Monday, November 25, 2013

IBESR Issues First Referral Approvals Under the New Adoption Policies

She may have a family soon - no wonder she's smiling!
The following message is reprinted from a message sent to other Haitian adoption agencies with permission from the Kate Dodson of  All God's Children International:

"AGCI received our first official referral match from IBESR for a child living at our partner home Rivers of Hope.

Our first group of birth parents were invited to attend at a meeting at IBESR in the end of August. In early October our representative was notified to attended a meeting at IBESR where she discussed possible matches for children in the relinquishment process. Our representative reported that it was a very positive meeting and that IBESR was very receptive to her input on referral matches. 

Last week our representative received a phone call from IBESR stating that we have an official referral. IBESR handed us the official match document.

The family now has 15 days to submit a written response of acceptance to IBESR. Once that is complete we anticipate receiving travel dates and information for the family."


Thank you, Kate, for sharing such good news for waiting adoptive families all around the world, and far more importantly, waiting children in Haiti!

Waiting at the orphanage

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Help HAITI Act of 2010 Sunset Date (December 9, 2013)

The last day for families of children who entered the US on Humanitarian Parole following the earthquake to begin their path to citizenship under the auspices of the Help Haiti Act is fast approaching.  Any HP family who has not completed their child's citizenship process should do so immediately to protect their child's rights to citizenship!

The following is a message from the Department of Homeland Security:

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) invites you to participate in a stakeholder teleconference on Tuesday, November 26, 2013 from 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. (Eastern) to discuss the upcoming sunset date for the Help HAITI Act of 2010 and provide families of paroled Haitian orphans with information about filing for lawful permanent resident (LPR) status.

On December 9, 2010, President Obama signed into law the Help Haitian Adoptees Immediately to Integrate Act of 2010 (Help HAITI Act of 2010). This law made it possible for certain Haitian orphans paroled into the United States to become LPRs and obtain Green Cards. The Help HAITI ACT adjustment of status provision expires Monday, December 9, 2013.

For more information on the Help HAITI Act, please visit the Green Card Through the Help HAITI Act of 2010 page on www.uscis.gov.

To Register for this Session:
Please visit our registration page to confirm your participation. Be sure to provide your full name and organization by following these steps:

  1. Enter your email address and select “Submit”
  2. Select “Subscriber Preferences”
  3. Select the “Event Registration” tab
  4. Complete the questions and select “submit”

Once your registration is processed, you will receive a confirmation email with additional details.

You are encouraged to submit agenda items before the teleconference. You may do so on the event registration page or by emailing us at public.engagement@uscis.dhs.gov.
  
If you have any questions about the registration process, or if you have not received a confirmation email within two business days, please email us at Public.Engagement@uscis.dhs.gov.

We look forward to engaging with you!

Monday, November 18, 2013

A New Adoption Law for Haiti

On November 15th, 2013, Le Moniteur noted the publication of the New Adoption Law for Haiti.  We hope to have a complete text copy of the new law within a week or two.  We will update our new law translation as needed to reflect any changes.

It is the opinion of many adoption professionals who have reviewed the law that the Department of State is highly likely to evaluate Haiti's new adoption law and procedures as Hague compliant.  

This new law has been a long time coming, but we believe it is a huge step forward in the protection of the rights of all three members of the adoption triad.  Our thanks and praise to all of those who worked so hard to bring change and progress to Haitian adoptions!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Guest post by ABI Executive Director, Lucy Armistead: Seeking the TRUTH

As many readers have heard there has been quite the scandal brewing in Haiti with regard to adoptions being processed by an American run crèche.  I have been in Haiti with ABI’s Haiti Coordinator, Diana Boni, since October 7, 2013.  We were joined by several families who had been attempting to adopt or previously worked with the above mentioned crèche.  Diana requested that I write a guest post to explain a bit about what we have been doing while in Haiti. 

While ABI cannot attest to the accuracy of the stories that have been circulating about Giving Hope Rescue Mission (www.speakoutaboutgivinghoperescuemission.blogspot.com), we are quite concerned about the information we have received – much of which is not reflected on the above blog.  Adoptions are inherently scary, stressful and complex – the multitude of emotions experienced within the adoption process are profound and cannot be comprehended by those who have not “been there, done that”.  But one experience families should never encounter is fear of asking questions or fear of making the adoption “facilitator” angry!  Adoptive families are very likely to feel helpless and out of control during an adoption – the waiting stinks!  I get it – I’ve been there.  And when you are in that position you need support and compassion – not fear.

Having worked in adoptions since 1999, I have seen my fair share of bad/unethical practices within adoptions.  Sometimes those practices are done by naïve adoptive families who have not given full thought to the implications of offering financial support to a biological family.  Make no mistake there are anthropological changes that are made within a community when a child leaves home, is adopted abroad and then that child’s other birth siblings are suddenly able to attend school or other obvious changes occur to the family of origin’s socio economic situation. This can lead to another community member relinquishing a child for adoption abroad anticipating the same type of benefits – either way it changes the fabric of the community.  Please understand I am far from anti adoption.  Each and every day new advances are made that change the fabric of communities – we are constantly evolving and changing – sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.  Regardless though, these impacts must be acknowledged and considered as assessment is completed. 

Changing a community is delicate work that must be handled with cultural sensitivity, respect and caution.  Unfortunately, international adoption has often been handled in exact opposite ways.  Although we are focusing on the stories told in relation to the GHRM story (stories that we did not personally experience) – similar things have happened in countries all over the world throughout history.  In this particularly case, an American woman is alleged to have paid for children, lied to biological families about where the children would be, how long they would be there, the purposes of adoption, as well as made threats, buried bodies on property without appropriate investigation by the authorities, etc, etc.  The stories being relayed are gut wrenching and truly the most horrific allegations of bad practices I have heard. Ever.

For years I have envisioned a project that could convey the TRUTH about adoption practices- the reasons international adoptions are needed as an option for children, the ways cases can be completed ethically and with integrity, the grey areas that practitioners and parents must confront, the limitations to our current practices, ideas for increasing transparency and how to make things better.  Talking about adoption becomes a tangled mess of nuances involving – child development, family development, anthropological impact, mental health, socio-economic factors, women’s rights and empowerment, governmental authority, sociology, psychology, financial impact and on and on.  From the tragic circumstances of families confronting GHRM, it has opened up the door to the TRUTH project envisioned by ABI years ago.  A videographer accompanied us to Haiti and was able to film the stories of the families who are speaking out about their experience with GHRM.  Our video film project is intended to educate families and the general public on red flags in adoptions, how adoption work can be done well and a second video will be used as a training tool for adoption professionals to help accredited agency staff choose partners overseas with integrity, identify signs of problems, and gather resources and relationships to help advise when questionable practices are apparent.


We hope you will support us in this endeavor.  Donations are always appreciated and tax deductible.  ABI does a lot more than adoption work.  We take great pride in the advocacy we provide and plan to continue to provide.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Translation of the new adoption law

ABI is pleased to present a translation of the draft of the new adoption law as given to us by the US and Haitian governments.  To read the translated law in full, please go to our website.

Please note that the law will come into effect only after it is signed by the President, and published in Le Moniteur.  Only the exact text published in Le Moniteur can be considered a final version of the new law.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

If you wait long enough...


The new adoption law was passed by the Chamber of Deputies on Thursday, August 29th.  It has now passed both houses in its current form.  We do not know when the new law will be implemented, but there is speculation that that could occur in October or November.

I have attached a version of the new law here, and a rough translation of the adoptive parent criteria is on our blog, here.

Please note that the new law clearly designates international adoptions to be plenary, as is required by the Hague Convention.


Good news for many!!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Attorney Meeting

Summer in Haiti
The attorney I am facing is very good at his job. I haven’t spoken to him beyond the initial pleasantries, but his sheer size and impressive, dignified air would intimidate the heck out of any court. This is a guy I’d want on my side, and not against me.

I’m here to clarify a few points of the law for a few ‘repair’ cases we’re doing. Somehow ABI is a real magnet for repairing errors in independent adoptions and cases gone wrong. They’re usually difficult, often frustrating, and always very rewarding when we manage to set things right and adopted children can go home at last.

I learn from Met. Dumas that once an adoption decree has been issued by the courts, the adoptive parent has equal rights to the child as does the biological parent. Crèches are given the right to care for a child by the biological parent, but under the current law, any parent, biological or adoptive, may remove a child from a crèche at any time and place them in foster care or live with them as they choose.

I’ve been arguing this to DHS for quite some time, and it’s nice to hear in confirmed so emphatically. We have a number of cases, all under the old IBESR procedures, in which the children are not living at BRESMA. Moving them would not be in the best interest of the children, and I’ve made it clear I’ll fight anyone who tries to disrupt their lives more than they have been already. USCIS has sort of folded on this issue, so long as we follow certain procedures and the children do not live with their biological parents.

We have a useful and interesting meeting, and I leave better educated than I arrived. Next I’m off to BRESMA for some more relaxing time with my kids. I’ve arrived at nap time, but I manage to figure it out in time and not raise havoc in the toddler room. I am a bit of a destructive influence here.

Pool party!
The big kids are in the pool again, and Wislande is giving everyone their bath with soap out on the terrace. It’s practical, and a great way to cool down. One of our little girls is fast asleep in the pool with her head propped on the side, right by Wislande so that she can keep an eye on her charge. It’s so peaceful here that I could fall asleep too, if it weren’t for the noise. The girls are playing a game with poses and singing. “Lie down, get up, look at me, I’m a butterfly,” they chant together with hand gestures and motions. It’s adorable to see at least ten little girls in matching pink leotards doing their routine together.

I’ll head home tomorrow, torn by the forever guilt of splitting myself between two places. I missed my youngest child’s birthday on the first day of this trip. I’ve missed a lot for my own children at home in the States. Prom, important ball games, birthdays. But at least today I did not miss the butterfly dance. It will have to do, for now.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

IBESR Meeting, Part II

The BRESMA orphanage synchronized splashing team
Okay – maybe the stress wasn’t quite over. I had a splitting headache that woke me in the night, even more effectively than the rooster usually does. But I got some work done during the wee hours, so it’s not all bad.


Today I go back to IBESR to meet Mr. Pierre Diem, Technical Assistant to the Director of IBESR, and Christine Figaro, Technology Assistant to IBESR. As do many highly efficient go-getters, Mr. Diem talks very, very fast. I can’t understand a word the man is saying, even though I can understand everyone else in his office. So embarrassing! In frustration, he reveals that he speaks absolutely excellent English! Why is it that everyone down here likes to make me speak bad Kreyol when they can speak good English? I suspect that my accent and errors are quite amusing.

Anyway, I present our project in English. IBESR even has a wall projector, so it’s easy and goes reasonably well. I answer Ms. Figaro’s questions in Kreyol because she seems more comfortable with it and I sort of have to when we start talking tecchy stuff.

I am instructed to deliver a one page brief about the project, which I will do quickly. I’m feeling pretty optimistic. These two are young and capable and well placed to make things happen, and they understand the great need for the project. Fingers crossed that one year from now, when a mother comes to BRESMA seeking to place her children for adoption because she cannot feed them, we can send her home with a list of help available in her area and her own children to raise. All professionals in ethical adoption should devote time and energy to family preservation, until every child we serve is one who has no viable option to stay at home.

This meeting was much less stressful, but I still need a little fun. I ask Franck to take me to BRESMA.

Boys' turn to swim!
Wislande has all of the older kids on the back patio with the baby pool. It’s so hot I think I’m actually melting like the wicked witch of the west. We pull in, I climb out, and total pandemonium breaks out. At home, I’m just mom, but here, I’m a rock star! It makes me laugh. And the pool makes me jealous. Sure wish I’d brought my suit.

The kids are delighted and the older nannies are scandalized when I take off my sandals and climb right in. Wislande accepts it. That lady knows a good time when she sees one. The water is cold and I’m having my legs washed while wet little bodies embrace me from all sides. Life is good! It’s a sunny day! Hooray! What exactly was I stressed out about?

When I visit the baby room I am welcomed by several toddlers who couldn’t stand the sight of me last time. I guess they were just about to accept me as a friend, and I’ve come back soon enough that they remember. There is some delicious giggling going on in here when we play the ‘run up and get tickled and run away again’ game.


Possible future softball star
Our baby who is missing her hands shrieks at the sight of me, which thrills me to no end. Initially we thought that Sylvia was blind and deaf as well as having limb differences. We now know she can hear and see, and even recognize that I’m not someone she knows. Very good news! So much more hope for a baby girl who is meeting most of her developmental milestones.

Upstairs in the toddler room I am anointed by many small, sticky hands. Half a dozen children at once tell me to look at them right now, take a photo, show me the photo, and he took my toy. Everyone has something to say and nobody’s afraid of me today. That’s handy for assessing development. We have a lot of chatterboxes up here.
I take a few photos, examine a boo-boo or two, and let them know I’ll be back again tomorrow. This is where I belong. I sleep at the guesthouse, but BRESMA will always be home away from home for me.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Government Meetings

A drawing of the airplane
that will bring her home
I was so nervous about this meeting that I had multiple nightmares about it last night, each time about a different disaster. I forgot to show up, the meeting was supposed to occur over Skype and I was trying to give a presentation in Kreyol while people kept running in and out of the room making noise, and other mishaps. You get the gist.

But it isn’t that bad. I meet with Mme. Villedrouin, the Director of IBESR and Mr. Guillaume, IBESR’s primary legal counsel. I have met with both before various times, and they are very patient with my language skills. I do know that both speak English, but if they want me to use the language of the country I’m supposed to be serving I’ll do my level best.

I am here to present a research paper on referral methods utilized by Hague nations, with a focus on China. After ten years of international adoptions, China is moving towards a ‘One to One’ program for their older and special needs children. In this program, designated, trusted agencies are allowed to form relationships with specific orphanages. Personnel from the agency can visit the children and interact with them and their caretakers. The orphanage and agency work in partnership to identify, prepare, and train families specifically for each child’s needs. The Central Authority retains the power to examine and approve or disapprove each match. Sound familiar? It’s what Haiti has been doing for years. If we add in that only IBESR can declare a child eligible for adoption, we remove the risk of coercion and trafficking as children come into care.

I have no idea what Mme. Villedrouin and Mr. Guillaume think of ‘my proposition’, as they refer to the paper, which I did not write. But Mme. Villedrouin immediately understands my difficulty as I tell her about a baby we have in care at BRESMA, given to us by IBESR, who has no fingers. She needs a special family. I need to be allowed to actively search for one, and to suggest the family and child match outside of the quota. She has a big soft spot for children with special needs. I now believe I will be allowed to recruit a family. I’m waiting for instructions from IBESR about exactly what information about my baby I will be allowed to share publicly, and how to present the combined dossier to IBESR once I find the right family for her.

We discuss the database project ABI is offering to the Haitian government in cooperation with Empowered Media. I am invited to return tomorrow to present the project to the technical assistant tasked with implementing IBESR mandates. I’m excited about working with this man as I’ve met him before and I know that he is highly intelligent and proactive. He’s the sort of guy who gets things done, which is exactly who he needs to be.

Finally, we must discuss a subject that causes me great discomfort. Apparently IBESR has received a number of falsified dossiers recently. Altered birth certificates, altered marriage certificates, home studies that state there are no biological children when in fact there are. These deceptions can be caught by comparing the dossier IBESR has with the one USCIS has, and this is just what has occurred. We reiterate how exceptions to the law happen: almost never.

(Future) all-American girls at AUBE creche
ABI is working one exception case right now. It involves a single mother who is 33 rather than 35. She is adopting a twelve year old she rescued from a restavek situation while living in Haiti for an extended period. In this case, IBESR came to one of my partners and explicitly asked her to work the case. That is how an exception works. In the past five years, I personally am only aware of one other besides this one. They are VERY, VERY rare, and if you didn’t go to IBESR to ask for one in person for the good of a specific child, or if IBESR didn’t come to the crèche with your case, you probably aren’t going to get one.

Otherwise, families must include at least one person age 35 or older, and must be able to demonstrate 10 years of living under the same roof. Presidential Dispensation is ONLY for biological children. By law, it cannot be used for age or length of marriage. Lalwa se lalwa!

I explain to Mme. Villedrouin that I am not at all sure that the adoptive parents were complicit in altering their dossiers. She says it doesn’t matter. Falsified is falsified, and it is unacceptable. “Fini” is the word she uses. I am cringing for any innocent family who does not meet the current law, and has a dossier presented that says that they do.

Next I meet my partner and our attorney at USCIS to go over some legal details on a few cases where we are cleaning up some dossier paperwork issues on cases that transferred to us from independent adoptions. US Immigrations law forbids the direct transfer of a child from their biological parents to an adoptive parent. The child must be unequivocally abandoned to qualify as an ‘orphan’ under US law. USCIS and DOS are also unable to accept documents that state persons (i.e. adoptive parents) were present in court at times when in fact they were not.

The good news is that USCIS is very much dedicated to helping families bring their adopted children home, so long as there was no deliberate fraud or coercion involved. The discussion switches to French, and my partners explain exactly what is and is not possible. USCIS will allow us the time we need to help our families and I suspect we’re going to see happy endings for each case.

I return to the guesthouse, my high stress meeting behind me, to much joyful noise. What a terrific family. They help me remember why we do this work. Gone are the three timid, unhappy little girls who left Haiti years ago, replaced by confident young women who are proud of their heritage and their new brothers.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Back in Haiti - Again!

A small friend welcomes me 'home'
I arrive to the usual greetings at the guesthouse, and I ask Sherley if she missed me. She tells me that of course she did. I ask her how that is possible, as I just left Haiti 15 days ago. Yep – 15 days. I didn’t even hang my clothes back up. They went right back into my suitcase. When IBESR calls, I come!


We have an English speaking European family staying here with their three daughters, previously adopted from Haiti, and their two new sons who should be going home with them shortly. The kids are delightful! I remember the girls from when they were very small, and the boys remember me from my visit two weeks ago.

The family speaks a lot of Kreyol, and it makes the adjustment a lot easier for their almost four year old boy. Wally Turnbull’s Kreyol Made Easy! Buy it!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

IBESR Announcement

A notice was posted yesterday at IBESR. The translation below was provided by Isabelle Gallemaert, professional translator:

"IBESR general direction , considering the repeated request of children's homes managers, lawyers or lawyers offices to take into particular consideration the dossiers of children with special needs already matched under the former procedure;

Considering that the said dossiers couldn't be transmitted to the Adoption Services before the deadline of January 15th 2013, for several reasons;

Considering that in the interest of these children, it is necessary not to deprive them from the affection of their future adoptive parents with whom they are already in contact;

Consequently, the general direction decides to authorize the direction of social work and the administration to give instruction to the relevant departments to exceptionally receive these dossiers and whose consent has been given by the parents before the Justice of Peace prior to January 15 2013 , the 17, 20 and 21st of May being the deadline.

Managers of children's homes, lawyers or lawyers offices interested by this question are required to contact the adoption service regarding the modalities of instruction of these dossiers, according the new procedure.

Arielle Jeanty Villedrouin"


ABI has no further information and cannot speculate on exactly what the notice means on a practical level.  Families adopting with other agencies or orphanages are encouraged to contact the staff of those organizations for further information.

Friday, April 26, 2013

IBESR Rumors

Some of you may have heard that IBESR officials are stating that IBESR will accept certain dossiers either outside of the quota or under the old policies. We are aware that IBESR has in fact made this statement. The first public announcement that this action was under consideration was made on April 3rd during a meeting with Mme.Villedrouin, the Director of IBESR, and a leadership committee of the Haitian Crèche Directors’ Association. At that meeting, Mme. Villedrouin stated that IBESR would email the crèche directors with the details. This has not occurred.

Additional reliable people have since reported to ABI that IBESR personnel continue to state that some dossiers will be accepted above and beyond the quota. However, IBESR has yet to issue a written statement or any details regarding the additional dossiers. We do not know how many may be submitted, what the criteria are for their acceptance of those dossiers, or when (or if) the submissions might occur.
Here are things that we do NOT know yet:
Which additional dossiers will be accepted – those in Haiti before a certain date? Only those allied with IBESR accredited agencies/currently re-licensed crèches?
  • When will these dossiers be allowed – for two days next week? For an unspecified period of time?
  • How dossiers many will be accepted – five per crèche? Five per agency? ALL of them that arrived in Haiti between October 31st and January 15th? All dossiers that are currently in country?
  • We have no idea whether dossiers of families adopting independently with no agency will be accepted (not the problem of anyone receiving this email).
  • We have no idea whether any of this at all will come to pass!
At this point, there is much more that we don’t know than that we do. We will keep you updated as we learn factual information regarding the situation.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Pou AYITI, Mon Amour

The following post is a gift from an adoptive mother who has served as a full-time NGO staff member in Haiti:

Lost in the meandering roads of Pacot, one would have never thought to find an orphanage hidden behind high brick walls. Behind the white gate you could hear the voices of crying children anxiously waiting for their needs to be met. With grave anticipation, I knocked on the door afraid of what awaited me.

One year before, I encountered several orphanages that should have been condemned even before the earthquake for their festering smell and worn out shelters that needed one more minor earthquake to finally collapse. Its children were such mournful creatures that stared at you in bewilderment wondering your purpose for visiting. My boss was crazy to even think that we could improve the sanitation of these orphanages. Now looking back, I had no eyes for compassion, but only disgust for the conditions before me.

I looked at the silent child who had been handed to my care and thought, “Lord, when this door opens, I am going to change the life of this child for better or for worse.” No sooner had my heart plunged into dismay, a friendly hand and a kind voice opened the white painted metal door and ushered us in. I looked around me flabbergasted at how clean and orderly the place was. The white building stood firm and welcoming and it matched the demeanor of its mistress. She kindly showed me around and I was greeted by curious children and kind caregivers. God truly answered my prayers the night before when I asked him for surety that my child would be left in safe hands. The ambience of this orphanage had assured me and I left Ayiti with a calm heart.

When I returned again seven months later in Ayiti, a country of love and turmoil, I was amazed by the devotion that Madame Sonia put into the direction and running of her orphanage. Her assistant, Madame Michelle’s kindness especially warms the heart and sways you that God's little ones are in good hands. Although she chatters away quickly in Creole leaving you lost in translation of what she said on her previous sentence, the kindness of her eyes and the touch of her gentle hands reassures you that she has your child's best interest at heart. The caregivers are no less important as they take every moment to make each child feel a sense of importance and security. The whitewashed building of Au Bonheur des Enfants and its sanitized smell comforts you that infectious diseases are not welcomed there. Melissa's ability to now read and the quick smile that one can sometimes steal on her face, show that she is loved and cared for. Though her quiet behavior and sadness at times makes you wonder, "Lord, what has happened to this child that has taken her speech away," God in turns reminds you; "My child, I have brought you here for this very purpose to see my love, for my love covers all." I left Ayiti in peace knowing that my Adonai has everything in the palm of his hands and Melissa will soon join me and together, we shall celebrate her homecoming in joy and laughter.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Good News for Argentinian Families!

The new IBESR policies require that all adoptive families work with an IBESR accredited agency in their home country.  Unfortunately, this left the families of Argentina with no options as no agency was accredited in their country.

Yesterday, IBESR announced the accreditation of Asociación por nuestra infancia de Argentina to assist with Haitian adoptions for Argentinean citizens.

Thank you to Margarette Saint Fleur and Mar Grayner for your tenacity in ensuring that the valuable resource of Argentinean homes are not denied to Haitian children in need of permanency!

Hola a todos y todas,


Ayer por la tarde, hora haitiana, APNI (Asociación por nuestra infancia de Argentina) fue acreditada por el IBESR para colaborar en la adopción de menores haitianos por parte de familias argentinas.

Ha sido un largo camino que empezamos hace más de un año (en Haití) y que por fin a concluido con éxito.

Damos las gracias a todos los que nos han ayudado a que esto fuera posible, a todos los que han creído en nosotros, a todos los que nos han escuchado cuando todo parecía perdido. Habéis sido muchos y por ello también estamos agradecidos, contar con gente como vosotros a nuestro lado es emocionante.

Nuestra alegría es seguir ayudando a los niños de Haití en los orfanatos y escuelas.

Un abrazo a todos,

Laura Gómez y Mar Granyer

Directoras de APNI Internacional



Salut à tous et toutes,

Hier par l'après-midi, une heure haïtienne, APNI (l'Association notre enfance de l'Argentine) a été accrédité par l'IBESR pour collaborer dans l'adoption de mineurs haïtiens de la part des familles argentines.

C'était un long chemin que nous commençons fait plus d'un an, (en Haïti), et qu'enfin à fini avec succès.

Nous remercions tous ceux qui nous ont aidé à que cela était possible, à tous ceux qu'il existe le confiant dans nous, à tous ceux qui nous ont écoutés quand tout semblait perdu. Vous avez été beaucoup et par cela nous sommes aussi remerciés, raconter des gens comme vous à notre côté il est émouvant.

Notre joie est de continuer d'aider les enfants de la Haïti en orphelinats et écoles.

Une embrassade à tous,

Laura Gómez y Mar Granyer

Directoras de APNI Internacional



Hello everybody,

Yesterday on the evening, Haitian hour, APNI (Association for our infancy of Argentina) was accredited by the IBESR to collaborate in the adoption of Haitian minors on the part of Argentine families.

It has been a long way that we begin more than one year ago, (in Haiti), and that finally to concluded successfully.

We want to give thanks to all those who have helped us to that this was possible, to all those who have believed in us, to all those who have listened to us when everything seemed to be lost. You have been a great many people and for it also we are grateful, to have people as you to our side it is exciting.

Our happiness is to continue helping the children of Haiti in the orphanages and schools.

Love from,

Laura Gómez y Mar Granyer

Directoras de APNI Internacional

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Jacmel

City of Jacmel
Our last day of our trip. Marg and I cross the mountains to go to Jacmel, a beautiful old city by the sea. Marg’s agency is completing several adoption cases handed to them by their Central Authority when another adoption agency shut down.

We arrive in time for the end of church services. A young woman greets us in such fluent English that I ask her if she has ever studied in the United States. She stammers, laughs, and denies having left Haiti. The music in the main room is exquisite – a small band comprised of teens who live here accompany the children and teenagers singing passionate hymns in rich, glorious harmony. Haitian church leaves every church, temple, or other place of worship I’ve visited in the United States cold. These children are on fire with passion for the words they sing. Eyes closed, hands lifted they worship God with a devotion and adoration that denies all suffering and celebrates the gifts that they do have. Marg is just as touched as I am.

The young woman who welcomed us gives a short sermon written for young children about leadership, and how we set an example to others all the time even when we fail to act when we should. It speaks to me, as I often wish I could do much less of the advocacy work that I do. It is hard. But it is necessary, and it would seem that I was the one picked to do it. At least for now. We have a motto in our family: “you don’t have to like it, you just have to do it.” I must keep reciting that to myself as I wish for a simpler life in which my mistakes are less costly to others.

The church gathering breaks up. We are examined with mild curiosity before the children scatter to more interesting pursuits. We are give the grand tour. This is a very nice facility, with plenty of space and even open land around the buildings. The kids go outside the complex to go to school every day. Our guide explains that the birth families are only permitted to visit three times per year. However, in this orphanage, a lot of thought has been given to an exit strategy for each child. The teenagers are conscientiously being trained in useful, marketable skills. I’m shown tile laid by one young man who is almost finished with his apprenticeship. Some of the girls sew beautiful bags and make uniforms for their orphanage siblings. Uniform sewing is a much needed skill in Haiti. One ‘graduate’ is currently in medical school in the Dominican Republic!

Project House Above Jacmel
I’d still rather see a model where these kids went home on weekends and holidays, but at least I can see that they’ll have a future.

Jacmel is one of those places where we can see what a paradise Haiti could be. On the way home, we ask our driver to take us someplace for lunch. He asks if we want to get ‘little food’ or a ‘big lunch’. I tell him I’d like Marg to really enjoy her meal and that I want to be very sure that the food is safe. He knows just where to take us.

We have lunch on a hotel terrace overlooking the glittering turquoise Caribbean sea. The breeze is mild, the temperature perfect. Between the waves and the wind and all of the good food, I can hardly stay conscious. Give me a hammock and I’ll be set for the afternoon! But tomorrow we must fly home, so reluctantly we bid farewell to a paradise to rival any in the islands. This interlude was a glimpse of what we can all hope for Haiti.

The View From the Hotel Terrace



Saturday, March 9, 2013

A Day at Home

Guess which one is the naughty twin?
This morning I met with the directors of a small, independent orphanage regarding a pre-identified adoption. We’re considering very few of these, as IBESR discourages them and each one must be presented on a case by case basis. This case is worth fighting for. The family has travelled to Haiti again and again, by themselves, over several years and the children are older. They have nowhere else to go, having been abandoned years before at the orphanage. We still have some very intimidating logistics to try to work out, but it’s worth trying in this case. If we can ever get to the point, between the quota and legal requirements, of presenting the case, I think I’ll be able to argue convincingly why these older kids should have a strong say in who their parents should be.


In the afternoon it’s back to BRESMA to play with the rather intimidating number of children already in care for whom I am responsible for finding families, and finding a way to submit the dossiers of those families. The pressure is overwhelming, the stakes very high. Failure is not an option. I have now seen the alternative up close and personal and I will never forget it.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Thomassin

Thomassin Kids
I’m still shell shocked after yesterday, so I am deeply grateful my ‘public’ appearances for this trip are over. If I drift off into a state of blank and helpless ruminations, nobody around me is going to ask me why.


Marg and I drive up into the mountains to visit yet another foreign funded orphanage – this one supported by Canadians. It’s beautiful up here. The house is large and well provisioned, and the children in care are obviously healthy and content. They even show off on their bicycles for us. The orphanage sends then alternate years to a school to learn English and then to a Haitian school to catch up on the basics.

I am told that all of the children here have biological families living. These families are allowed to visit them a few times each year. Many more families would like to place their children in the orphanage.

This is so common in Haiti. These children are getting a fine education, food, medical care. They live in health and safety. They’ll leave this place at eighteen knowing how to read and write in three languages, perform mathematical operations, and have a background in science and social studies. I wonder how they will possibly know how to actually function in Haitian society? How to be a wife, and husband, a mother a father? How to find a job, when most jobs in Haiti come from personal connections and they won’t have any? Are they better off in this isolated, idealized house so separated from Haitian reality than they would have been in desperate poverty but real families? I don’t know. But I do worry. I just can’t see how orphanages such as this, that strive to break family connections instead of functioning as a charitable boarding house while children go to school and go home for summers and weekends, is helping them for the future as well as the present.

I’m stepping off my soap box now. Thousands of American, European, and Canadian sponsored orphanages aren’t listening anyway. But hopefully they are thinking hard about what will become of the children they take in as they grow into adults and must find a way to survive in the Haitian economy.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Starfish

Have you heard the starfish story? I won’t tell it again here, but you can read up on it all around the world and the web. Here’s a link.

I live that story. I live it so hard that I have a starfish tattooed on my arm so that I never forget it. My arm has been strong and sure and it’s thrown almost every little starfish I’ve picked up back to safety, either with his first family or a new one.

Today, our efforts fell short.

If you are a sensitive person, you might want to stop reading here. I sure wish I could stop writing here. I wish I knew less about failure, and who pays for our failures.

Tonight I watched a child die. From six feet away, I watched his soul leave his body while a frenzy of people coaxed and begged it to remain. Do you know what a dead child looks like? Small. Very small, and empty.

After our IBESR meeting, we all turned our phones back on. Immediately Margarette got a call from Franck that one of our toddlers was in the hospital. I had seen K. the day before, and knew that he was sick. He had some sort of intestinal virus. Just to be cautious, Margarette had taken him to the doctor and our nurse had him on IV fluids. We weren’t worried about him. He looked uncomfortable, but still alert and ready to get out of his crib.

The crèches I work with all have a ‘safe rather than sorry’ policy about medical care. If the staff think a child is sick, they are to go to the doctor or the hospital first and check with someone about it later. Far better an unnecessary bill than a really sick kiddo.

We stopped by the guesthouse to let Marg off, and I decided to come with Margarette to the hospital mostly out of curiosity. I had not been to the General Hospital before. It’s about five minutes walk from BRESMA, but we so rarely have children admitted (because of all of the preventative care we do) that I hadn’t visited.

I remember that we were still talking about the IBESR meeting in the car, focused on the business of the day as we made what we thought was going to be a routine check in on a child having his IV line reinserted. We were so wrong.

Our first clue as to the seriousness of the situation was Wislande, a very young nanny who has been working at BRESMA since before the earthquake. It was Wislande who carried the little boy to the hospital in her arms. She is a very empathetic, loving young woman who adores the children she cares for. Wislande is beside herself. I’ve never seen her like this before. I feel an itchy tingle of fear, but she is young and emotional.

In the hospital room, K. looks tinier than ever in the stark white bed. A doctor is instructing a nurse who seems to be having a terrible time getting an IV needle into him. I’m not surprised. K. came to us severely malnourished – emaciated with dry, fine red hair. There’s so little of him there, even after months of nutrition. Starvation takes a long time to reverse.

The nurse is endlessly patient, trying his arms and even his legs to find a vein. K. calls out, and Wislande moves into his field of vision to soothe and comfort him. The hospital staff chatter in the background, relaxed. Just another day at work. Finally, the nurse finds a vein and hooks in the IV. All is peaceful. For about three minutes.

The hospital room blurs into action and my brain freezes up. I can’t digest the rapid fire Kreyol whirling around me, but I do know what chest compressions and an oxygen mask look like. Margarette and I look at each other. She looks like a deer in the headlights - eyes huge and panicked. I imagine I look just the same. This cannot be happening. K. was doing just fine less than thirty hours ago!

Wislande rushes out of the room in tears. I am still paralyzed. I watch, stunned as the doctor and a whole team of nurses labor feverishly over a child that weighs less than thirty pounds, with legs like a fragile cricket and the soul of a human being in his fragile and failing body. And then it’s gone. Just like that. The staff keep trying, but I can tell by looking at their faces that they know he’s gone. His little heart, no doubt just as wasted from his early starvation as his tiny arms and legs, simply gave out.

Six children have died in BRESMA’s care over the past ten years. Dixie Bickel at God’s Littlest Angels has lost many, many more as she uses her in-house NICU to battle death for the frailest of the frail. You’d think that living in Haiti, surrounded by so much death and human misery, these women would have grown shells around their hearts. But they have not.

Margarette is beside herself, crying hysterically in a chair in the hallway when at last I am able to move and stumble from the now silent hospital room. K.’s body is so tiny without him in it anymore. I still feel complete disbelief. This couldn’t have happened. Not really. Could it? He was just fine yesterday. We were talking about taking him off the IV because he wanted to get up and play with the other children. Can we rewind time, go back to yesterday, change something so that today never comes?

Of course not. What’s done is done. We have failed this tiny boy in the most unforgivable way possible. We have failed to save his very life.

Margarette and I each have a family to contact to let them know that they have lost a son.

It should never have happened. No child should die of starvation on a planet of such bounty and excess. I know that it happens every day in Haiti, but today, it happened to K. God rest your sweet soul, baby boy.

IBESR Meeting

Manmi Wislande and a Young Friend
It’s funny – as I write this, I realize that I am a different person than the one who set out this morning intending to take some cute kid photos and attend a policy meeting. I’d anticipated a lot of fun in the morning and a frustrating afternoon, which is in fact part of what I got.


Marg and I went to AUBE first, where I took photos of all of ‘my’ kids and a dozen or so new ones. IBESR asked Sonia to come and get a LOT of new babies to care for, just after our agency’s accreditation was announced but before they told us about the quota. We now have a shocking number of hungry little mouths to feed, and no good prediction as to when we’ll be able to place them with families.

Marg makes good friends with a baby boy who arrived at just one day of age. He’s a lucky guy. Growing up here, he’s right on target developmentally and a very happy baby! Marg ponders if she could stuff him in her large purse for the flight home. I’ve had the same thought many times myself!

Several years ago the adoption case of one of my favorite little squishlets ever was taking forever. As I was unpacking my suitcase and Ti Fafann was standing in it anyway, I asked her if she would like to ride home in my suitcase. She said she would. I asked her if she could be very quiet. She answered, “No. I will sing!” So we had to do it the official way. Still – it’s tempting! (Please Note – ABI’s Director said that I must specifically state that this is all said in a joking manner and I would never participate in actual child smuggling! )

Next we go to IBESR. Sonia, Marg and I arrive early as the Crèche Directors’ Association email had asked us to, but we are the only ones. The planning meeting we’d hoped to have in advance does not occur.

IBESR has made some improvements. There is a large, newly constructed meeting room at the back of the complex. A brand new generator hums away in a nearby shed, explaining the constant electricity I noted on my last few visits. We file into the meeting room which fills up fast. I know a lot of the people here, which I suppose isn’t surprising.

Chris Nungester sits behind us with a friend who is going to translate for her. I beg her to talk loudly so we can listen in. Neither Margarette or Sonia have the peculiar skill of listening in one language and repeating what they hear in another at the same time. I can assure you from personal experience that it’s a LOT harder than it looks!

The meeting, once it begins, is just as contentious as I had expected. Most of the crèche directors have not accepted the new policies. Some of the terms feel offensive to them – particularly the prohibition restricting licensed agencies from sending post-placement reports directly to the crèches. After caring for a child for one or two years or even longer, these people have a vested interest in knowing how each child fares. I’ve read those regulations carefully. They do state that we agencies are FORBIDDEN to send those official post-placement reports to the crèches. But I sure don’t see anything forbidding a friendly letter and photo exchange, so that’s what I plan to beg all of my families to provide as a kindness to those who give so much to help their children when they need it the most.

I so wish I could speak French! At one point in the meeting, a crèche director makes a statement, Mme. Villedrouin responds, and suddenly fifty people are on their feet shouting at her in French. When things finally quiet down enough that I can make myself heard, I ask Margarette what happened. Apparently the crèche director told Mme. Villedrouin that when they send children home to biological families whose situations have not changed, they are dead within three months. Mme. Villedrouin replied that that was not true, and that is why everyone is shouting. It is true, and they’ve all seen it. It’s possible to insulate yourself from some of the raw suffering of Haiti, but most of the people in this room have chosen not to do so.

This moment during the meeting is forever frozen in my mind, given what happened later this night.

After the meeting I speak very briefly with the young woman from the Hague Permanent Bureau. I’m lucky – her English is impeccable. She and I have similar concerns about what I consider the most critical issues in the new policies, and it’s reassuring to hear that the HPB is communicating the very message to IBESR regarding those issues that I would speak myself, given the opportunity.

As the HPB lady says, “Change is hard.” They’ve seen resistance to new policies before. Perhaps I’m a perpetual optimist, but I believe that this change can be good overall, despite the early difficulties of implementation.

So we left the meeting at peace, in blissful ignorance of what was happening for one of our little ones...

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Official Meetings and Opinionated Women

Sterline Giggles
Meetings day. I go to see both Department of State and United States Immigration and Citizenship Services at the U.S. Embassy. DOS has had a complete staff turnover since my last visit, and I have not been ‘passed down’. This means that I must explain (again) what my position with the Joint Council means and what I can do to assist DOS in their work.


DOS has a new young woman specifically assigned to the orphan Visa cases. It is a tremendous responsibility to be the absolute last barrier between illegal adoption and a child leaving Haiti without the proper procedures being followed.

My next meeting is much more casual. The USCIS Field Office Director and I have met many times over the years. He’s really, really good at his job. After ten years I’ve seen a variety of Field Office Directors come and go. They have ranged from fearful and ineffective to absolutely heroic. This one is cautious, a stickler for proper procedure, and also very compassionate. It’s a shame that he won’t be permanent either.

We discuss the new IBESR policies, the new laws, and rumors of incorrect adoptions processing. We are both hopeful that the required involvement of Hague accredited agencies in all adoptions from here on out will protect adoptive parents as well as Haitian children.

I return to the guest house to find a message from the Crèche Directors Association sent to a number of our colleagues. There will be a meeting at IBESR tomorrow for the crèche directors and the visiting Hague Permanent Bureau delegation. I have a feeling that it will be highly charged and contentious. It will also be conducted in French, which means I’ll understand about every third word.

I give Gladys Thomas, who is the President of the Crèche Directors’ Association, a call to discuss a variety of matters, and she encourages me to crash the meeting even though she won’t be present. I can’t refuse an invitation like that – I’ll be there!

We go to BRESMA again to amuse the kids and ourselves, and I focus on getting good photos for waiting families. There are kids here who like to be photographed even less than I do, so it’s a real challenge. It’s fun to watch how they react to Marg. Some people just understand children!

Diana Boni, Chareyl Moyes, Marg Harrington, and Kathi Juntunen
In the evening we head up to the rebuilt Hotel Montana for a meeting of Haiti warriors. I had planned to meet Chareyl Moyes of Wasatch adoptions before I ever came on this trip, but we’ve expanded the party. Of course I’m bringing Marg along, and Chareyl has a treat for me – she’s bringing Kathi Juntunen of Chances for Children. It’s absolutely thrilling for me to meet another American running an orphanage in Haiti the right way. Chances for Children is properly licensed and aware that their first duty is to keep families intact. Kathi earns a LOT of frequent flyer miles making sure that funds go where they’re supposed to go and human lives are handled with care.

Our supper is long and highly opinionated and joyful, as might be expected when bringing together four women who have dedicated their entire lives to doing things the hard way.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Road Construction

The New Building
As usual, I’m hitting the ground running. This time I am travelling with Marg Harrington of Sunrise Family Services, BC, Canada. This is Marg’s first trip to Haiti, but certainly not her first international trip. She’s been all over the world!


We arrived yesterday afternoon, and Marg told me that Port-au-Prince reminds her of cities in developing nations all over the world. Today it hardly reminds me of itself. The new mayor of Delmas seems to be very civically minded. There is massive road construction everywhere. In my ten years of visiting Haiti, I’ve seen occasional pot hole filling. This is major construction: bulldozers, steamrollers, dump trucks! Concrete roadways! Amazing!

At the moment it’s a dusty disaster – the air is so choked that at times it’s hard to see, and no one has set up any ‘ti komers’ (streetside vending) by the sides of these roads. But it’s going to be worth the temporary mess to have real, paved roads in Port-au-Prince.

We’ve heard a rumor that there’s a Dispensation list at IBESR. Because this is Haiti, we’re going there to read it for ourselves. That’s just the way it is. Marg decides to tag along. I will try to introduce her to the IBESR executive staff and she can get a look at where it all happens.

As always, the building is crowded and busy. Unfortunately the staff to whom I had hoped to introduce Marg are all gone, meeting with the Hague Permanent Bureau staff who are here from Holland this week. Margarette ducks into the adoptions unit room to read the list. She returns with good news and bad news – three AUBE kids are out. Two have been waiting for almost a YEAR. Unfortunately one BRESMA sibling group of three who has waited just as long is not on the list. There is nothing we can do – it’s very frustrating, and once again I’m about to face these kids and tell them I don’t know when their adoption will be finished.

Marg and I peek into a few offices. UNICEF has built up IBESR over the past few years. There is now electricity all of the time, and many of the offices have a computer or two. But there is still much lacking, even such simple things as domain-based email (as in, myname@ibesr.com). IBESR is in urgent need of technical assistance given with respect and focus on their needs as a department of a sovereign government.

Next, we’re off to BRESMA. Our new construction is almost finished. It’s been almost finished for a long, long time… This reminds me of when we had a house built for us once, long ago. It seems like the finish work took longer than building the darn thing. But it’s going to be spectacular when it’s done. Clean, bright, spacious, and safe.

We climb the many stairs of our hillside property to enter the old building at the top floor, where the little ones stay. As always, I’m struck by how wrong this is. Like a daycare center where no parents ever come. All those little eyes. All those warm little bodies. Every one of them fed and cared for and dressed in pretty clothes and lacking what they need more than any of what we give them – a family.

Marg is surprised at how many young children we have in care. So am I. We’ve had a lot of new arrivals. I see a lot of red hair and fragile, dry, discolored skin. It will fade with time and nutrition, but several of the new children have seen a lot of hardship in a very short time on earth.


Marg and Friends

Friday, January 25, 2013

Shakeup

Good thing yesterday was quiet. Today has me spinning in circles…

In the morning I go to IBESR to pick up our accreditation paperwork. Because I work with Joint Council and have a list of questions compiled from all the US agencies, I’m allowed to meet very briefly with one of IBESR’s attorneys to get some answers for us. That’s when I find out about the quota.

IBESR has imposed a quota on how many adoptive family dossiers they will accept per country, per agency, and per month. And for the U.S., it works out to ONE DOSSIER per agency per month. I can completely understand why they do not want to be flooded when they are deeply concerned about their capacity to effectively screen families and protect children, but I already have at least 18 children awaiting placement today! What are we supposed to do with them all? The total quota is for 800 children per year to be adopted from Haiti. Unfortunately, this is far, far fewer than the number found abandoned each year. It simply won’t meet the needs.

The attorney with whom I am meeting explains that this is a pilot program – they don’t know how thing will look in the end, but they need to be certain that IBESR doesn’t bite off more than it can chew. I can see both sides of this issue clearly, but mostly I see that the orphanage directors are in a heck of a fix. We all have more than twelve children come in to care each year. In fact, IBESR gave Sonia TEN abandoned babies last weekend! They can’t live at AUBE until they are eighteen. They all need families.

I leave IBESR deeply distressed and relay what I have learned to the three crèche directors in our van. Chaos erupts. I don’t think the crèche directors are going to be able to accept the pilot program working this way. It’s simply not feasible. There will have to be some adjustments. We’ll offer some logistical support from Joint Council to help IBESR streamline their process and get the job done right, but more efficiently.

I read in the car to try to quiet my buzzing head as we drive out of the city and west to Petit Goave. We’re visiting birth parents today. Margarette and I are here to explain to a birth mother (again!) that we were not kidding when we told her that her children would not come back to Haiti when they turn eighteen. She told USCIS that this is what she believed would happen, and naturally this is unacceptable for Immigrations.

In the van with us is a young French man in his mid twenties and his wife. Francois was adopted from Haiti as a small boy. He knew he was from the Petit Goave area, and he contacted an orphanage director to conduct a search for his biological family. Today he will see where his birth mother lives.


Petit Goave house
 We visit a little house constructed of woven slats with canvas stapled to the outside, with a compressed plastic material roof. It was built by a relief group after the quake, and is home to Francois’s mother now. On the floor on a mattress lies a man who we learn to be Francois’ older brother. His limbs are twisted into the fetal position, wasted and useless. Somehow his mother has kept him alive. The brothers speak softly in French, Francois tall and strong and healthy, his brother so much less fortunate. It’s very hard to watch. Life is not fair, and much less so in Haiti.


Outdoor kitchen
 We visit our confused birth parent as well. My partner can be a bit of a hot head. When the birth mother denies ever having been told that adoption was permanent, Margarette asks her if she knows how to read. She replies indignantly that she does indeed. Margarette discusses the document that the mother read, was read to her, and that she signed with is crystal clear about exactly what adoption means, including the specific statement that the children will never move back to Haiti. Tempers rise, and soon there is a great deal of shouting and some name calling going on between various members of the community, the pastor, the biological family, and Margarette. We’re getting nowhere, so I beg everyone to be quiet.

I speak softly to the mother, who I know darn well knew exactly what she was doing when she relinquished her children for adoption. I’ve sat through dozens of intake meetings, and I know for certain that the BRESMA staff explains in excruciating detail about the permanence of adoption. This mother was even sent home with her children to think about it for a week before she came back to relinquish them.

I explain to her that she has the power to stop this adoption right now, and that the children can be home with her within days. She does not have to place them for adoption and nobody can make her. We don’t want to try to make her. If she can provide for her children, she should raise them herself. I explain that the only person who knows her children better than she does is God himself, and that she needs to make a decision about what is best for them. The only thing that matters is what is best for the children. I don’t think this is at all what she was expecting to hear from this strange white woman. I ask her to think about it and pray about it and do whatever is best for her sons, because only she can decide what is best. She can let us know what her wishes are in a few days. (She called Margarette only three days later to say she had decided that she wanted the children to be adopted after all.)

We start back down the mountain, stopping briefly to visit the new orphanage sponsored by Hands and Feet. The children here were originally in an orphanage so terrible that is was closed down by the government. Hands and Feet has stepped in to give these children safety, hope, and a future. They are all thriving and it’s hard to believe how dire their situation once was. Michelle Meese talks to me about the chicken farming project they’re starting as an experiment. They’re always looking for enterprises for the children to take on as the grow up. They can’t live here forever. They must become productive, self-sufficient members of Haitian society.

At last we head into the city in the dark, stopping only to pick up some street food for the ride. It’s been a long and exhausting day, and I feel completely overwhelmed. The ladies urge me to relax and let things take care of themselves. Or at least have some patience in taking care of them. As a wise friend once told me, we must all do the best we can, and after that it’s out of our hands.

Tomorrow I leave for the States and the 250+ emails stacked up in my inbox. As Dixie Bickel titles her blog, “And life goes on.”

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Visiting Day

Today I paid Denis to take me up the mountains to visit our other two partners, Dr. Jacob Bernard at New Life Link and Dixie Bickel at God’s Littlest Angels. Both crèches are located in the hills above the city, in cool and beautiful surroundings. Visiting up here is always a treat, both because of the company and the scenery.

I stop by Dr. Bernard’s home first. He and Claudette operate a large guest house/ small hotel. Since the earthquake, Dr. Bernard uses a good sized auxiliary building to house his children. During the quake they were miles away from him, down in the city, and I believe he is still traumatized by the experience of being unable to reach them to protect them for an extended period of time. He’ll never have them so far from him again.

We pass a pleasant morning chatting about the changes in the procedures and what they might mean. Suddenly remembering that I used to work in IT, Dr. Bernard drafts me into sitting with him to update his website for a few hours. Anything for a friend!

Next it’s on to GLA for a visit with Dixie and Jean Bell. Jean is the US side coordinator for GLA. We’ve ‘known’ each other for years, but I’ve never met her before. This is a real treat!

The ladies and I spend a few hours chatting about the changes and Haiti and life in general before Dixie is drawn back to her usual hectic life. As am I – we have a long way to go down the mountain. I stop a while to speak to an adoptive mother who called me a few months ago to discuss a second adoption from GLA. It’s a rare treat to get to meet with her in person!

At last, tired and dirty from pollution, I return to BRESMA where Sherley has prepared enough food to last me at least three days. She’ll stand over me trying to get me to eat it all too…

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Eight Legs and No Head

Yesterday I amused Mr. Labrousse with the quote that a committee is an animal with eight legs and no head. Today, I spend a few hours with the committee.

UCAONG is a committee under MAST (Ministry of Social Affairs and Work) that has been tasked with licensing and overseeing NGOs working in Haiti. It’s a daunting task as up until now it has been done entirely by hand, and the registration process generally takes upwards of three years. Approved organizations might be granted a ‘franchise’ – a special license to bring goods in through the ports at radically reduced rates for customs. I have a several friends here who have managed to secure a franchise, and it’s not easy.

We begin the meeting and the woman in charge gives me a complete explanation of what the group is trying to accomplish, some of the difficulties they have faced, and their current strategy. During her discourse, I realize two things: first, this is the longest speech I’ve ever listened to in Kreyol, and I’m actually understanding almost every single word, and second, the solution I have to present is nothing like what they are looking for.

UCAONG needs a software solution to track the dossiers of Haitian based NGOs seeking a direct partnership with the Haitian government through the registration, approval, and supervision process. What I have is a system to register the multitudinous small groups working independently. What we have here is a language issue. The US definition of an non-profit group is not the same as the Haitian government’s definition of a non-governmental organization. They’re tracking more what I would tend to think of as government sub-contractors, who receive license from the government to perform specific functions in an agreed upon manner. It’s more like when a state contracts with a private company to run a prison, for example, than it is like when the IRS grants a tax exemption to a charity.

It’s a very interesting morning, and I learn a lot, but at the end they send me right back to IBESR as the agency in charge of social welfare. I spend a few hours feeling very frustrated and depressed. Here I am peddling a gift that could save thousands of lives, and I’m being passed from hand to hand. After a while I snap out of it and realize this is a good thing. I already have a relationship with IBESR, they’ve seen the demonstration, and they want the project desperately. All we’ll have to do is figure out implementation and compliance assurance.

I’m exhausted, but I go back over to AUBE orphanage to spend some more time with the kids. That always perks me right up.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Big Picture Philanthropy and Personal Vanity

Goofy girls at BRESMA
Some important philosopher once said that balance is the key to a successful life. If so, today is an unmitigated success.

As you all know, ABI is a Hague accredited adoption agency. Therefore, I spend between 40 and 50 % of my time assisting with Haitian adoptions. The rest of my time is spent on ABI’s other mission: the preservation of every child’s right to grow up in a family. The entire agency, and Lucy and I in particular, do a great deal of advocacy and lobbying internationally and with our own government. ABI is very actively involved in the Joint Council of International Children’s Services, and Lucy and I have served as chairpersons of various caucuses. Much of this is done quietly, behind the scenes, using the people we know to get those we don’t know to listen to reason and consider the best interests of children in international policy.

Haiti is sometimes referred to as ‘the land of 10,000 NGOs’. This is an exaggeration. There are only 500 or so registered NGOs in Haiti. But there are thousands more operating here without any coordination or organization.

Haiti was also just declared the poorest nation on earth. How can this be? Every flight I ride down here is at least half full of aid workers and volunteers. And yet it seems we’re making remarkably little progress. Or maybe sliding backwards – Haiti didn’t get the best of the worst award for poorest country on earth until this year. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I may know this one – lack of coordination. Lack of cooperation. Chaos. Nobody knows who is working down here, what they are doing, or where they are doing it. Not even the government.

USAID put a great deal of money into compiling a list of aid organizations. The result? A large spreadsheet. I am not making this up. Seriously. A spreadsheet. I have a copy, but it’s not very helpful to me when I have a real live grandmother standing in front of me who wants to raise her baby granddaughter after the death of her own daughter, but can’t do it without formula that she can get near her home in Carrefour. I know for sure that SOMEBODY must be offering nutritional support in Carrefour, but I have no idea who or where, and no idea how to get in touch with them. I don’t have an hour or two to read through the USAID spreadsheet and then pray that the contact information hasn’t changed over the last 20 months or so. I have nothing.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Before I started working in Haiti, I used to be a computer programmer. I designed and built online applications for shopping, searching, signing up for events, etc. In Haiti, many lives could be saved with software. I’ve known that for a while, but it’s hard to find someone willing to sponsor an expensive project that has no photo opportunities. There will be no happy photos of children in crisp uniforms or babies eating healthy food at last. Of course, there will be a lot more of that happening if we can get this project off the ground, but it will be indirectly. My pet project just isn’t sexy or glamorous. Lucky for us, we found a sponsor who is far more interested in accomplishing real progress on a large scale – actually trying to fix the problem- than in looking good. Jillian Michaels and Empowered Media support ABI in our efforts to make a difference to millions, not just a few hundred or so.

Jillian paid for me to have a demonstration mock up created, and I’ve been presenting it to various people in Haiti. I’ve shown it to Mme. Villedrouin, director of IBESR. Of course she’s desperate to have the project implemented, as it is her department that is responsible for trying to direct the people to the elusive aid groups. Jillian and I have tried using more conventional channels to approach the Haitian government, but as that wasn’t working very well I’m now using inside connections.

This morning I meet with the Haitian Secretary of State. The appointment was made for me by a friend and business connection whom I’ve known for several years. Port-au-Prince is like a village. Everyone knows everyone, and this friend knows Mr. Robert Labrousse. Fortunately for me, I don’t actually understand who he was until after we start talking, so I do not make an absolute idiot of myself in my nervousness. I thought he was the secretary for the Bureau, not the actual Haitian Secretary of State! He is very kind, gentlemanly, and reassuring. And is English is impeccable. He is very interested in our database offer, which will be designed for and owned by the Haitian government, and paid for by Empowered Media. It’s a gift – a big one. After my presentation he asks me to return tomorrow to present the project to a committee that is actively looking for a database option for NGO registration for Haiti. We’ll see how it goes. In my experience, committees dither and then eventually someone in power actually makes the decision. I hope that in this case, it’s Mr. Labrousse.

After spending the morning lobbying for project to aid the masses, I return to the guest house to do some catch up work. When Margarette gets back, we change gears entirely to vanity.

I’ve never had my hair ‘done’ in Haiti. Or anywhere else for that matter, other than for my wedding. But that’s okay because Margarette’s usual hair dresser has never done a white lady’s hair either.

We drive first to the grocery store, where I buy my own hair coloring. That’s how it’s done here. I’m not really a brunette anymore – if I let nature take its course I’d have almost completely white hair at forty-two. So perhaps I’m already vain. But this afternoon is dedicated to vanity.

We drive to the hairdresser’s new shop, which is a concrete room about fifteen by nine added on to the side of her house. Power is supplied by a generator. She colors my hair and sets me under a hot dryer. I ask how anyone can stand to do this in August. Margarette assures me it has to be done weekly. After I’m good and cooked, I am rinsed and shampooed and my hair is blow dried straight. In Haiti, longer and straighter is better. After a good twenty minutes under the Sahara of the blow dryer, it’s time to flat iron my hair for another twenty minutes. It still won’t lie as flat as ethnic hair that’s chemically straightened, but at least it’s long. I get the nod of approval. I hardly recognize myself! Now my husband is really going to think I just come here to vacation, since I just spent more than an hour and a half at the salon.

Hair is a big cultural status symbol here. Tomorrow for my meeting I will look respectable and perhaps even important. Fingers crossed!