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.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, my heart aches for that father. As he mourns the loss of his love, he now has to make the choice of Miriam for his children. Thank you for being there for these families and thank you for caring so deeply for the parents as well as the children. I love the idea of the 3 month waiting period. There is so much emotions tied up in our children's well-being. Perhaps it would be enough time to get them the support they need to care for their children themselves. I will be praying for you the choices you and they have to make everyday. Choices we take for granted in our privilege.