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.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Planning a Tour and Touring the Ruins

Slightly sunburned and ridiculously relaxed after a day of poolside laziness yesterday, I arrived EARLY with Franck at the airport.  Those of you who have visited may know from personal experience that Franck does have a bit of an issue with punctuality...  I keep giving him watches, but it never helps.

Anyway, this morning we arrived several hours early as we were dropping of Didier Ravaine, one of the members of Aide Aux Enfants d'Haiti.  Didier and Francoise Fontaines-Pageaut have spent the previous week here in Haiti with Margarette to report to donors on the Fondation Bon Berger school in Castaches.

Castaches is a small, rural village near Jeremie, South and West of the capital.  It's a very long and rough ride by SUV, a dangerous trip by boat, or a short flight to reach the city, and then a bit more brutal ground travel to reach the village.  Fondation Bon Berger, with financial backing from Aide Aux Enfants d'Haiti, began the school project last year.  You can read the amazing account of what can be done in Haiti with full community participation and ownership in a report: Two Weeks in Jeremie/Castaches.  In September, the school opened its doors to over 250 students, many of whom had never attended school before.  Today, the school provides not only free education and uniforms, but two meals per day for each of its students.  In the evenings, the Women's group of Castaches gather to educate each other on business basics and beginning literacy.  I imagine Didier and Francoise were able to go home with a positive review for French donors that their money was well spent!

In any case, this morning we brought Didier to the airport for his return flight, and rather than making Franck drop him off, come all the way back to the guest house to get me, and go back to the airport to pick up my guests for the next few days, I went with him.  Francoise will be staying a few more days, and she decided to tag along.

My guests until Wednesday are Clair Peyton, a social worker with Forever Families Adoption Services, and Donna W., an adoptive parent whose daughter came home during the earthquake airlift.  Both ladies are deeply involved with Friends of Ft. Liberte.  Claire and Donna have made it their special mission to improve living conditions for children at the King's Center orphanage in Ft. Liberte.  I have not seen the facility, but it sounds like the King's Center is much like hundreds of other orphanages throughout the nation.  Families with no possible way to feed their children are forced to abandon them in the hopes that an orphanage will prevent their starvation, and there they stay permanently along with the 'true' orphans.  This orphanage is run by Pastor Andre, a dedicated pastor who has stretched himself very thin indeed trying to help his community pull itself up by its own bootstraps.  No one at this orphanage goes hungry, and in fact all of the children are able to attend an outside school every day.  But the entire group of children, ages 7 through 18, is watched over by one married couple. 

Donna and Clair are coming to visit a select few of the best of the best of Haitian run orphanages.  They want to raise funds to hire and train more staff for King's Center, and need advice about how to select nannies who will care about the children and how to help the current King's Center and Ft. Liberte staff to train them in positive child care techniques and theories.  I have volunteered to make introductions and be their tour guide.

After quite a long wait in the sun, my guests arrived and we returned to the guest house.  Driving back through the streets of Port-au-Prince post-quake is disturbing.  It's not just all of the missing landmarks anymore - I was already struggling to wrap my brain around the scale of destruction on my last two visits to Haiti.  It's the lack of progress.  Petionville has been the focus of much clean up effort.  There are missing buildings, but much of the rubble has been removed.  Someone who didn't know better might not know there had been an earthquake at all.  But down on the plain...  The only difference I can see between today and May of 2010 are the many, many shiny new land cruisers filled with cheerful blan cruising the streets.

I do realize that I sound bitter.  It is because I am angry, as are many Haitians.  Much aid was promised, but from what I can see very little of that was delivered.  At least not to the people in the streets.  At least not on a large enough scale to make a significant impact. 

So little has changed for them.  The medians of busy streets are filled with tents, and empty lots sprout tent camps like bizarre blue mushrooms in the rain.  The aisles between the tents in the camp right outside the airport are so narrow that only one person could pass through at a time.  I saw two little boys playing right by the road this morning outside the camp.  They were probably three or four years old.  One was a redhead and the other was blond.  Light colored hair for a person of African descent is not a fashion statement here - just another sign of severe malnutrition.  Their bloated bellies and stick insect limbs told the rest of the story.

I sure don't know what the answer is.  I didn't know even before the earthquake, but this isn't it.  Some aid might be distributed to tent camps, but it is not reaching the bellies of these little boys, playing in plain sight of the major traffic artery of downtown.  So what must it be like in the tent camps not right on the main street?  I fear I am going to find out very soon.  If I have learned anything during the last eight years and twenty-nine trips to Haiti, it's that I don't know what I am doing here.  Our aid projects work because Haitians decide what to do and how to do it.  I just show up with cash and go home with accounting of how it was used.  I can only pray that all the well-intentioned NGOs who appear as quickly as the tent camps can learn the same lesson before their funding is used up and nothing remains but the SUVs.

Back at the guest house I arranged our visits for the next day, because that's how we must work in Haiti.  It's just too unpredictable to try to plan weeks in advance, as I would do in the States.  Fortunately the Haitian spirit of hospitality and generosity means that everyone is pleased to see us, even on short notice.  Tomorrow will be an interesting and hopefully useful day.