Friday, November 30, 2012

New Law Presented

According to this online article: http://www.alterpresse.org/spip.php?article13706, the proposed new adoption law was presented to the Haitian Senate on November 20th.  We do not have a final or approved version of the proposed new law, but the draft appears to have been written with great care and influence from IBESR.

This is a great step forward for Haiti and Hague compliance.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

What Do All These Changes Mean?


In response to many questions regarding the new IBESR deadline of October 31st for the deposition of dossiers under the existing policies, I am going to share some general information as I understand it. Please note that this information does not come from IBESR, Joint Council, or even ABI as an agency: it is simply an explanation of what I have understood from the various meetings I have attended as one of the Haiti Caucus co-chairs for the Joint Council of International Children's Services.
For families who already have an IBESR file number, or receive an IBESR file number prior to 10/31/2012: cases are in no way affected by the upcoming policy changes. They will continue through the process exactly as cases have done in the past.

Following the implementation of the new IBESR policies:
  • ‘Independent’ adoptions will no longer be permitted. All adoptive families must be represented by a Hague accredited agency that has been licensed by IBESR to perform adoptions in Haiti
    • IBESR has not announced which U.S. agencies it will choose to license to work in Haiti. IBESR has stated that the choices will be announced ‘soon’. No specific date was given. In June, Mme. Villedrouin told me that she intended to choose four or five U.S. agencies
  • Pre-identified child adoptions will be considered on a case-by-case basis. This information was delivered to Diana Boni second hand but by a reliable source following her meeting with IBESR.
  • All children must be pre-approved for adoption by IBESR following an interview with the biological relatives, if any.
  • IBESR will examine adoptive families’ dossiers and approve them prior to the crèche being allowed to suggest a referral.
  • As we currently do, crèches/agencies will present IBESR with a suggested match of child and adoptive family, which IBESR may approve or deny.
  • Agencies may not present referrals to families until the match has been evaluated and approved by IBESR officials.
What about the pending new adoption law?
During the IBESR meeting on the 25th of September, IBESR announced that the bill should be put before the Senate for a vote sometime this month, and that the new law should be Hague compliant. It remains to be seen if this will occur, and when the new law will come into effect. In the draft issued May 6th, 2010, the following were included in criteria for adoptive families:
  • Single women age 35 and over, with no biological children.
  • Single men age 35 and over, divorced or widowed, with no biological children.
  • Heterosexual couples married five years or more or where one partner is over age 30.
  • Cohabitating, opposite sex couples must have been together for at least ten years.
  • There is no limitation on the number of biological children a family may have.
  • Married or cohabitating adoptive parents cannot be over age 50, except in the cases of intra-familial adoption. (In the version we have, there is still no age limit for a single adoptive parent!)
We do not know exactly what the version that is passed will dictate regarding criteria for adoptive parents.

Hague Ratification:
I returned from the IBESR meeting filled with hope about Haiti’s future under the Hague convention. The government of Haiti is now well aware that their current law is not Hague compliant. A committee is working to ensure that the new law is fully Hague compliant. The bill ratifying the Hague Convention is on President Martelly’s desk awaiting his signature to become law. President Martelly is fully aware that Haiti is not yet Hague compliant and aware of what premature ratification could mean.


For Families Considering Haitian Adoption:
ABI is addressing new PAPs as follows:
  • We are still accepting applications for our Haiti program. However, all new families are being warned repeatedly that we are NOT accredited to work in Haiti. It is possible that we will not be chosen. If that is the case, families understand that we will assist them in completing their dossiers and participate in transferring to an agency which did win accreditation.
  • We are advising all families to read the criteria of the current and the new law. We are not accepting families that do not legally qualify for adoption under the existing Haitian law. ABI believes it is unethical to accept any money whatsoever from a family that does not legally qualify to adopt at the time of application.
    • We are warning families with a parent over age fifty that choosing to pursue a Haitian adoption at this time is very high risk, as their dossier could be rejected should the new law actually pass soon.
  • We are not accepting applications of families seeking to adopt pre-identified children at this time. It will be necessary to discuss such cases individually with IBESR, and as we do not know that we will be accredited, it would be unethical to offer services to a family (in this case, lobbying for their case with the Haitian Government) that we do not know that we can deliver.
    • We are advising families seeking to adopt pre-identified children to wait until IBESR announces which agencies are accredited, and proceed with an approved agency at that time.
I hope this information is helpful for those of you at the beginning of the process, or still making a decision regarding adoption from Haiti.  It is my belief that the upcoming changes are highly positive and will help in protecting the rights and safety of Haitian children and their birth relatives, as well as the hearts and finances of adoptive families.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

IBESR Meeting

Today IBESR hosted a large meeting for all of the creche directors to discuss the new procedures.  I was quite surprised at the size of the gathering-there must have been 90 people.  It was held at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Work (MAST) in a large and air conditioned room.  We had an onscreen presentation, cordless microphones, and it was all in all a very well organized and managed meeting.

There was a great deal of discussion, but I will present a few key points here.  Please note that the meeting was unfortunately conducted in French, so I personally understood only about every fourth word and had to rely on translations for the rest. Therefore, I cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information I am about to present.

1. Extension of deadlines: IBESR will accept dossiers under the existing policies until October 31st.

2. The new policies will come into effect on November 3rd. There will be one final meeting, in which the directors may participate, before the policies are finalized.

3. IBESR and the President are in fact aware that the current Haitian law, which authorizes only simple adoptions, is in conflict with the Hague Convention. At present the legal ratification of the Hague Convention is on the President's desk, awaiting his signature. After that, it will still need to be printed in Le Moniteur to become law in Haiti.

4. The GOH is aware that the new law must pass before the Hague Convention comes into effect or other Hague nations will close adoptions from Haiti for their citizens.
M. Andolphe Guillaume, chief attorney for IBESR stated that they will announce which organizations will be accredited "soon", but no specific date was given.

All in all, the meeting was highly organized and I left feeling optimistic about Haiti and the Hague. The government seems well warned about possible backlash from premature Hague ratification, and in my personal opinion the current IBESR administration is both intelligent and conscientious.

Fingers crossed!



Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Top of the Worst List

It would appear that Haiti's financial status has changed.  Long identified as the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, Haiti has now been listed as the poorest country in the world by the World Bank.  A few key statistics:

•Poverty rate: 77 percent

•Population: 10,123,787

•GDP: $7.35 billion (66th lowest)

•GDP per capita: $726 (22nd lowest)

Read the complete article here: http://bottomline.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/09/18/13861920-the-poorest-countries-in-the-world?lite.   It would seem that whatever aid the rest of the world is giving to Haiti remains ineffective.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

IBESR Reopens!

IBSER is once again accepting new adoption dossiers today, August 16th, 2012.  Good news!!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

New Decree from IBESR

In a decree dated August 10th, IBESR announced that it will accept dossiers prepared between May and July of this year between the dates of August 15th and September 15th.  The new process and policies will be implemented on October first.  International adoption agencies will be allowed to submit their applications for approval on September 1st.

ABI has had a lot of calls regarding approval of international adoption agencies, and requests for us to take over cases where the dossier has not yet been submitted. 

It is important to note that at this point no foreign adoption agency, including ABI, has been approved to work in Haiti.  It would be highly unethical at this time for any agency to accept adoptive families who were already attempting to adopt independently under the assumption that they will be licensed.  IBESR has yet to make a decision about which agencies it will choose.  Families who were attempting independent adoptions should consider waiting to approach an agency for assistance until the successful candidates are announced by IBESR.

We would like to thank Sonia Andre and Margarette Saint-Fleur for providing us with the decree, and professional translator Isabelle Gallemaert for translating it overnight.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

IBESR Reopening Delayed

Yesterday Margarette went to IBESR again to inquire about when she would be allowed to submit our new adoption dossiers. She was told by the secretary of the Director of IBESR that she thinks they might not accept new dossiers until September. This is very vague and frustrating news for all of us. The Haitian Crèche Directors’ Association is scheduled to meet on August 9th to discuss the proposed new regulations, after which they will schedule a group meeting with IBESR.
It would appear from both their words and their actions that IBESR remains committed to keeping Haitian adoptions open and improving the safety, ethics, and transparency of the process. Now, if only we could get a DATE when they will reopen…

We will continue to keep you informed with any firsthand information we receive.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

IBESR has not reopened

Unfortunately IBESR was not accepting new adoption dossiers yesterday or today.  IBESR staff was unable to tell our Haitian partners exactly what day they do plan to officially reopen and accept new adoption dossiers.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

New IBESR Policies

Today we received a draft of IBESR's new adoption policies, drafted July 17th, and scheduled to go into effect on the third Monday following the resumption of adoptions in Haiti. Assuming that IBESR re-opens for new cases on August 1st, this would indicate that the new policies will take effect on August 20th.



A few key points in the draft of policies:
  • Independent adoptions will in fact no longer be allowed.
    • All adoptive parents must be working with an agency approved by the Central Authority of their country of citizenship.  In the United States, this means Hague Accredited agencies.
    • IBESR must also approve foreign (U.S./Canadian/etc.) adoption agencies to work in Haiti. A limited number of adoption agencies will be approved
  • Children must be found eligible for adoption by IBESR prior to commencement of adoption proceedings.
    • An IBESR multi-disciplinary committee will meet with any biological family considering relinquishment to consider all possible alternatives for family preservation prior to making an adoption plan.
    • It is prohibited for the prospective adoptive parents have contact with child's biological parents or anyone else that could influence the consent of the person authorized or engaged with the institution in the adoption process, unless the adoption is intrafamilial.
    • Biological families may not give voluntary consent for adoption proceedings for children under one year of age.
  • Minors of either gender are adoptable in the following priority:
    • 1) Orphans
    • 2) Children with physical disabilities
    • 3) Children with developmental disabilities
    • 4) Children declared legally abandoned
    • 5) Children whose parents have consented to the adoption.
The Creche Directors have been asked for their input on the entire policy.

In the personal opinion of this writer, which does not necessarily represent that of All Blessings International or any other group or organization, the new policies represent an enormous leap forward in international adoption policy and children's protection in Haiti.  The strong emphasis on children's safety, family preservation, and post-placement supervision are very much in line with the intentions of the Hague Convention.

This policy plus the passage of a new adoption law that designates adoptions as plenary rather than simple may go a long way toward Hague compliance.

 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Where Do We Go From Here? An open letter to families adopting from Haiti


Dear Families,

From June 22nd through June 25th, All Blessings International’s Haiti Program Coordinator, Diana Boni, accompanied Tom DiFilipo, President of the Joint Council of International Children’s Services, on a trip to Haiti to discuss the implications of Haiti’s Hague ratification with Haitian government officials.

During that visit they were able to meet with the Director of IBESR and IBESR’s legal counsel to discuss the implications of premature ratification as relating to other Hague nations. While IBESR remains committed to processing and permitting legal, ethical international adoptions, the delegation was able to explain that other nations might examine Haiti’s current adoption law and find it non-compliant with the Hague Convention. This would cause those member nations to disallow their citizens to adopt children from Haiti. (Other member states are permitted to lodge an objection to another country's ratification, which means that cases are technically permitted to continue. We are unaware of whether this provision has ever been utilized.)

Ratification is another step in the process of becoming a member nation of the Hague Convention. Initially a country must become a signatory to the Hague, which Haiti did on March 4th, 2011. Then the country must vote to ratify, which as you know occurred on June 11th, 2012. Following ratification, a nation must physically deposit the instrument of ratification at the Hague Permanent Bureau in the Netherlands. Approximately ninety days following deposit, the Hague Convention goes into force in the new member nation, and it is expected to be following the Hague Convention in all adoption proceedings. Haiti has not deposited the instrument of ratification. We recognize that everyone wants to know when the ratification will be deposited. Bearing in mind that it took fourteen months between Haiti becoming a signatory and vote for ratification, as well as the technical issues of actually becoming Hague compliant, we simply cannot offer an estimate and certainly not a definitive answer. Haiti could deposit their instrument for ratification tomorrow or ten years from now!

Following our discussion with both the Director and Primary Legal Counsel of IBESR, both agree that Haiti should not deposit the instrument at least until after the passage of the new proposed adoption law. IBESR will work to postpone depositing the instrument until a more appropriate time, when Haiti is in fact Hague ready. We cannot speculate on IBESR's ability or inability to delay this deposit.

Based upon the speed at which government decisions are generally made in Haiti and IBESR’s decision to attempt to postpone the deposit of the instrument and full accession to the Hague, ABI will continue to serve children in need of permanency and families who desire to adopt from Haiti as previously. All families entering into the process must be aware that Haiti is one step closer to becoming a Hague nation, and that if she does so prior to the passage of the new law that the US Department of State could declare Haiti non-compliant. However, at this time, Haitian adoptions continue to complete in country and children are coming home. Each family must decide for themselves if they are comfortable with the level of risk involved. Even in the most "stable" intercountry programs there is considerable risk and rapidly changing situations occur with little or no warning. We have always warned families in depth and in numerous ways on the risks of international adoption. This is why families must sign and return multiple waiver type documents.

For our part, ABI is choosing to move forward in faith that we can complete the adoptions we begin and bring children safely home. This has never been a guarantee, promise or assurance and it remains, as always, a risk and leap of faith. When and if God closes the door on Haitian adoptions we will do our best to continue supporting children who are in desperate need in Haiti. Until that time, we as a Christian organization, will continue serving those that we can and not turning our back on their needs.

We cannot advise any particular family on what they should do. We will keep families informed via our blog and routine emails. Please check the blog regularly for updates. Families who elect to continue should follow the steps as outlined and we will continue our service to your family.

Sincerely,








A. Lucy Armistead, MA, LPCC
Executive Director
All Blessings International

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Hague and Haitian Adoptions for U.S. Citizens

On June 11th, 2012, Haiti ratified the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. At this time we do not know the date that Haiti will deposit the instrument of ratification to the Hague Permanent Bureau and we do not know whether the Hague Permanent Bureau will accept the ratification. Ninety days after the instrument is delivered, if the Hague Permanent Bureau accepts their packet, Haiti will become a Hague country. We have been advised that it is possible that Haiti may hold off for a considerable period of time in depositing their ratification. There are still many unknowns at this point and a clear timeline of how this will unfold is impossible to foretell.


At this time the future effects of these changes for U.S. Citizens adopting from Haiti are unclear. An ABI representative has been told that Haiti is in favor of continuing international adoptions and has no intention of closing the adoption program. The current administration of IBESR looks forward to creating a better regulated system, with improved protections in place for Haitian biological families and children being placed for adoption. IBESR made the decision to temporarily stop accepting new adoption dossiers until August 1, 2012, making clear their intention to clear out their backlog of cases and to allow IBESR administration the time to implement new policies that would strengthen their system.

It is also unknown how the U.S. Department of State might react to Haiti’s ratification. Historically, even if the Department of State determines that a new Hague nation is not following the convention and therefore closes adoptions from that nation to U.S. Citizens, families in process – those who had filed a form I600-A – were allowed to complete their adoptions.

The Hague Permanent Bureau in their published Guidebook to Good Practices advocates gradual implementation and outlines recommended steps for this process that developing countries should take to strengthen international adoption practice but not prohibit the opportunity that intercountry adoption affords to many children in need. Many countries have prematurely deposited their articles of ratification and/or implemented the Hague Treaty tenets in such a way that what was intended for child protection becomes a weapon against them. We certainly hold out great hope that Haiti may hold off on depositing their ratification until sufficient law changes have been passed in Haiti and until their social welfare system has developed the resources to accommodate a system of protection that is actually reasonable, practical and able to be implemented.

We believe this presents a unique opportunity for the poorest country in the western hemisphere to serve as a valuable model for the best way to implement Hague. We ask that all pray continuously for the Haitian leadership involved to have wisdom and discernment as they move forward.

At this time, Haitian adoptions remain open and a legal option for U.S. Citizens. ABI advises all families considering a Haitian adoption to proceed with caution as we continue to investigate Haiti’s accession to the Hague Convention and what it might mean for future adoptions from Haiti for U.S. Citizens. Families must be accepting of the risks of pursuing an adoption from Haiti. We further advise families to check the Department of State's adoption notices for current information on adoption from Haiti and any publications of Joint Council on International Children's Services regarding Haiti.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Haiti Ratifies the Hague Convention

The following information was shared directly by the Hague Permanent Bureau:

Mr Guillaume (Lawyer - Project Manager, IBESR) and UNICEF have confirmed that the Haitian Parliament approved the Decree for the ratification of the Hague Convention of 29 May 1993 on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption yesterday, Monday 11 June 2012. However, for the ratification to take effect at an international level and to consider Haiti as a State Party to the Convention, Haiti must deposit its instrument of ratification before the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (the depository). The date of entry into force of the Convention will be the first day of the month following the expiration of three months after the deposit the instrument of ratification.



The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour has been designated as the Central Authority.


UNICEF informed the Permanent Bureau that the President of the National Assembly promised the inclusion of the approval of the Draft law on Adoptions into the legislative agenda in the following two weeks. The new challenge will be to ensure that the new Draft law is in accordance with the 1993 Hague Convention.

At this time, we do not know exactly what this will mean for Haitian adoptions.  It is evident that the Haitian government has no wish to close international adoptions.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

My latest job in Haiti

Donations for Notre Maison
Today is a Haitian holiday, celebrating agriculture. Everything is closed. We make it from the guesthouse to the orphanage and then to the airport in about thirty minutes. It's at least an hour and a half many days, just sitting in exhaust fumes and crushing heat. I'm along for the ride as a parent goes home from visiting his children because one of my next stops is near the airport.

I'm headed to Notre Maison, a creche that mostly takes in disabled children. I have a duffle bag full of pillowcase dresses, which are perfect for kids in wheel chairs. Margarette and Sonia always want them, but they don't really need them. Notre Maison does.

Director Gertrude Azor has made enormous progress since my last visit here on a new building in the back yard. It's one story and wheelchair accessible, and will be a huge improvement for all of her kids with mobility issues.

We're placing three kids who live here. Because today is a holiday, I get to see the two boys. I usually miss them because they're at school. These are great kids, and they've been in institutional care for far, far too many years. Everyone is very eager for them to get home to their family, whom they have met and talk about non-stop.

Back at BRESMA, Margarette does an admissions interview for the Haitian family of a pre-identified child. This is always tricky. We have to make absolutely sure that they understand what is going to happen. I'm feeling doubtful about this one. We asked them to bring the child with them, and have her live a BRESMA. She's a little one, and she's not getting adequate nutrition where she is. But they didn't bring her, worrying that the orphanage is too far away from them. If Port-au-Prince is too far, this family may not be at all ready to actually place their child for international adoption. Our job is to try to talk them out of it, as usually the birth family is the best place for a child.

After lunch we want to go over to BRESMA. The Argentineans want to come, and so does the whole birth family of the child. Margarette says they won’t all fit in the minibus, which is now running. I ask why we don’t just take the big van. Margarette tells me she doesn’t drive the big van, and of course since it’s a holiday, none of our drivers are here.

It’s my first time driving in Port-au-Prince. I wouldn’t try this on a regular day. I can drive just about anything – I am a South Dakota ranch wife after all. I can even run a tractor with a loader. But big city traffic? Forget it! Margarette and I crack lots of jokes in English and Kreyol about how she’s so rich she’s hired a white chauffer.

Serious silliness at BRESMA
We spend a few happy, relaxed hours with our kids. I’m not getting to do enough of this sort of thing this trip. I signed up for this job for the kids, not to play politics. But sometimes we don’t get to choose our own paths, and we have to go where we are sent. God works in mysterious ways, but He knows that for this particular flawed creation of His, it takes a sledgehammer upside the head to get the point across. So until I get other instructions, I will remain a somewhat reluctant member of the diplomatic corps operating between governments and fight for the right of every child to grow up in a safe, permanent, loving family.

Tomorrow I’ll have to leave early for a last-hour meeting at the airport itself with another orphanage’s directors. I’ll have to remind Franck to slide the seat back. Or maybe I won’t, and I’ll just let him wonder who drove ‘his’ van on his day off.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Too many languages, too few brain cells

Mondays are Mondays, and even more so in Haiti. Today is complete insanity, starting at about seven a.m. and ending at eight p.m.

One of my clients has a Visa appointment scheduled for this morning. Last night, we tried every method known to man trying to get the money needed down here. No go. And now, amazingly, despite multiple precautions, some of the documentation we need for the case is not here. Sonia and I assemble what we have, and make plans for me to stay and do the appointment over again if necessary.

Haiti's power plant
A second client, who has had one of the rockiest roads I've seen in a while, still didn't get the appointment for which we have been begging for a very, very long time. She is here in Haiti and physically goes to the Consulate to beg. We get lucky and she ends up with a very kind and empathetic member of their staff, with whom I've often worked over the years. Some of these cases drive us all insane. Everything that possibly could go wrong for this family, did go wrong.

I elect to ride along with Margarette on her rounds today. I always learn something when I do, and it's good to be seen at the various government offices. We're scrambling frantically to try to deposit our last dossiers before the temporary shut down at IBESR. Two more kids are in today, and we're going to try for another two this week. Margarette visits: Tribunal de Paix of Petionville, a copy shop, IBESR, Parquet court, and IBESR again. All in insanely heavy traffic. It's insanely hot and dirty and sooty, and we have no air conditioning. My phone rings nonstop regarding four separate cases. Some of the calls are actually for Margarette, not for me, but it doesn't matter since we're in the car together anyway.

At one point we stop so that she can buy a new car charger for her Blackberry. Because I am in the car, the vendor names a ridiculous price. I apologize, and Margarette says it's not for the blan. I ask the vendor if it would be better if I got out of the car and went across the street while they haggle. His eyebrows hit his hairline. It's always fun to speak Kreyol in my skin.

We've missed lunch again, so Margarette buys us roast corn on the street. I love this stuff. It keeps you full for a long time. Back through the unbelievable traffic we go, all the way to Petionville. We stop at Giant Mart. Margarette buys food for the guest house. It's amazingly like any big city grocery store in the US, except that the products come from a lot more different places. I take another two phone calls, one from a friend just to chat, one from a friend to arrange a meeting at the airport before we both fly out on Wednesday. Never a dull moment!

The guest house is full tonight! We have a Haitian birth family, three adoptive families, and an interpreter staying with us. One of the families is from Argentina, and I'm driven wild with frustration. I can understand every word they say in Spanish, but I can't speak at all! When I try to speak Kreyol comes out. It's like digging around a closet full of clothes in the dark. You know you have everything you need in there, and you'd recognize each item if you could see it, but you can't find a darn thing! One of the other adoptive parents staying here speaks Spanish, so he's translating for me. He's leaving in the morning, so tomorrow might be interesting. At least I'll understand them. I just won't be able to explain a darn thing. I really can't understand how truly multi-lingual people do it.  As Franck tells me, my brain must be diminishing as I get older.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Keeping the cat in the bag

Nothing much today.  Caught up on emails and transcribed all my meeting notes.  I can't make any of them public until they are reviewed and approved by the government agency with which I met.  So annoying.  I hate withholding information.  But if we don't respect the government's rights to review anything we make public, they won't (and shouldn't) share with us.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Building new families

Abandoned no longer: Wisnel and Elina have a family!
A relatively slow day. I go to BRESMA to distribute the gifts and albums I've brought down with me. Of course, this creates complete and utter pandemonium. I'll have to come back another day to see how the new kids actually behave.

I do get to do some of the best part of my job. I get to tell two sibling sets about their new families and go through photo albums with them. The older pair absolutely, completely, unmistakeably get it. They know exactly what adoption will mean, as best they can at this age, and they are thrilled. Leaping up and down, shrieking with joy, showing off their albums to everyone. I'm not really surprised. I knew Wisnel and Elina were pretty special the day I met them.


Sharing photo albums with friends
The younger sibling pair doesn't really understand, but it's fun to see how much they have blossomed since my last visit. Steeven is running everywhere and is much more outgoing, Guervenson is becoming a big boy!

I was here on Monday (I think),and there is noticeable progress on the construction. Margarette's target date to move the kids to their new house is June. We just might make it.

Friday, April 27, 2012

IBESR meeting

Whew. I lived. Didn't mess anything serious up. It did help to appear with an old friend when I met with Mme. Villedrouin. I feel that our meeting was productive and educational, both ways. Mme. Villedrouin is temporarily closing IBESR to new dossiers for the purpose of finishing those they already have, including DISPENSATIONS. She hopes to have all of those cases Dispensed by the time they begin accepting new dossiers after the 31st of July.

She strikes me as a very intelligent and motivated woman, who is passionate about child welfare. Just what we so desperately needed in this position. We spoke mostly in Kreyol, as she's not confident of her English, and my friend did some translating from English to French for some of the more compliated concepts we needed to discuss. I would not have had so successful a meeting without his help. Well, technically, I wouldn't have had any meeting at all without his help. I am deeply grateful.

Life is good at Au Bonheur
After that meeting, I go to Au Bonheur. I was so flustered and anxious this morning that I didn't bring along the items I have for kids here, so I'll probably end up making another trip. But I get some good photos of 'my' kids, and spending time here is always a treat. Sonia arrives, and we chat for a while.

Next, I move on to meet with Dr. Bernard in his office downtown. We discuss Hague issues and my IBESR meeting, and work on an action plan to protect Haiti from premature ratification. I will do all I can, and I have to learn to live with the fact that that's all I can do.

On the way home I have a barrage of phone calls, including one from Mike Noah and Mansour, who just finished their meeting with Mme. Villedrouin too. We compare notes. Teamwork is good, and Joint Council makes so much of our work possible.

It's four o' clock when I get back to the guest house. I have not eaten all day, and I am very tired. Time to answer emails, and to write up this account and them my notes about my various meetings for my various supervisors, colleagues, etc.

Saint Michael likes to describe my Haiti trips as 'Caribbean vacations'. If he doesn't watch it, I'm going to send him in my place next time!!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

US Government meeting

We had hoped to accomplish three meetings today. Hah. But the most important one happened. Mike Noah and Mansour Masse of Holt International and I met up at the Embassy for an appointment with Officer Hichem Kefi, the new Field Office Director of USCIS for Haiti. I asked Officer Kefi to invite someone from the Adoptions Unit to join them when my email requests were unanswered. I am stunned to find the Consul General herself attending our meeting. Sometimes I get a bit overawed by the people I end up meeting with. I didn't ask for this. It was just handed to me to do, and nobody else wanted the job.

This is not an ABI meeting. I'm here in my capacity as Co-Chair of the Joint Council of International Children's Services Haiti Caucus to ask questions for the group, and my colleagues Mike and Mansour are of course very welcome as fellow Joint Council members and very active participants in Haitian adoption issues. We explore a number of general issues facing intercountry adoptions in Haiti and how we can cooperate more effectively. As usual, the DOS and USCIS staff are very helpful. I've been working with some of the local staff for close to a decade now, and we've seen quite a bit together. It's also very good to hear firsthand what we need to do to assist USCIS & DOS in their critical mission as the last layer of protection against ilegal and unethical adoptions. The importance of their ability to perform thorough inspecitons of every case cannot be overestimated.

Officer Kefi payed a surprise visit to BRESMA on Monday. It was nice to hear what he thought of our house. I think he was a bit surprised, actually. Most people have something different in mind when they hear the word orphanage, with fewer toys and less dancing involved. USCIS will report any abuses they see to IBESR, and I'm grateful for that too. I have a feeling that we've just gotten our third excellent Director in a row.

Consul General Colombia Barrosse is highly focused on providing excellent customer service, as was her predecessor, Donald Moore, and has several policies which will soon be in place which will make appointments for adoption Visas much easier and more pleasant. She also took our concerns about issues with the security guards failing to admit American Citizens very seriously, and will address them. I almost feel sorry for the guards. Almost.

Mike and Mansour and I were hoping to meet up with another program director who is also down here in Haiti, but it doesn't work out. So the three of us go to lunch and discuss various adoption and aid related topics. We're very lucky here in Haiti. Everyone knows we're all on the same team, and we do things cooperatively, both on the United States and Haitian side. I'm told this is not the case in some other countries. I can't imagine dealing with the difficulties we face here in Haiti and not working as a group, helping each other whenever possible. It's quite hard enough down here without any infighting taking place.

I come home exhausted again, but there's more good news. Nacha, our exceptionally clever and well-connected almost-attorney has managed to secure an IBESR exit packet for my adoptive family who is just about to leave, even though we don't have their Visa yet. Even IBESR feels terrible for this family, and has given them an extremely rare exception to policy. This means that the very second they are holding their daughter's Visa, they are free to go. Hallelujah, Bondye bon!

Tomorrow is my meeting with IBESR. This is the third IBESR Director I've met, but I'm still very anxious. So much rides on my NOT messing this up.... I've been having anxiety dreams about the meeting, in a messy tangle of English, Kreyol, and Spanish, that I have no idea what I'll end up saying when I finally meet the woman. May God keep His arm around my shoulders and his hand over my mouth!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Back to the Capital: the calm before the meetings

Tortug' Air plane
Travel day. We're lucky. It's not pouring until after we land. The traffic is so terrible in the Capital that Margarette and I must wait a very long time for Franck to reach us, and the ride home takes an eternity. We are both very tired, and each tells the other that she is going to take a nap. However, I end up checking emails (102 in my absence) and guess who is responding to the new ones I send out? Perhaps my partner and I get along so well because we are both workaholics...

I have an adoptive father arrive in the evening, and one of my other families who is finally, finally about to leave Haiti after having been here for six months stops by. Everyone chats away, the parent at the beginning of the process and those who are, God be praised, almost finished.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Jeremie again: a rose by any other name is still worth $90 U.S.

A much slower day. Of course, anything would be!

We go to a medical appointment in Jeremie for Margarette, riding mototaxis at a sedate pace through the cobbled streets. The clinic we go to is obviously well funded and well staffed, although there are a tremendous number of patients to be seen. While we wait and wait for Margarette's turn in a shaded gazebo, the mayor of Jeremie stops by. He's having back pain. Of couse, Grandpa knows him too, as does Margarette. It's good to have friends.

While we're here, Margarette gets an idea and calls a co-director of a small orphanage where we are processing cases for two pre-identified children. Their adoptive parents are here in Jeremie, and she arranges a delightful surprise meeting, along with free lunch. What's not to love?

Mackendy is Haitian American, which I figure out after he suffers through some of my lousy Kreyol. He drives us to the orphanage/school complex his father manages. My clients come down the the pastor's house from the orphanage and greet Margarette with pleasure. The looks on their faces when I introduce myself are marvelous. Complete shock! Such fun. We enjoy a fabulous feast, courtesy of the pastor. This is the first time I've ever tried fried green tomatoes. I don't like tomatoes, but they're delicious like this! Much of the produce we are eating was locally grown.

Rose garden
Outside, there is a rose garden. Margarette loves gardening, and she mentions that rose bushes sell for $90 U.S. in Port-au-Prince. I see an opportunity for a substantial micro-enterprise here, propgating and raising plants! I wonder if Japanese maples will grow in Haiti? I wonder if I could get starting stock into the country? I wonder if I can find a horticulturist to join us on our Castaches trip? I imagine the answer is yes to all of the above.

We walk to the orphanage, just across the road. I noticed this building on the way home yesterday. It's very attractive and freshly painted. Inside, we are inspected the the thirty-nine children who live here. They appear to be about age eight and up. All are in school during the day, and they appear to be overall well nourished. I see only one child with discolored hair, and everyone's skin looks good. One of the two children I am placing has elbows larger than her upper arm, normally an indicator of severe malnutrition, but as everyone else looks well fed and I note a few other anomalies, I take some photos of her to send to a professional. I suspect this little girl has some sort of genetic condition. If we can identify what it is, we can make sure that we meet her needs.

It's such a treat to get to spend some time with one of my families, especially one that is already so involved in Haiti! Finally, Mackendy drives us home. We have to hope it doesn't pour anymore tomorrow, because Tortug' Air is a fair weather airline. It's pouring, we're grounded. And I MUST be at the U.S. Embassy at nine o' clock sharp on the 26th.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Castaches: mototaxis and moulets

Haiti biker babes: Margarette and I prepare to ride to Castaches
It's raining this morning. This means that it's reasonably cool as I sit on the porch in my nightgown typing this. Unfortunately, it also means that it might be completely impossible to get to Castaches today unless the folks at the UN complex let me borrow their helicopter. Margarette doesn't ride (horses) and you can't take a motorcycle on a slippery, muddy dirt track. Or at least, not with me on it, you can't. The road we want to build to Castaches is not just a luxury. Nobody from up there is going much of anywhere today, unless it's very close by.

Last night Claudette, the young President of the Castaches Women's Assoication, came by for a chat. She filled me in on all the details of what they want to do. These women have their act together, even down to the committee of eight who will evaluate microloan applicants and make the decisions regarding who will get a chance, and who will not. Now all they need is for me to find them the money to get started.

Castaches is an agricultural area. Most of the women will start with either crops that they plant or with livestock, and they will visit the various small vilabes on their market days to sell their products. In those villages, they can buy items in short supply elsewhere – matches, dry goods, etc. - and then sell those in the next location. The economy here is very small scale. Margarette and Claudette and I also discuss that some people really aren't suitable to be business owners, and they'll need to work for others eventually.

We have an offer from a Canadian woman in the area who is buying and exporting beautiful woven placemats to teach a few of our women how to make them so that they too can sell them for export through her program. Of course we'll have to pay some tuition. Nothing of value is truly free.

Across the street from me, a teenage girl is setting up a stand to sell little packets of crackers and cookies. I hope she won't be there all week. She ought to be in school. On the other hand, for Haiti, she's not unfortunate. Her stand is right inside her family's little compound, where everyone has a roof, decent clothing, and seems to be in good physical health.

Ugh. The moto taxi guys are here, which means I have to go put on decent clothing. What I'm wearing is fine for everyone else, but I'm attracting more attention because I'm different. Poor Saint Michael.


Night of April 23rd:

We're back from Castaches. First a quick comment on traveling by motorcycle: WOOOOOOOOOOOOO HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!! What a rush!!!!

The ride up was long, and I started out with little faith in this small, noisy machine's ability to stay upright. This was ridiculous for two reasons: first, I've seen dozens of these in the street, most of them carrying people far larger than I am. Secondly, my son has one and I've ridden it with him. But still...

The drivers are four guys chosen by one of them, who is a friend of Mr. Saint Fleur. About two minutes in on Jeremie's cobbled streets, I realize that this is FUN. So by the time we leave the paving, and eventually what anyone might describe as a real road behind, and are – I guess you can't call it 'four wheeling' when you only have two wheels – I am pretty comfortable. Mentally. Every time we go down a hill I have to hold my weight back with my arms, as there is nothing to brace your legs against in front and I keep sliding forward.

The ride is long. It is much farther than I had thought it would be. Our speed is impaired by the rain. Margarette tells me that every time she comes here, it rains. I should bring her home with me. We could use a little moisture in the Dakotas. We ride through mud and puddles, which splash us less than I would have expected. My driver has it easy when the tires do slip, because I'm not very heavy. I'm not about to put my feet down as he does to help right or brace us. I have no idea when he's going to start up again, and I don't need to break a leg here.

Glorious GREEN
The scenery is astonishing – green, verdant jungle. Everything, everywhere, is varying shades of emerald or deep rich burgundy, scarlet or even canary yellow. Not all jungle plants are green. I recognize some of my house plant's larger cousins, including many Poinsetta trees towering twenty feet into the air.

We pass an endless stream of people. Children headed for school,wearing uniforms, children who don't go to school playing or attending roadside stands, vendors both male and female headed for various markets with their sale goods on their heads or loaded onto small horses, mules, or burros. Endless humanity! Haiti is a very crowded, populous country, even as we go farther and farther from Jeremie and modern conveniences.

We stop breifly at a Catholic complex with a church and a school and an abbey. Margarette and her father speak with the priest. We'll coordinate with their organization when we are able to work on the road. Even further into the mountains, we pass through a street market with permanent stalls made of sticks and palm fronds. There are a lot of vendors there, and it would appear they don't see blan very often. Everyone, everyone is staring as I pass quickly through.

I see a lot of poverty here in the Castaches area, of course, but it's nothing like the desert of Cabaret. Most families seem to have enough money for a small cement house in a garden with a living fences. I see shoes on almost everyone, although a lot of people are carrying them because of the mud. I see almost no children suffering with kwashiorkor. In fact, now that I think of it, it is in Port-au-Prince itself that I have seen the worst starvation, malnutrition, filth and poverty. And so many of the people there came from smaller places like this, somehow deluded that they would find a better life in the Capital.

The aquaduct
We stop to examine the aquaduct project. I've seen photos, but it's hard to understand without seeing it. In the process of building the school, the Foundation needed water. And the easiest way to get it was to pipe it in from a local spring. So now, Castaches has a cap over the spring to protect it and keep it clean, and a cistern for storage and pressure. Twice a week, bleach is added in both places, just in case. There are two public fountains with faucets for the community to use, dispensing free, potable water. There is no cholera in Castaches!

And right nearby, the school! I've seen photos too, but actually seeing it here, with its 150 students, so amazingly far from anything else, is almost unbelievable.

School in Castaches
Margarette jumps right into her project – checking the actual attendance against the logs that she has, and getting information for the French sponsors of all the children. Everyone gets their picture taken and she records a very brief summary of their academic progress. There are several mothers gathered on the verandah, talking and waiting.

I take a walking tour with Mr. Saint Fleur. Margarette's not much of a one for hiking, but 'Grandpa' and I are a lot alike. We're country people, and we like to walk. He shows me a fallen down Catholic church behind the school, and talks about how they'd like to repair it. We walk down a steep gully, cross a stream, and on the other side we pass through a cemetery. He tells me his parents, Margarette's grandparents, are buried here. Now I understand how it was possible to build this project out here. He's a local! In a place like this, it's impossible to get community buy-in if they don't understand and trust you. But everyone here knows Grandpa. I mean, everyone. We have to stop and chat with every person we pass, and we pass a lot of people.

Grandpa knew about this location, where the nearest school was so far away that children physically couldn't walk to it until they were old enough that they might feel shamed by their own illiteracy, or have given up on education.

He shows me the first building site they were interested in. From what I understand, it belonged to his family and he wanted to give it to the community for the school. But on this far side of the stream, it is truly inaccessible to motorized transport. They abandoned this site, and bought about two acres of flat, cleared land at the end of all roads.

As we walk it begins to rain again, and then to pour. We stop at the house of an old man to shelter in his covered porch. He puts out chairs for us, as in Haiti you never keep a guest standing. Grandpa and I tell him that if it doesn't stop pouring eventually, we may have to spend the night. He and Grandpa know each other, of course. Finally he loans us a large umbrella and we start back to the school. It's very wet and extremely slippery, and I worry about Margarette's father, who must be in his seventies. Luckily the problem solves itself. He takes my arm, telling me to be careful, and I'm able to go first and carefully to be sure he does not fall.

When we return to the school, Margarette tells me we might be spending the night up here. Before I started working in Haiti, the idea of being stranded in a strange place with nothing more than the clothes on my back and my digital camera would have sent me into a tizzy. But now, my only worry is that somebody has a mattress or pad of some sort I could sleep on. I'm getting too old and arthritic to sleep on a bench or a table like a real Haitian can. She says if we can get down the mountain tonight, we won't be able to come back up tomorrow. Here and now is my one chance to document what the people of Castches want and need.

Women's group of Castaches
A fairly large number of women have gathered now. They are curious about the sponsorship photos and about me too. I take photos, and with Margarette's help, interview a few of them. There is much discontent until I go outside and explain that it's my job to look for seed money for their association, and the women who are getting their photos taken are no more likely to get the loans than those who are not. I just need a few real faces and real stories to tell to the world, so that everyone can see how worthy they are of a chance to support their children. One woman, obviously a community leader, translates what I say into better and more culturally relevant Kreyol, including the plan to draw the names of women who are qualified in a lottery to decide who gets money first, and who must wait for her chance. They understand, and the scowls of those I didn't interview disappear. I explain that I'd like to return with a mission group to help with the road or any other project their community needs, and they agree to show my visitors Haitian hospitality.

During all of this, Margarette has sent our motorcycle drivers and their machines away. I'm not clear on what is going on, but whatever happens, happens. It takes type-A people like me a long time to get broken into this concept, but when God makes an omelet, He has to break some eggs. It's taken years for me to get properly broke in, and I still struggle with it sometimes.

School lets out at 1:00 sharp, and it's pouring rain. We used to be able to provide a free lunch, but the pay rates for teachers went up and used our food budget. We now have three cooks and nothing for them to serve. Margarette is going to ask the French to send more. One or two free meals, like we provide in Port-au-Prince at the school in Delmas 31, would be a huge help to these families.

The children and their mothers cram under the shelter of the balcony, waiting for a break in the deluge. A few small boys run out into the rain and start for home. Many of the girls take off their uniform blouses, and some change their shoes for cheap sandals to protect their good clothing. These kids have seen blan recently. The French, who made this school possible, were here just a month ago, so I'm mildly interesting, but not that thrilling.

My preferred way to travel
Finally the rain slows, and we finish up business. There are a tiny horse and a mule on the lawn of the school. Margarette asks me to give her my camera so she can take a picture of me on the horse. I give her my camera and approach the tiny pony, but his eyes roll back in his head and two grown men can't hold him still enough for me to get anywhere near him. Apparently he did not see the French when they visited. I've never seen the like, but this horse is terrified of white people! I approach the mule instead, who doesn’t seem to care what I look like. I have trouble figuring out how to get on with the unfamiliar tack, and the handler seems to take this for ignorance. He wants to lead me like a kid on a pony. I don't have any of the nouns I need, but I manage to explain that I want to steer by myself, and he fashions reins out of the rope bridle. I wave goodbye and cheerfully ride my mule off towards the sunset, which is apparently incredibly funny. Of course I turn around before I reach the gate, but when I look back, Margarette is being helped onto the little horse, who is not afraid of her at all. We really are riding out, at least to where the road gets a bit better. I am delighted!

Trail riding through the jungle – what a treat! Even if I do have to use a stick to make my mount keep going, and I'm pretty sure I can walk faster than he can. I ride up ahead of the man leading Margarette on her pony. It's beautiful, peaceful and lovely in the light rain. Eventually, a barefooted young man catches up to me and tries to start leading my mule. I tell him I prefer to ride by myself, and he manages to accept that I know how to do so.

Actually, I'm a terrible athlete and a clumsy person, but I've been riding since I was four years old and I used to train horses for a living. I'm more comfortable mounted than I ever will be on my own two feet. Or at least, I would be on a more athletic mount. The young man settles for following along and pushing my slow and lazy mule along when he gets to be too slow. But eventually he drops back out of sight. I don't think about why until later.

I ride alone through the same little market we passed on the way up, and there I am reminded that I am not, and never will be, Haitian. Apparently the sight of a white woman riding a mule is the funniest thing ever, ever, ever! There are about 150 people at this market, and every single one of them is looking at me and laughing. Literally. All. Of. Them. Most are also pointing, just in case someone misses the joke. I'm actually blushing as I laugh too. I don't get the joke, but it is surely me. This mule didn't startle when I opened the umbrella from my big pannier basket, but the roar of laughter confuses and spooks, him, and he stops dead. Right in the middle of the market. For a moment I'm too stunned and embarrassed to think, but before I can get the umbrella closed to whack him with it, my motorcycle driver appears and leads me off, taking the reins as if I haven't been riding all the way down here. Interestingly enough, this is much less funny than my riding by myself, and the roar of laughter subsides. I really, really don't get it. But I make him give me the reins back, because where I come from the sight of a grown woman being led on horseback is definitely worth laughing at.

We were supposed to get back on the bikes here, but it's still so slick that my driver tells me that if I don't mind, he'd just as soon I rode the mule down a bit father where it will be drier. I tell him I'd just as soon ride the mule all the way back to Jeremie, but at his pace I'll miss my appointment on the 26th if I do. I head on down the trail, my driver slipping and sliding behind us, until we reach the point where he has us stop and wait for the others. Finally they join us, all on motorcycles again.

We take a different route home alongside a river through an incredibly green, lush and lovely valley. It is absolutely breathtaking. I make my driver stop to let me take pictures, even though he thinks I'm crazy, but I try to explain I want to show the Americans how beautiful his region is. He becomes more cooperative. It's still raining, and we are wet, wet, wet. I have my camera in a baggie in my pocket. On the flat valley floor, I learn that you can ride a motorcycle through about six inches of standing water. I also learn that it's easy to go to bed before eight o' clock, even in a strange house over the noise of the neighbors chattering away, after a full day's adventure.

What a rush. Wow.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

To Jeremie: small planes and large tarantulas

Jeremie, the City of Poets
Whatever you expect on a trip to Haiti, is not what is going to happen. You'd think I'd have figured that out by now.

I carefully planned my travel so that I'd spend the requisite overnight in Denver, where I have family nearby and can save the agency a hundred bucks or so. So naturally, my plane from Denver to Miami the next morning was so late that I missed my connection and ended up staying the night in Miami anyway. At least it was on American's dollar and not ABI's. And perhaps it was not an accident, as it turned out that there was another passenger on the flight who had missed the same connection, and he turned out to be the Haiti coordinator for another agency.

I helped the agency founders on their first visit to Haiti, and it is a real treat to meet Patrick. He lived here for a while before the earthquake with his wife, and he understands how things are. He laughs when I point out that neither one of us is wearing a watch. In Haiti, things happen when they happen.

Patrick puts it more eloquently than I, describing Haiti as an 'event based society'. In other words, today might be the day you go to the Embassy. It doesn't much matter when you get there, and you don't try to schedule doing something else on the same day, either afterward or at the same time. Multitasking is a completely American concept, one that most Haitians find repugnant or ridiculous. He's right on.

To illustrate, Margarette admits in the morning when she arrives at the guest house to pick me up that she has made a serious error. This is very, very rare for her. I forget everything that is not in my computer (or at least my notebook, down here) and she has an amazing memory. But this morning she announces that she thought our tickets to fly to Jeremie were for today, but they were dated for yesterday. Yikes. Luckily, the young woman at the gate doesn't look at the date either. No problem what day the tickets are for, so long as we have some.

The French Adoptive Parents' Association helped build and sponor a school for the community of Castaches, a village in the mountains above Jeremie. This will be my first visit to the school. It's looking to be a great adventure thus far.

The small plane carrying us has 22 seats and substatially fewer functioning seatbelts. Forget the pre-flight safety lecture. This is like a Greyhound bus flying a few hundred feet above the ocean. As we wait for everyone to board, Margarettte spotts a tarantula the size of my whole hand on the tarmac. I had never seen a tarantula outside of a zoo before, nor had I wanted to. Even at the zoo. Margarette tells me that she has lots of them in the garden of her new house, and I request that she never invite me to visit there.

Aerial view of Jeremie
Haiti slides by my window as we travel west, verdant and peaceful. None of the human misery below can be seen from the air on the coast, once we clear the capital itself. Glorious. The ride is quite short; about forty-five minutes, and we land on a dirt airstrip in a field where a lone decrepit building is labeled as the airport. The signage is helpful. I would never have guessed.

We ride a small van belonging to Tortug' Air through the old city. It is beautiful in a sort of decaying, decadent way. Many of the wooden buildings are brilliantly painted, and the narrow streets are paved with cobbles or bricks. With a cleanup and economic improvement, I could definitely see Jeremie becoming a tourist town. The brilliant Caribbean sea is a constant back drop. I hope I'll have time to look inside the very large Cathedral in the center of the old town.

Jeremie airport
It is so much quieter than frenetic, dirty Port-au-Prince here! Must less traffic, unbarred gates, many house walls with no razor wire to enforce them. My work often leaves me wondering if it is Haiti or really just the big city that leaves me so exhausted. If he were here, my driver Franck would probably vote for my schedule being the issue. I think my habit of often making three or even four stops per day stuns him. That's just not how we do things here!

Margarette and I will stay at the house of her parents. It's a rental about fifteen minutes away from the town proper. The house is built in traditional Haitian style. It is cement, of course, with a central passage. All of the three bedrooms are on one side, the bathroom, kitchen, dining room, and a small salon make up the other. Of course I'm sitting out on the porch to write this. It's cooler, and it gives the neighbors something interesting to look at. I'm noticing the children here are much less fascinated by me than the adults. Maybe the kids are used to seeing aid workers and MINUSTAH personnel, and only adults realize it is odd to see a blan sitting on the porch of a private, middle class house.

Today will be primarily a day of rest, but tomorrow will be all action. I was unable to talk Margarette into riding up into the mountains my way (on horseback) so I guess we'll go the other way – by moto taxi. I hope my guy can drive well and isn't too befuddled by a crazy white woman going up into the mountains to pay attention to the road. Well, a little adventure builds character.

It is Sunday, and people walk through the streets visiting eachother. Singing and the sound of someone playing the flute drifts over the walls. It is very peaceful here, if a bit warmer than my comfort zone. Once again I find myself without proper luggage. I have left all of my usual Haiti clothes – lightweight dresses and sandals – back in Port-au-Prince. I have brought long pants and closed shoes for the mountains, where we are not at the moment. It's hot. I am grateful it is not August.

I wonder if every day is like this for many of the people here. True, today is Sunday, but with this much unemployment, many people are home every day. They have mastered the art of passing time and living in the moment. It's an art most Americans and Europeans have long forgotten, myself included. I think I”ll spend some time watching this chicken who is visiting our yard and see if I can remember.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Just a Little Bit of Hope

BRESMA cuties and their dolls
I awake (very) early, thanks to the stupid rooster, get dressed, and prepare myself for the long journey to the alternate reality of my home in the United States.

On the way to the airport, I see the first quantitative sign of hope post-quake that I have yet encountered. Right before the turn into the airport complex there is a flat, open space of about two acres. Just last November, it was packed to the curb all the way around with tents and tarps and refugees. This morning, only a few scattered tents remain on the barren, exhausted earth. Everyone else has packed up and left. I don't know where they have gone, but it must be better than this camp, which had water and latrines. May it be safe harbor for each of them.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Haiti Foundation Against Poverty

A short walk on the side of the 'haves' in Haiti: I go to brunch at Quartier Latin with friends. Petionville is a place of the sharpest contrasts. We park opposite a square that is denuded from the tents that so recently filled it, and eat at a restaurant that is an open courtyard. There's a jazz band, and the menu is excellent. Another hint of what Haiti could be – a vacation paradise. The climate here from November through April could be very inviting to travelers, and the people are remarkable year 'round.

In the afternoon Margarette comes over the the guesthouse all by herself in the micro-van. She almost never drives alone anymore, after being carjacked a few years ago. We go to HFAP (Haiti Foundation Against Poverty) to visit with Frantz and Mallery Neptune. We're placing a few children who are living here, but today we're here to talk prevention. HFAP has a Depo-Provera clinic. We are desperate to prevent 'repeat customers' at BRESMA, and give all the mothers of the children at BRESMA schools the ability to control their own fertility. This program is more financially feasible than I had dared to hope. HFAP is spending about $10 per woman per month. We make arrangements to refer our Port-au-Prince women to their clinic, as it is not at capacity, and begin discussing fundraising to replicate the project in Castaches.

Sherley's idea of supper for one
I think Sherley is trying to kill me with overindulgence.  I have to tell her at every meal that I simply can't eat as much as she thinks I can!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Little Success

Very little work today, with our trip to Castaches postponed.  I'm not used to having any free time!  I go to BRESMA to spend time with my kids.  There's some very good news.  We're missing someone!  A lovely toddler girl named Reneline, for whom I was supposed to look for a family, is gone.  Her mother came and got her in the morning.  She may be able to stay with her birth family.  Every adoption we don't do is a success story for us.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Yo, Kids Are Still Kids

As we were unable to get plane tickets to Jeremie for the weekend, I find myself a bit at loose ends. This morning I went to meet with Dr. Jacob Bernard in his office downtown.

It was always a very 'not-American' experience to drive down here, but now it seems surreal. The split dome of the palace remains nodding, the white paint peeling off the cracked and ruined walls in great sheets. It looks as if were squeezed in a giant fist.

Tent city in front of the Presidential Palace
The lawn of the palace itself is empty, but all of the open squares and parks that once surrounded it are full curb to curb with tents and shanties built from recycled refuse. It's hard to believe this isn't a movie set, but two years later, here we are. Welcome to Haiti!

My driver, Ti Maurice, a BRESMA employee, tells me that little by little people are leaving the camps. But who knows where they are going, or how they will survive when they get there. There are no jobs here, especially for the uneducated.

Dr. Bernard's family also runs a travel agency, and the sign says Nacia travel and New Life Link. It's a good thing, or I don't know how I would have recognized the place. I walk in to the reception area and ask to speak to Dr. Bernard. There is complete and obvious confusion. I am asked repeatedly in rapid fire Kreyol what my name is, and if I have an appointment. I assure them that I do, pronounce my name carefully and with a proper Kreyol accent, and sit down to wait. I'm getting the distinct impression that the staff is not accustomed to a white woman wandering in off the streets by herself and asking to speak to their boss. I could just call Dr. Bernard on my cell phone and let him know I'm in the waiting room, but now my curiosity is piqued and I want to see what will happen next.

Of course the moment somebody goes to the back office with my name, I'm asked to come in. Now the manner of the same man who asked me my name rather rudely has become very deferential, and he even unlatches the gate for me.

Dr. Bernard and I discuss the case we're working on together, and the Creche Directors' Association meeting that occurred yesterday with two Senators. Dr. Bernard feels that they made some progress. The group will meet again next Thursday to draft a letter to be sent to all of the members of the Senate, asking for a meeting to discuss the issues of the proposed adoption law and the Hague Convention. Dr. Bernard is concerned that most of the Senate and possibly the Director of IBESR herself don't actually understand what ratifying the Hague Convention means. I intend to make sure that meeting is attended by someone who can spell all that out for them technically, eloquently, and accurately. I may tag along too, if the Creche Directors would like me to do so.

I ask Dr. Bernard for a few documents regarding the adoption case we're working on together. He invites me out to the main work area, and suddenly everyone who didn't speak a word of English is almost fluent! Magic! I wonder why they were so suspicious of me before.

We pass a very long line of cars, double parked and spilling out of the gas station, abandoned where they stopped. Traffic is lighter than it should be, as so many cars are stuck. No gas, no traffic!!

Ti Maurice and I arrive back at the guesthouse just before noon. It's been a very short day compared with what I'm used to. The guesthouse is now empty and it's oddly quiet here for several hours.

In the afternoon two of Margarette's children and two of her son Junior's buddies come over after school. The kids are completely Americanized. I tell the visiting boys, “Hey, we don't say, 'Yo' in Haiti,” but apparently we do. A lot. They act and sound exactly like my son's goofy friends, obsessed with the same gadgets and little squabbles about who is the coolest. For the luckiest top 10% of Haiti, life is much like we have it in the U.S. Kids are kids, everywhere.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Visit to GLA

Continuing my effort to ensure that Maya's article is balanced and complete, we drive up into the mountains to visit God's Littlest Angels. Dixie isn't here today. She's in the D.R. with a very sick baby, but she left instructions for her staff to show us around.


I've been here many times, and it remains unchangingly excellent. Several BRESMA children would have died over the past years were it not for the competency and generosity of GLA in admitting our sick kids into their NICU. Dixie is a nurse, she has another American nurse on staff as well as several Haitian nurses, and she has a functioning neo-natal intensive care unit in her orphanage.

My visitors admire the healthy children and the glorious view from the rooftop terrace playground. It is a remarkable panorama. In Haiti, we say 'deye monn, geyen monn.' (“Behind mountains, there are mountains.”) You can see how true that is from here.

Next we visit their older kids' house, where I have never been before. Children ages about four through twelve live here. Joyce gives us a tour. She and Molly, another American, run this house. They are young women but they have been here eight and ten years respectively. They came as volunteers, and never left.

The program here is remarkable. The children are well-disciplined and scheduled. They have school in Kreyol and in English every day, and most of the older kids understand a great deal of English.

I see two of my own children – K. and J., who were left behind during the BRESMA airlift as I had failed to find them a family. Dixie took them in, along with the French kids and twelve more little ones who weren't matched yet. Two years later, they are still here. Praise God that their case is moving along. They are matched with a family and awaiting Presidential Dispensation for their dossier. They have grown so much that I didn't recognize them, but once Joyce points them out I know them. I must not have changed much on the outside, as they know just who I am. I am so grateful that they have been here, safe and secure.

We spend some time in the yard, just sitting with the kids and listening to them sing and watching them play. It is cool and peaceful and beautiful here – very relaxing. GLA is a good place to be a child.

My guests are leaving today, so we pop into Epi D'Or on our way back down the mountain. I buy Denis a Combo #1 at his request, which I am amused to learn is a hamburger with fries. My visitors decide that they are not hungry, so we just get Denis' meal. The air conditioning is almost too much. I'm getting used to Haiti.

I am finished with my scheduled tasks early. Maybe I'll try to sleep for an hour or so while the rooster next door seems to be on break.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A BRESMA Birthday Party

A BRESMA birthday party
What a shocking contrast! Today we had a birthday party for a little boy turning five at BRESMA. His adoptive family is here visiting, so they are sponsoring the party. In a typical miscommunication for Haiti, somehow my staff thought that they wanted to set up the party themselves, while in fact they needed BRESMA to do it for them. Anyway, apparently this all got figured out at about 4:00 pm yesterday, when it came out that nobody had set up anything at all.

This morning we have a cake, party favor bags complete with hats and noiseblowers and toy cars, pixie sticks for everyone, and paper plates, cups, and soda. We're good to go!

The party is in theory going to happen at 10:00 am. Sonia Andre has care of the younger brother of the sibling group of three which includes the birthday boy, and she is taking a day out of her busy schedule to bring him to his big brother's birthday party.

In the background, Margarette and the crew are all business. We were always paranoid, but now, after the earthquake, we're like crazy people. We like to have a full three months worth of supplies laid in at any given time, and today is shopping day. Margarette has bought tons of food (literally) and the guys are unloading it into the reception area of the new building. It is a stupendous amount of food! At the end Rony brings in a sack with one box of cornflakes in it. Margarette cracks up and explains that the lonely box of cornflakes was her 'free gift' for dropping thousands of dollars for this enormous haul. She'll spend the next few hours arranging all of this bounty on the shelves of the depot, and I'll spend the next few months with no worries about my kids. We are prepared for the end of the world. It's already happened once. We know what we up against.

Another major issue is sending Ti Maurice out for gasoline for the microbus. We only have a partial tank, and there is a gas shortage in Haiti. Usually this occurs in January. For two to three weeks, there is no gasoline for sale on this half of the island. Most of my friends believe this occurs because the government pays out Christmas bonuses to all the employees, and then doesn't have enough money to pay the Venezuelan government for the shipment. Naturally they are not going to send it out on credit to Haiti!

All fuel – diesel and gasoline – comes via boat from Venezuela. I imagine the diesel shipment get priority, because Haiti gets electricity from diesel. I'm not talking about the small to midsize generators like we have here at the guesthouse or at BRESMA. These are the generators that provide the city power, which comes (sometimes) through the overhead lines. No diesel, no power.

Anyway, we've heard that the gasoline is almost gone, so we're sending Ti Maurice out to try a few stations and fill up as best he can. But we'll be fine. Our main vehicle – the big van – runs on diesel. This is no accident.

Manmi Fanni and Barbarah enjoying the party
Naturally we don't cut the birthday cake until about 1:00 in the afternoon, but the kids have a great time with star-shaped toy sunglasses and their noisemakers and hats. Wislande starts a Conga line and the kids are dancing and having a terrific time.

It's difficult to wrap my brain around this raucous, joyful party, and know that not far away are children who are dying for just a fraction of this amount of care and food. Literally. But we have to focus on making the care for our children who are waiting to be adopted as good as possible, and gradually helping the rest of Haiti to catch up. We can't spread ourselves any thinner and still give these kids the little joys to which every child is entitled.

Hours later, tired and partially deaf from the noise of 26 children all sugar buzzed on too many pixie sticks, cake, and Coca-Cola, Mansour Masse comes by to be interviewed. Maya needs to get a good general picture of adoptions in Haiti, not just adoptions through my eyes. Mansour is the Country Coordinator for Holt, another Hague accredited adoption agency. Over the years, Mansour and I have worked together on various political and legislative issues both here and in the U.S. He's a great guy. I have to keep laughing because the answers he gives make it look like he and I planned what we were each going to say in advance. All of the competent and ethical creches operate in extremely similar ways. We're pretty much interchangeable, and we all work together for a common goal. I'm told that it is different in other countries, but here in Haiti we're all on the same team fighting overwhelming odds. We have no energy left for infighting.