long list of tasks.  I had some very interesting conversations with my fellow baggage-less travellers.  One lady from Canada was very pleased to note all the tourists coming in to Haiti.  That was her apt description of what I suppose can best be described as the new 'aid tourism' industry that is popping up.  The planes are filled at least 50% with Americans, Canadians, and even a few Europeans who are coming to Haiti with private organizations and small aid groups to help.  I can't speak for how effective their projects might be.  I imagine there is a huge range.  But all of them are spending money here.  If nothing else, they are stimulating the economy.  Perhaps  when enough of them go home and report that Haiti is beautiful, her people are hardworking and delightful, and the security risks are so much lower than they ever were before, regular tourism will return.

I had a much less positive conversation with a lady who took one look at the BRESMA polo shirt I was wearing, heard what we did, and practically spat in disgust.  She even switched to perfect English to make herself very clear.  Her opinion of orphanages was not favorable.  I think I surprised her when I agreed with her completely, stating very firmly that Haitian children first and foremost belong in Haitian families.  She was very angry that orphanages use children for the sex trade.  I suspect this is not as widespread as she thinks it is - I believe the most common issue is simple malnutrition, lack of care, lack or caretakers, and warehousing of children.  All of these are quite awful enough without adding exploitation.

Finally, I had a conversation with an American man who works for a group that generally just builds churches, but is also creating an orphanage that is intended to hold up to 100 little girls, ages three to five, all 'true' orphans.  They intend to place them all for adoption.  I imagine eventually they'll see that we don't choose the easiest children to place for adoption.  We don't get to pick the ones that most American families would best like to adopt.  We are forced to accept those for whom we can find no other possible solution.  Tomorrow I'm off to resort to that solution for several children with no other options.

I do know this is a bit shallow, but I am ecstatic that I will be doing so in clean fresh clothing.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Lesson in Relativity

It would seem that this trip I am to have a lesson in patience, tolerance, humility, and priorities. 

This is my 30th trip to Haiti.  That's right: three-zero.  And so, upon arriving at the airport where I would stay overnigh last night, I was quite confident that I would need to pick up my suitcases, as I have had to do the other 29 times I've traveled.  Imagine my surprise when I arrived in Newark, waited for my bags, and was told that they had been checked through to PaP!  Imagine my lack of confidence in the Continential Airlines officials who told me this, when the airline has only been flying into Haiti for a few months, and I'm pretty darn sure they are not allowed to hold my bags overnight for me, no matter how much I've begged them to in the past.  Imagine my disappointment at checking into my hotel with the clothes on my back, none of which are suited for Haiti in August.  And naturally, neither bag has made it here to Port-au-Prince with me.

So, as I said, I''m having a lesson in patience and priorities.  I'm typing this blog entry in blue jeans with bare feet in the BRESMA office, two big cultural no-no's for me.  After seeing my heavy, hot Ariat cowgirl boots, nobody is giving me a hard time about it, even though an adult allowing her feet to touch the floor is culturally unacceptable here.

You see, a tropical storm is bearing down on us.  I'm at the guest house using wireless internet and stuck with wearing the same, too-hot clothes for a third day straight until my suitcase arrives tomorrow.  But I've just driven past so many people who have never in their lives owned such riches as I have waiting for me in my 'carry-on' bag, where ever it may be, that all I can think of is how grateful I am to have a sink to wash a few critical items for recycling tomorrow.  Nothing like Haiti to remind us even in the midst of what seems like great provocation that as Americans and Europeans, we will experience very few 'real'problems in our life times.   That line in the old, traditional grace: "May the Lord make us truly grateful for what we are about to receive" speaks great truth.  Haiti teaches us to love what we are given.

Today I finally got to see the Judicial Complex when Franck and I drove there from the airport.  I felt bad for Franck.  Generally, Franck is not the most punctual of men, even when he has not forgotten me at the airport (it's happened!).  Today he waited over two hours before I arrived, and it was hot, hot, hot.  I've never been to the Judicial Complex before as parents didn't used to go, and at that time, I would not have been well received due to some difficulties certain Americans were causing with culturally inappropriate behavior.  But today we picked up one of my adoptive families after they saw the Dean.  Our latest office worker is just finishing law school here, and she gave me a tour.  In jeans.  Ugh.  Good thing we couldn't go into any of the courtrooms anyway.

The complex has complete electricity and even air conditioning throughout.  I was impressed - it's the most 'modern'government office I've been in yet.  Now I'll be able to explain to each family exactly what and where their two court appointments are.

Things are really moving along with adoption cases in Haiti.  I can't wait to go over each case with Margarette, so I can update everyone.  Assuming that my suitcase with all of my case data shows up in the right country.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The First New Homecoming

We are beside ourselves with joy to announce that our first post-earthquake Haitian adoption is complete.  On Saturday afternoon, a special young lady of fifteen years landed in Miami with her adoptive mother.

L. is a 'true' orphan who has been adopted by a family who befriended her in Haiti several years ago.  The case entered IBESR in November of 2010.  Dispensation was needed, but as the child was from a different district, her adoption decree could be issued by a local court rather than Parquet court in Port-au-Prince.  This was an atypical case, as documents from the rural community where the child was born were difficult to secure, but the adoption decree itself was a bit easier.  We still view the processing time of only nine months from IBESR to homecoming as very promising.  May other children find their way home quickly too!

Congratulations and blessings to L.  You have waited a long time for a family.  We think you are very blessed with the one that you have found.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

New U.S. Department of State Independent Adoption Warning

Hats off to the US Department of State for their strongly worded new warning:

Alert: Pursuing Independent Adoptions without Licensed Agencies Increases Risks of Delays and Fraud

The Department of State has seen a recent increase in U.S. citizens seeking to pursue adoptions in Haiti through independent agents instead of licensed adoption providers. While these “private” adoptions are currently permissible in Haiti, prospective adoptive parents should be aware of the risks associated with not utilizing experienced, licensed agencies. Non-licensed facilitators may lack experience in navigating the complex Haitian adoption process, and this could lead to delays and critical mistakes in processing the case. Haitian facilitators may also not be familiar with U.S. immigration law governing intercountry adoption processing. Prospective adoptive parents pursuing an independent adoption may place their trust in private facilitators engaging in unethical or illegal practices in Haiti. The Department strongly encourages prospective adoptive parents adopting from Haiti to research U.S. immigration laws and Haitian adoption procedures through the use of a reputable, licensed agency or experienced facilitator. For more information about intercountry adoption in Haiti, please visit our website at:

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Government Meetings on Haitian Adoptions Complete

The following is an article from Haiti Libre:

Haiti - Social : End of the Conference on International Adoption

27/06/2011 14:59:22

At the initiative of Quebec and France, an international conference was held in Port-au-Prince from June 22 to 24, 2011 bringing together the Group of Montreal, represented by nine central authorities (Germany, Belgium, Flemish Community of Belgium, Federal Authority of Canada, the United States, France, Italy, Netherlands, Canada, Switzerland) the Embassy of Spain, the UNICEF representative in Haiti, the Permanent Bureau of the Hague Conference, the Central Authority of Chile, in the presence of governmental and parliamentary authorities of the Republic of Haiti and the Social welfare and Research Institute (IBESR), Haitian adoption authority.

The Group of Montreal has reaffirmed its commitment to the principles of the Hague Convention of 1993 on Protection of children and the cooperation in respect of intercountry adoption. After the meeting to Montreal in December 2010, which set the guidelines for a joint action plan in preparation for the ratification of the Convention, has constituted a signal awaited by the international community, of the will of the Haitian authorities to secure the adoption procedures.

Before the Group of Montreal, the President Martelly is firmly committed to complete, during his mandate, the process of ratification of the Hague Convention, and include the law on adoption, to the parliamentary agenda with a review as soon as possible by the Senate and possibly in second reading by the Chamber of Deputies. Pending the adoption of the law, he has committed to make a presidential order requiring the passage of the applications for adoption with the approved bodies.

The Head of State continued : "In confidence and transparency, we will be able to identify the ways and means to resumes the international adoption in Haiti. It is my strongest desire in the interest of children and in the respect of their most basic rights" stressing that he relied on "the support and cooperation of the international community, and particularly the host country of children."

Saurel Jacinthe, the President of the Chamber of Deputies, has also assured the Group of Montreal of his will to put the bill to the parliamentary agenda and has expressed his support for a evolution of the Haitian law more consistent with international standards.

Participants to this Conference welcomed the commitment of the highest authorities of the country to engage firmly the Republic of Haiti in favor of the Child Protection and to comply, in matter of adoption, to the principles of the Hague Convention. The Group of Montreal, according to the plan of action that it developed since December 2010, will continue to cooperate with the government of Haiti to implement procedures consistent with the Hague Convention that will allow eventually to resume the international adoptions in this country.

S/ HaitiLibre

Read the article on

So what does all of this mean for families in process today, or those who want to start a Haitian adoption?

Note: the following is an educated guess made by a private individual. It does not constitute legal advice, or the official advice of All Blessings International, a Hague Accredited adoption agency.

Most of us (meaning my colleagues in Haiti and other Hague nations) seem to feel that much of the information that came out of the meeting, both publicly and privately, was quite positive.

Possible Re-Opening of Haitian Adoptions for 'Frozen' Hague Nations
It could very well be that various nations/provinces that have 'frozen' Haitian adoptions for their citizens may defrost, and allow Haitian children to follow the legal process to permanent homes within their borders.

This is a very positive step, as most of the reputable U.S. agencies with longstanding programs in Haiti are struggling to find enough families with which to place the children we are already serving. Things were bad before the earthquake. Now, they are far worse and the need for permanent, safe families for destitute and abandoned children is more desperate than it has ever been before.

The End of 'Independent' Adoptions
President Martelly has stated that he is going to put a stop to independent adoptions. There are a few possible interpretations of this remark, but as he also stated that he wants Haiti to more toward the Hague, most of us suspect he means that all adoptions must be overseen by a licensed adoption agency in the adoptive parents country of origin, and that all adoptions must be processed by a properly licensed Haitian entity. This will mean one of the 67 licensed crèches. As President Martelly is decisively interested in Haiti becoming Hague compliant, and the new law is very clear on the matter, we expect that all adoptive parents must be working with a Hague accredited agency in their home countries to oversee their adoptions.

Most of us who work with Haiti are desperately eager to see the immediate end of independent adoptions. We have already seen in the number and ratio of disruptions among the children who came into the U.S. on the Humanitarian Parole program that adoptions with no agency involvement were far more likely to end in disaster and heartbreak. Those who had no crèche and no agency probably wouldn't have gotten here at all, but for the HP program, but many of those ended badly as well. Perhaps you are one of those rare families who adopted independently and all has gone well. It does happen! But without education, support, and supervision during and after placement, both children and their new families can suffer unnecessarily.

I do not know what will happen to the families who are already in process of an independent adoption, but I have heard no mention of 'grandfathering' those cases through the system. Quite frankly, after some of the heartrending messes our agency has stepped in to help with our Mending Hearts program, I hope they are not. The financial savings (if any) cannot possible equal the potential for disaster for a Haitian child. Out of the frying pan, and into the fire! We've had several independent families contact us already, and I assume all of the Standards of Practice and Haiti Crèche Directors crèches and agencies will be ready to help any independent families ready to step under our umbrellas.

Plans to Ratify the Hague - But Not Today
President Martelly declared he wants Haiti to ratify the Hague within his five year term of office. As it was the stated goal of certain organizations to pressure Haiti into ratifying immediately - in fact before Martelly even took office just weeks ago - this is a positive announcement. It would seem the President is aware that Haiti is not currently in compliance with the Hague Convention.

It took the United States fifteen years between signing and ratification to be sure we were compliant. Haiti has a major advantage: all adoptions are already overseen by a Central Authority (IBESR) but so many other necessities present a problem, from laws and policies, accreditations, even permanent record keeping is going to be a major challenge. However, as it was not possible to railroad Haiti into ratifying immediately, perhaps it will not be possible to do so at all until she is truly ready.

In the meantime, steps toward the Hague could do exactly what the Convention is supposed to do: protect all members of the adoption triad. I, and most of my colleagues, would rest a lot easier knowing that every single Haitian family was required to have counseling and a presentation of all of their possible options from a third party before they could choose adoption for their children.

Again, so what does all of this mean for families in process today, or those who want to start a Haitian adoption?

Here's the breakdown. Again, the following is an educated guess made by a private individual. It does not constitute legal advice, or the official advice of All Blessings International, a Hague Accredited adoption agency.

If you are already in process of adoption with an experienced, Hague accredited agency and a licensed crèche: breathe easy. There is no reason at this time to assume that the meetings are going to make your process any more difficult than it was already.

If you are already in process of adoption, but do NOT have both a licensed crèche and a Hague accredited agency: you could be in trouble. It might be wise to explore ways to legitimize your adoption now, just in case. Worst case scenario, you'll end up a better educated and supported parent.

If you have not yet started your adoption: go ahead! That's right - go ahead with an adoption using a Hague accredited agency experienced in Haiti and a licensed crèche. There will be an additional element of risk if Haiti ratifies prematurely and if the U.S. Department of State for some reason behaves differently regarding 'grandfathering' in referred cases than they have in other nations. But there is always risk in international adoption, and this risk is relatively small.

I've had a few questions by email about Haiti shutting down its own adoptions while attempting to implement the Hague. A few other nations have done this. However, those countries did not have well established adoption procedures and programs serving a significant number of children already. Haiti in general is strongly pro-adoption. In my personal opinion, this is not a very likely scenario. I certainly can't predict the future, much less the future of Haiti, but I can study the past. Haiti has never been one to sit down in her tracks and hold her breath while she attempts to save herself. As my friend and colleague Dixie Bickel titles her blog, 'And Life in Haiti Goes On'. And so will adoptions, at least for the reasonable future.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Government Meetings in Haiti

The governments of various nations who have or are allowing their citizens to adopt from Haiti are meeting this week with IBESR and UNICEF to discuss the future of Haitian adoptions.  Unfortunately no stakeholders - adoption agencies, adoptive parents, adopted children, birth families, or creche directors - are permitted to attend.  However, the Dutch Consulate has shared the following release:

Representatives from ten countries adopters, including France, the first host country of Haitian children in 2010, were gathered Thursday morning, in a reunion at the Plaza Hotel in Port-au-Prince, in presence of the President Michel Martelly, to provide an update on the adoption in Haiti.

At this reunion, organized by a group of Montreal on international adoption, whose purpose is to consider the resumption of the "frozen" adoptions, the President Martelly has committed before the participants to ratify, during his mandate, the Hague Convention on the adoption, that prevents the so-called adoptions "private or individual".

"While awaiting the vote of this law, within time limits that I wish as close as possible, I intend to make a presidential order requiring the passage of the applications for adoption with the approved bodies, as provided for in the Convention of the Hague" declared the Head of State.

This will prevent de facto, all the individual adoption procedures of Haitian children.

HL/ HaitiLibre

Des représentants de dix pays adoptants, dont la France, premier pays d'accueil d'enfants haïtiens en 2010, étaient réunis ce jeudi matin, en colloque, à l’hôtel le Plaza de Port-au-Prince, en présence du Président Michel Martelly, pour faire le point sur l'adoption en Haïti.

Lors de ce colloque, organisé par un groupe de Montréal sur l’adoption internationale, dont le but est d'envisager la reprise des adoptions «gelées», le Président Michel Martelly s'est engagé devant les participants à ratifier, au cours de son mandat, la Convention de la Haye sur les adoptions, qui empêche les adoptions dites « privées ou individuelles ».

« Dans l’attente du vote de cette loi, dans des délais que je souhaite aussi rapprochés que possible, j’entends prendre un arrêté présidentiel, rendant obligatoire le passage des demandes d’adoption devant des organismes agréés, comme le prévoit la Convention de La Haye » a déclaré le Chef de l’État.

Cette mesure empêchera de facto, toutes les procédures d'adoption individuelle d’enfants haïtiens.

HL/ HaïtiLibre

We believe that what the President is describing as an 'independent adoption' is one in which the adoptive family is not represented by a licensed adoption agency in their home country, which will oversee the placement of a Haitian child in their home, and/or is represented by an attorney in Haiti rather than an actual, licensed creche.  If so, the new policy would save a great many families and children great heartbreak.  'Independent' adoptions - particularly those we've heard about recently - generally are not successful.  The family sends a great deal of money to a person who may or may not be an attorney in Haiti, but rarely comes home with a child.
There is also an A.F.P. article regarding the meetings:
Haiti leader vows to tighten adoption rules

PORT-AU-PRINCE, June 23 (AFP) Jun 23, 2011

Haitian leader Michel Martelly said Thursday he would issue a presidential decree to tighten up Haiti's adoption procedures and ensure all applications go through authorized entities.

Legislation to that effect has already gone through the National Assembly and is expected to pass the Senate soon, but Martelly, who was sworn in as president in May, is struggling to form a government to sign off on the law.

Martelly's first pick as prime minister, businessman Daniel-Gerard Rouzier, was roundly rejected by a parliament dominated by his predecessor's ruling party earlier this week.

"While waiting for a vote on this law, a delay I hope will be as short as possible, I intend to issue a presidential decree making it obligatory for adoption applications to go through authorized organisms, as the Hague Convention outlines," Martelly said.

The president vowed to ratify the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, which sets forth guidelines and procedures and outlaws private or individual adoptions, during his five-year term.

He was speaking at a Port-au-Prince gathering of 10 adopter nations, including France, the former colonial power which took in more Haitian children than any other country in 2010.

This "eagerly awaited" measure will effectively ban individual adoption procedures, Martelly said.

Haiti was already the poorest country in the Americas even before a January 2010 earthquake destroyed much of the capital and killed an estimated 225,000 people, created countless more orphans.

A high-profile adoption abuse case shortly after the quake saw 10 Americans charged with kidnapping after they sought to take a busload of 33 children over the border into the Dominican Republic without the proper paperwork. The Baptist missionaries at first presented the children as quake orphans, but it quickly emerged that many of the children still had living parents, infuriating many Haitians.

A total of 318 adopted Haitian children were included in a special program and flown to France last Christmas Eve.

The children were all in the process of being adopted when the quake struck on January 12, 2010, causing adoptions to be delayed with some records lost in the rubble.

Friday, May 27, 2011

One Way to Get Rid of the Tent Camps

We've all seen pictures of the tent camps of Haiti on the news, and wondered when this phase of the post-quake disaster will be over.  For a few hundred tent camp residents in Delmas, it is over already.  The first report went out on Beverly Bell's blog, and an update from the Haiti Child Protection Sub-Cluster confirms that several tent camps in Delmas are gone.  Note I said the camps are gone.  I have no idea where the people are.  Police and bulldozers 'removed' the tents and all meagre possessions within from public spaces in the Port-au-Prince suburb on May 23rd and 25th.

Looks like there is something worse than living in a tent camp after all.  I pray it does not rain tonight.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Notre Maison

'home' to several families in Port-au-Prince
My guests left very early this morning to fly to Ft. Liberte.  They are very excited to discuss the ideas they saw Lucien and Gina Duncan putting to use in their community with the Ft. Liberte constituents.

I went to visit Notre Maison this morning.  Notre Maison is an orphanage that primarily permanently houses children with special needs.  Some are relinquished by their parents, and others are placed here by IBESR.  Most of the children living here will never be able to live independently.  They are developmentally disabled and/or have substantial physical disabilities.  These challenges are very often difficult for American families to manage - for an impoverished Haitian family, they can mean the starvation of the whole family.  Relinquishment of children with disabilities is high.

Gertrude Azor cares for her children as best she can.  She has managed to obtain dozens of wheelchairs- quite a feat in Haiti - and has nannies who are trained to care for the children.  Culturally, it is quite challenging to train staff to value people with disabilities.  There are some superstitious fears regarding disabled people, and many seem to consider them as less than human.

Notre Maison was more profoundly affected by the earthquake than any of the other orphanages with which we cooperate.  For many years, the orphanage was supported in part by revenue from the guest house.  The guest house is no more.  Gertrude has managed to complete the upper story of the orphanage with donations collected following the earthquake, and she now houses a smaller number of guests in these rooms.  Many missionaries stay here, where they can see exactly where the dollars collected from their stay will go.  The kids love the extra attention!

Next I was off to buy a new Voila phone for a friend.  Voila now has a service where I can buy minutes for this phone online, so we'll be able to speak whenever we like!

After my errands I spent a while catching up on email and attempting to schedule meeting with people for my last day in Haiti. 

My final appointment of the day was to conduct a job interview with a young woman for our birth family contact program.  For years, we've wanted to have an organized way to keep our kids in touch with their Haitian families through a safe third party.  I believe Joudline may be just the right person for  the task.  BRESMA families will have the first opportunity to use the Pale a Ke'm program (that is Kreyol for "Speak to My Heart"), but we hope someday to offer the service to all adoptive families of Haitian born children.  Birth family contact is almost always very beneficial for birth parents and the children.  It's good to know where you came from, and how dearly you were loved.  The hard part is always survivor's guilt.  The birth families are usually in desperate conditions, but to send them any financial aid at all will jeopardize the future of all Haitian adoptions.  It looks like American parents paying Haitian families for their children.  Catch-22.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Model Orphanage

Today was a typical day in Haiti for me.  As my driver and friend Franck says, "Le ou an Ayiti, pie ou pa touche ate'a!" ("When you are in Haiti, your feet don't touch the ground!").  In the States, I work a desk job, on the phone and email all day.  But telephone and email accomplish very little in Haiti, so here I work a car job.  I dragged my poor long suffering guests, Clair and Donna, along with me for most of my errands.

To begin with, we were off to the Embassy.  I did NOT have an appointment, but I had to go.  There were documents to be dropped off to USCIS for one case, and questions and planning to be done with DOS for our future cases.  The previous Consul General, Donald Moore, believed that the US Embassy was supposed to be a service organization for the comfort, convenience, and use of American citizens in need of assistance.  That philosophy remains, although the man is gone.  I was allowed in with no appointment, and the DOS worker even took the trouble to introduce me the the new Non-Immigrant Visa Chief.

Next we went to visit. Hospital L'Espoir so that I could meet with Gladys Thomas, CEO of the Foundation for the Children of Haiti and President of the Haitian Creche Directors' Association.  I've been working with Gladys on various projects for several years.  She is an amazing woman!  Educated in the US, Gladys returned to Haiti to serve her people.  She has since been involved in medical services, care for children with special needs, and a few adoptions.  Gladys remains a force to be reckoned with advocating for children's rights and safety in Haiti.  We discussed the signing of the Hague treaty and the Creche Directors' Association's suggested modifications to the pending adoption law.  You can see the latest draft of that law as presented to the Senate on this blog (see tabs at the top of this page).  The Creche Directors' Association has suggested some minor changes in wording to clarify a few contradictions or vague areas and some procedural modifications.  We are all eager for a new law.  The current law is highly restrictive regarding adoptive families, and we all feel it offers insufficient protection to biological parents.  Unethical facilitators could mislead Haitian families about the realities of international adoption without a third party counseling session for all relatives considering placing their children for adoption.

Due to a change of administrative staff at ABI, part of my dossier mailing instructions were not transmitted.  One family's dossier was sent to Haiti using a different shipping service.  Sounds like no big deal, but this is Haiti!  UPS does not deliver effectively in Haiti.  We had to physically go to the UPS office in Port-au-Prince to get the mess straightened out.  That's the way we do everything here.

Sonia and a friend
Next stop: the orphanage of Sonia Andre.  Sonia has been a friend of Margarette's for years.  She has done a lot of work at IBESR for BRESMA, checking up on our cases and even stepping in when Margarette has to be out of the country.  Sonia has an orphanage of her own, and has primarily done adoptions to France.  I went to her house yesterday as well, but didn't have time to write about it.  Today I'm bringing Donna and Clare so that they can see another model of excellent out-of-home care for young children. 

I am placing several children who live here, so I spent a lot of time just observing them and talking with their nannies.  I am thrilled to see that a baby boy we brought here a few months ago is actually developmentally ahead of where we would expect him to be.  At only nine months old, he is already cruising on the furniture!  When I visited yesterday, Shadley was in the isolation area with a nurse.  I was a bit confused, as he was in a great mood and was not running a fever.

Today when I arrived, Shadley's nurse brought him down to the patio to hang out with us and play.  I noticed that when I left, he was right back in the isolation area with his nurse, who was playing with him again.  I think I've diagnosed a case of SBS - Spoiled Baby Syndrome.  No worries about this little boy's care!

I interpreted for Sonia as she spoke with my friends about how she chooses her staff, who are very involved with the children in their care.  There was a lot of dancing to the radio, and the house looks like Toys-R-Us blew up on the patio.

Sonia explained that she prefers to hire grandmother aged staff.  Younger women can cook or do laundry, but she likes grandmas to care for the children.  In Haiti, this means people around age 40 or over.  She says she shows them around the house during the interview process, and watches like a hawk how they interact with the kids during the tour.  She says, "You can just tell if they are people who love children."  I suspect she would like to hire Clair and Donna, who spent a happy hour playing with the pre-schoolers.

lunchtime for the kids
Unlike BRESMA, Sonia receives most of her children as referrals from IBESR (the equivalent of Haitian Social Services).  When a child is found abandoned, IBESR is called.  When they can, they will come to get the child and call the licensed orphanages to attempt to find a place for him.  In Haiti, there is no support money from the government to care for the children.  The orphanages that accept the foundlings must meet their needs for nutrition and medical care on their own.  Sonia will only accept the children if IBESR will provide full documentation of the child's abandonment so that she has the option to place the child for international adoption.

Sonia has asked me to find a special family for a really special boy, Milhan.  Milhan arrived at Sonia's house before the earthquake.  He was referred to her when he was found abandoned at a hospital.  He was about nine months old and there was something wrong with his legs.  We can only assume that his parents abandoned him at the hospital because they could not imagine how they would care for a child they believed would never walk, and they hoped that someone else would be able to save his life.

Milhan gives us the thumbs up!
Milhan came to Sonia's house, where his care consisted of love and a lot of good nutrition.  Sonia did not refer him to a French family in 2009 because she was not absolutely sure what was wrong with his legs, and did not want to present him to a family until she knew more about his prognosis.  After the earthquake, she came to realize that the only thing that had ever been wrong with Milhan was malnutrition.  He is a healthy, happy, and highly intelligent boy.  But France is no longer allowing her citizens to adopt from Haiti.  Sonia adores Milhan, and he is happy in the only home he has ever known, but she knows it is not in his best interest to stay here forever as one of 26 children.  He needs a family of his own.  Milhan is a model of what the highest quality orphanage care can do.  At four and a half years of age, I doubt any professional would be able to tell that he was not raised by a loving family.  In a house like Sonia's, those deficits would not show up until much later, when Milhan would not know how to be a husband, an employee, a father.  I will help him find a family to teach him how to be a part of a real family.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Where All That Money Went

Today I sent my guests off with Gina and Lucien Duncan, lifetime servants of their own country.  The Duncans are members of the Haitian Creche Directors' Association and we've cooperated on numerous projects.  Gina's English is a bit more correct than mine, as she has a Master's Degree from a US University.  Lucien and Gina have an integrated, self-sustaining project in the country that I wish I could visit.  But today, I have far too much to do to manage a visit.

After the earthquake, friends of BRESMA around the world shared generously with us.  ABI alone collected over $50,000 in donations.  A good deal of money was spent immediately after the earthquake, purchasing food, water and fuel at insanely inflated prices, but Margarette guarded as much as she could for the future.

We were amazingly blessed in the earthquake.  We lost not a single child or staff member to the quake itself, and the one building actually belonging to BRESMA was minimally damaged.  It turns out the couple that built it were engineers, and they designed their own house to seismic standards.  Decades later, their forethought saved the lives of dozens of children.

front of the new building
Margarette had a plan for all those donations long before they ever arrived.  Our building sat on a large lot, and Margarette dreamed of erecting a second building, specifically designed as a temporary home for children, behind our existing facility.  I got to witness the very first few measurements and blocks being laid last spring, and I've seen the building grow in photographs, but today I stood in our new building and was awed and humbled by what I saw.  It is beautiful, it is safe, and it is real.  Who knows how many children will live because this building exists to take them in, when there is nowhere else left to go?

The new building is specifically designed with health and safety of the children put first.  Even diaper changing in a sanitary environment was considered.  And it would take a far greater earthquake than that we already suffered to tumble this building.  I suspect the End of Days alone could destroy it.

I wish I had the means to create a visual tour, but we'll have to settle for a verbal and pictorial tour instead.  First of all, it's HUGE.  Three stories tall!  And the roof itself will be a play area for the children.

The first floor has an office/reception space.  Incoming Haitian families will come here first so that we can discuss their options with them.  As always, the main part of our intake process will be trying to talk parents out of adoption for their children.  Margarette wants to impose a three month waiting period on any family whose child is not at obvious and immediate risk of death.  Families must very carefully consider all other options before making an adoption plan for their children. 

isolation/medical care area
 Newly arrived children (as well as anyone who is sick) will stay in the isolation area on the first floor until they are confirmed healthy.  We're hoping this will minimize the outbreaks of scabies, ringworm, and parasites that have plagued BRESMA since its beginning.  It always seemed the moment everyone was healthy, a new child would arrive bringing in all the parasites and we'd have to start over again.  No more!  Our nurses will work primarily in this area.  See the incubator the Spanish group sent us?  Between that and intravenous fluids, nutrition, and medicines, we should be able to help more children than ever before.

Right behind the isolation area is the pharmacy.  We have excellent support in the US and Europe for stocking the pharmacy once we are ready.  Hospitals dispose of a bounty of supplies and medications (for bureaucratic reasons) that we can still use to help children.  And of course, we'll continue to have weekly visits from Dr. Jeanty just to check on everybody.

main depot
The first floor also contains the depot (storage area) for this house.  Thanks to the generosity of the Spanish, it is full to the ceiling!  Margarette assures me that any formula here that nears its expiration is going to other orphanages or the hospital at Cite Soleil.  It won't go to waste before we have anyone to drink it.  There is a working, American-style bathroom on the first floor as well.

second floor playroom, looking into chaging area
The second and third floors will be primary child-care areas for BRESMA's babies and toddlers.  The second is almost done, but the third remains unfinished for now.  What impresses me the most are the designated dressing and diapering areas.  Each child will have a specific drawer for his very own clothing and possessions, and diaper changing and hand washing will happen simultaneously.  Each floor has a large play area and bedrooms for the kids.  They have been designed to let in natural light and airflow - many of the room dividers are half walls, to improve circulation and make it easier to keep all the children in sight at all times.  Each floor also has a small storage area of its own and a bathroom.

Above the third floor, on the roof, will be our rooftop terrace.  This idea came straight from God's Littlest Angels, which has such a playground.  It will give our children a very large, flat, clean area in which to play.  I hope to collect all sorts of riding and pushing toys so the kids can work on gross motor skills on their playground.

new paint and cribs
The old building has had a few renovations done as well, although there are still tiles to be replaced downstairs.  But the new bathrooms are amazing!  So clean and bright!  Hygiene is a huge focus here.  The major change for the old BRESMA building will be the reassigning of space.  Preschoolers and older toddlers will live downstairs.  Most of the upstairs will become our new office.  After years of struggling, changing staff, providing trainings, and changing staff again, we have never been satisfied with the care the children at BRESMA I received.  Somehow at BRESMA II a culture of great love developed, but it just didn't happen at BRESMA I.  There were a few excellent, loving nannies, and a great many who did no more than they were ordered to.  If that.  With Margarette and the rest of the office staff right on site and personally overseeing child care every day, I expect to see the environment we want to provide for the children.  Physical presence of those in charge seems to be critical to well-managed orphanages.

So we have this huge facility - why is it empty?  Money, of course.  We used up over $200,000 US and it's not quite finished.  If you'd like to read about the expenditures in detail, please see the Narrative Report the Haitian staff has prepared.  The third floor isn't done - but that can wait.  What we must do now is finish the roof.  I was alarmed to stains on the brand new tiles caused by roof leakage.  The project is late and over budget.  Those of you who have done any construction in the US know how that goes.  Personally, I am amazed at how far our $200,000 has gone.  I know it would not have been possible to build what we already have for that amount here in the US, even if we weren't paying for seismic engineering and the fact that most materials are substantially more expensive in Haiti.  We need to come up with $23,000 US to finish the roof, complete with playground railing.  Then it will be safe to move children in.  We'll still be scrambling for a way to pay the staff for a bit, until we can refer some of the children to adoptive families, but we just can't wait.

What is the hurry to bring children into care when we are so focused on family preservation?  Even before the earthquake we really didn't have many good options to offer desperate Haitian families.  We could and did and continue to offer short-term emergency assistance.  Thousands of pounds of donated food, formula, and medicine walks out our doors with Haitian families to help them keep their children safe at home.  But long-term solutions were always difficult in Haiti.  Now, after the earthquake, things are much worse.  It used to be that we could provide a newly widowed father of an infant with formula for a few months, and he could leave his baby with a neighbor or relative while he looked for work.  But now, the family and all their relatives may be living in a cholera - infested tent camp where temperatures under the tarps are well above 100 degrees every day, and there is no clean water available to mix the formula we gave them. 

BRESMA is faced with more children at risk of needless death than ever before.  We simply must take them in, share our food and space, and pray for the money for the staff while we wait for permanent families.  Once the roof is complete, we will accept about twenty of the children we judge to be at the most risk from our long list of families who want to place their children with us.  Some of the children now on the list will die before the project is completed, even though we hope that will be only a few weeks from now.  We need your help again.  Please visit our website to make a tax-deductible donation to our Haiti project fund.  This building matters.  It's not enough, but it will be everything to the twenty or so children it will first shelter.

After our visit to the construction site, Margarette took me to the school to see some of the need for the orphanage completion first hand.  The school looks great!  Donations primarily from the French have built a second story, and their sponsorship supports over 250 students' tuition, uniforms, and two meals per day.  The school employs dozens of Haitian staff and is the site of nutrition and education programs for the community as well.

But I am here for a darker purpose.  The beginning of every adoption is loss.  Today I met with a young father who lost his wife in December.  She was only 22 years old, and they had been together since she was 18.  From the father's description, I am guessing the mother of his children died of cholera.  It wasn't quick and it wasn't easy.  And it also wasn't necessary.  But this is Haiti, and there was no medical care to save her in the tent camp where she died. 

She left behind her grieving husband and two sons, ages six and two.  I was grateful for the chance to speak with him directly, and hear from his own lips the assurance that adoption is really what he wants for his small sons.  There is no friend or neighbor living in an actual building with a roof who can watch his children during the day.  Not one.  The smaller boy appears to be sick, but not sick enough for me to insist on medical care today.  It sounds like a case of a cold that is just not going away due to constant stress and exposure.  The father is informed and committed.  He wants his children to have two parents, and education, and a place to sleep indoors.  I will refer his children for adoption to a family who will cherish them, and cherish their memory of a father who loves them with a selflessness we Americans and Europeans will never have to contemplate.

The boys will come to live at BRESMA, roof or not, on June first.  We cannot leave them in the tents any longer, and their birth father is desperate with fear.  We can't save them all, but we will save these two.  I just wish I could feel better about the only solution I have to offer.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Life in and After the Orphanage - the Search for an Exit Strategy

Although there is some debate among child welfare workers and advocates about just how imperative it is that no child grow up in an orphanage, there does seem to be a general consensus that there is no such thing as a 'good' orphanage.  Again, there is no such thing as a good orphanage, including ours.  An orphanage is basically a warehouse for children, and children don't develop well in warehouses.

We believe that every child has the right to a permanent family.

But back to reality.  The vast majority of children in orphanages in Haiti (and everywhere else in the world) will live and grow up with no family beyond their caretakers and fellow orphanage residents.  So what can we do to help them develop into healthy, functional, productive adults?  That is what Donna and Claire of Friends of Fort Liberte have joined me this week in Haiti to learn.  We are going to visit a few of the best of the best of Haitian-run orphanages.

Today we visited New Life Link and God's Littlest Angels.  Both are in the Hills above the city, so we started off early to make the reverse commute up into the mountains.  Haiti's mountains in this region are amazingly beautiful, green and cool.  The potential for tourism here someday is fantastic!

This photo is taken from the balcony of Dr. and Mrs. Bernard's guest house/small hotel in Thomasin.  My camera does not do it justice.

The Bernards are Haitian Americans who met in the US and chose to return to their homeland to work.  Dr. Bernard is a licensed attorney.  Over the years he has placed many children with adoptive families and done much aid work for his country.

New Life Link's creche (an orphanage licensed to house children for the purpose of adoption) opened in 1993.  In 1996, they opened an orphanage for older children as well.  The plan was to take in children raise them with love, and have them participate in trade schools which would be a part of the orphanage compound.  However, as the economy continued to deteriorate and they were unable to fund their trade schools, New Life Link decided that their exit plan for the sixty children they had in care was not viable.  Through his extensive connection in Haiti and beyond, Dr. Bernard was able to place all of the children for adoption, in and out of Haiti.

Clair, Donna, and I were all a bit set back that a native Haitian who has proven his resourcefulness, creativity, and intelligence over decades of service in country did not have a viable exit strategy for children aging out of his orphanage.  It was not promising news.  However, he did have some specific advice for my friends.  Dr. Bernard emphasizes the importance of sending all of the young adults to some sort of trade school or for specific professional training.  There are a few jobs in Haiti still, but a high school graduation certificate will not help you to get one of them. 

After our talk with Dr. Bernard, I sent the ladies on to see the kids and finished up a bit of business with Dr. Bernard.  ABI works with several orphanages in Haiti besides our primary partner, BRESMA.  We got everything squared away and then I got to go visit the kids too.

New Life Link's creche building was also destroyed in the earthquake.  None of the children or staff were harmed, which is absolutely miraculous.  Dr. Bernard immediately moved all of the children into his own home where he cannot be separated from them again.  The trauma of being unable to physically reach the children in his care for several days following the earthquake is still very evident in his eyes when he speaks of it.  He will never have his children in a home he cannot walk to again.

If a child can't be with a real family, New Life Link is a very high quality substitute.  The children are clean, healthy, and well-loved.  I think the most encouraging part of the care at New Life Link is not the cool, clean, attractive rooms they live in, nor the toys and playground equipment, nor the pretty clothes and neat hair that all speak of time spent and pride felt in dressing the children.  It is the interaction of children and their nannies.  New Life Link has succeeded in finding paid caretakers who don't just take care of the children assigned to them.  They obviously love them.  We saw lots of smiles, affection, playing, and laughter.  These children are being cared for as best they can be while they wait for their adoptive families.

Clair and Donna are here to explore how to find caretakers who will do more than just the chores involved with child care.  Mrs. Bernard shared some of her interview and training techniques with us, but I think the factors she didn't mention may be a great part of New Life Link's success.  Mrs. Bernard interacts with her nannies as if they were treasured members of a team or a family.  Perhaps her obvious care for their happiness and welfare has trickled down to their behavior with the children.  Love is abundant here.

Next we went to visit God's Littlest Angels, just a few miles away.  Director Dixie Bickel and I have worked on many projects together in Haiti, and she has earned my utmost respect.  John and Dixie Bickel moved to Haiti about 20 years ago.  Dixie is an RN, and her skills have saved many small lives that would surely have been lost otherwise.

GLA has always been a model of orphanage care.  The house has much of the equipment found in a NICU and the staff to use it.  GLA generously takes in and heals children from other orphanages when we have no way to keep them alive.  Teams of volunteers stay for various lengths of time to help provide stimulation and individual attention for the children.  There is even a preschool for the older children.

As GLA houses only young children, and only for adoption, no exit strategies have been planned.  Donna and Clair visited with staff and volunteers while Dixie and I went to her office to discuss the Hague Convention and the pending adoption law.

We chose to stay later at GLA so that I could meet one of my adoptive parents face-to-face.  It seems so strange after working with people so intimately on the most important tasks of their lives that I rarely ever see them in real life!  It was a great pleasure to finally meet this single mother after all this time.  Her son lives at GLA, where he was evacuated from BRESMA after the earthquake.  Dixie allowed us to match him with his mother in May 2010, and he'll be ready to go home very soon.  Generally GLA allows adoptive families to visit only once, for Court, but this parent was so cooperative and easy-going on her last visit that the whole staff agreed to bend their policy just for her because BRESMA visitation policies are different.

After our peaceful dayin the mountains, we descended back into the city.  All was well until we hit Petionville.  As soon as we reached the city, we were locked into impassable gridlock traffic.  Had it not started to pour rain, I would have gotten out and walked the last few miles.  It took us two hours and twenty minutes to make a journey that should have lasted forty-five minutes.  Driver Denis tells me that traffic has been much worse since the earthquake.  There are actually more vehicles on the roads between the UN, Minustah, NGOs, and IGOs, and some of the roads we did have were severely damaged.  I'll need to budget extra time into every trip I make this visit and from now on.  Those motorcycle taxis I see zipping so dangerously through traffic are starting to see very appealing.