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.

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