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!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Errands and BRESMA

Today is relatively mellow – the craziness starts tomorrow. In the morning we head out to the pharmacy to pick up some medications for our baby boy. He’s pretty sick with what looks like pink eye and a yucky upper respiratory thing. Boogers galore. Ick. Luckily, his adoptive mom is a nurse, and in Haiti there’s no such thing as a prescription. Mom is able to buy the antibiotics of her choice on the spot. They cost the equivalent of $37 US. The other mom stays at the house with her son, so we pick up bandaids for her killer blister. $23 US. Seriously. For ordinary bandaids. You just never know what things are going to cost here, and I know it’s not just because of the color of my skin this time. The ladies at the pharmacy are genuinely friendly and eager to help our baby feel better, and the prices are clearly marked on every box.

Next I get a new phone. The lady is able to transfer all of my contacts because this time instead of just getting a new number, I’m getting a new telephone. The one I have is about eight years old. I don’t think they make them like my old phone any more. After this long it feels more like a co-worker than an object. I’ll miss it. On the other hand, my new one can do some pretty spiffy things to make up for it. Haiti is all about cell phones, smart phones, and the internet. We are WIRED down here.

Sleep and play room
Changing room
 Back to the guest house. After lunch, Franck gets to earn his pay some more by taking me and one of my two moms over to BRESMA for a tour and a visit. Things are happening! We check out the new house first. Lots of construction is going on, and much progress has been made since my last visit. Piti a piti, ti zwazo fe nich li. Little by little, the bird builds his nest. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it includes brightly colored walls and adorable little wall sconces. Whoever said an orphanage has to be ugly or unpleasant? If they can’t be living in a family as God intended, at least they can be living in beauty, cleanliness, and comfort while we work to remedy that situation. They sure will here. This house is nicer than any day care facility I have ever visited.

We go up to the old building, climbing the stairs along the side until we reach the top story. I want to visit the itty-bitties first, because once I go downstairs I usually become encrusted with children clinging like barnacles.

It’ amazing how much a baby or toddler can grow within a few months. Barbarah and Nathalie are almost unrecognizable. The tiny, emaciated preemie that our nurse kept in her own bedroom is a smiley little chunker. I’m thrilled, because I really wasn’t sure she’d make it at all. Some of the kids remember me, and a few manage to call me by name rather than just ‘blan’. I enjoy pointing around the room to the many children who will be leaving within the next thirty days. There are fourteen in my caseload who are homeward bound! It’s always bittersweet for our nannies, who love the children in their care and miss them terribly.

We have a new baby with special needs. She was found abandoned, and I can see how a Haitian family might have despaired of raising this little one. She has minimal hands left, and only two little stubs for fingers. Her feet and legs are normal. I know I’ve seen this syndrome before, either online or on television… She may also be blind. She doesn’t seem to look at us. It’s hard to tell, as young as she is. I think she has plenty of potential for a fulfilling life in Europe or the United States, but her future in Haiti would not be promising. How fortunate for her that she won’t be staying permanently. Kudos to whomever it was that found her and brought her to IBESR.

Downstairs, everyone stands up and recites to us as we descend the stairs. I ask a few questions in English so the kids can show off their phrases that they are learning. Down here I have a name, not just a color.

We have two new kids – a sibling pair who was just transferred here. Their cousin moved to BRESMA some months ago. These two definitely need more groceries over all and more protein. The boy’s legs are terribly thin, the girl’s hair is just as discolored as her cousin’s was. But she tells me that even though she likes BRESMA, she misses her old orphanage. Her eyes fill with homesickness. Both have excellent manners and my nannies report that they are well behaved children. It would seem their orphanage is short in resources but is providing enough attention as all three of our transfer children are quite delightful. The younger cousin is now little Miss It, super sociable and silly. Everyone likes her.

Homeward bound!
 I get to explain to a sibling pair that their mother will come to get them in about a week. It takes a few minutes for them to register and truly understand what I’ve said, and then they just can’t stop smiling. They are so ready to go home! They insist they are not afraid to ride on the airplane, and are ready to go just as soon as their mother arrives to get them. You can read how these two came into care in an earlier blog post. This is one of those cases that just makes me feel good. Their biological family was completely informed and made an adoption plan with complete knowledge for their children. We were able to keep siblings together, and the adoptive mother and biological parents got to meet one another. And most importantly of all, the two children are absolutely a part of the process. They are ready to go home.

Back to the guest house where I meet a prospective adoptive parent who wants to adopt a pre-identified child. Far fewer of these cases are going to be permitted, but I’m willing to go to bat for this family and child. The child was already abandoned in an orphanage when the family first met her, they’ve never met the birth family, and they’ve been here multiple times and have an ongoing relationship with the child. I can take this case to IBESR to ask for an exception.

Finally, a large meal and bed. Tomorrow is a busy day.









Sunday, January 20, 2013

Arrivals and Meetings

The National Palace, soon to be removed by J/P HRO
I arrive in the late afternoon after a full day of travel, accompanied by two adoptive moms coming to visit or to go to court, respectively. We manage the airport, which has changed radically since my last visit. Much more permanent and organized looking, and easier to get through too. So that part was simple.


Next we had to run the gamut outside, with many baggage handlers wanting to be our friends and carry items for us. Particularly our cash. Once through, I leave my ladies in a safe spot with my regular deaf, mute, very large and reliable baggage guy and wander off alone to look for Franck. No dice. He’s nowhere to be found, and since Digicel and Voila just merged, my Haiti cell phone doesn’t work either. I return to the ladies, our baggage, and my baggage guy. He sees I haven’t found Franck and manages to ask someone to borrow their phone. Who needs spoken language?

I can’t reach Franck, but I do reach Margarette and she assures me Franck is en route with Sonia to meet us. And he’ll be here ‘soon’. I take a deep breath because I know what ‘soon’ means in Franck time. Sonia must have been a good influence, because I only spend about half an hour or so chatting and arguing with the baggage handlers until I see Sonia. There’s something about an American woman speaking Kreyol that just fascinates the regular folks in Port au Prince, and their opinions are fascinating to me.

Everyone is buzzing about the new increased DOS travel warning to Haiti. We’re MAD. All of us who live or work here agree the escalated warning is unwarranted and not based on actual fact. Haiti is just like it has been since things settled down post-quake. In fact, a friend of mine who works at DOS here and lives in Haiti pointed out that this was the lowest crime rate she’s seen in December in more than a decade. Makes you wonder what political motivation there might be to try to scare Americans out of Haiti. The Haitian government has officially protested, but DOS remains absolutely silent, neither attempting to defend nor agreeing to change their latest warning.

Sonia is flustered. She’s NEVER late. Or if she thinks she might be, due to a traffic jam, she always calls ahead so that we’re forewarned. Her first words are of apology, even as we do the two-cheek air kiss. I tell her I know exactly why she is late today, and we both laugh. I’m here with my visitors, so it doesn’t matter. When I’m not here and Franck is late, I see red. The airport can feel scary to the uninitiated, despite all the security and police standing around. It’s just so strange and so frantic and so completely, overwhelmingly NOT Kansas anymore.

It’s Sunday, but it’s a workday for us staffers. I’m prepared to argue, but Franck agrees to drive directly to AUBE without a debate. I get to watch an adoptive mother meet her son, and her son (who is very dear to me) meet his very own family at last. Kind of reminds me why I do this in the first place…

I have to say hi to all the kids and check out Melissa’s uniform and shoes. Melissa is a special case. She’s twelve, but she lives at Sonia’s and is going to be adopted by someone she already knows. Tomorrow she’ll start school. She’s thrilled, and everyone is thrilled for her. Melissa has not had an easy childhood, and it’s sheer joy watching her feel excited about her pretty clothes and lacy socks, all ready for the excitement every child deserves.

It’s too dark to take decent photos, so we scoop up the two children coming with us and go to BRESMA guest house. Both these children are from AUBE, so normally they and their mothers would stay at Sonia’s home. But tonight it’s full to bursting with two of my other adoptive families and three more children. We get them settled at the BRESMA guest house, I hurl my stuff into the bedroom I’m assigned, and I’m right back in the car. Franck drives us to Sonia’s house, which is quite close by. There I get to meet two more of my adoptive families. It’s always a treat to actually put a face to the voices and home studies and documents for parents, not just the children. These two families are really fun, experienced parents and the kids are all similarly aged boys. They’ve been having a great visit and have enjoyed travelling together.

Finally, I’m off to bed. The rooster may be crowing, but after waking at 4:30 am, I probably won’t even care.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

And the Winners Are...

IBESR sent out the following message this afternoon:

To the managers of adoption agencies,


The General Manager of IBESR is pleased to inform the managers of adoption agencies below, who expressed the desire to operate on Haïti as adoption facilitator, that their request has been aproved accordingly to the adoption law of Haiti and the internal rules of IBESR.

Consequently, managers of these adoption agencies are required to indicate to us the name of the person responsible for the adoption agency or of his legal representative, in order to prepare the agreement certificate.

the general manager takes this opportunity to specify that agreement certificates can be received by the relevant persons or their representatives from 24th of January 2013. A quota per adoption agency and per country will be applied.
La Direction Générale

1. A Love Beyond Borders

2. Children House International

3. Carolina Adoption Services

4. European Adoption Services Consultant Inc. (EAC)

5. Bethany Christian Services Global, LLC

6. All Blessings International/ Kentucky Adoption Services

7. Wasatch Adoption

8. All God’s Children International (AGCI)

9. Holt International Children’s Services, Inc.

10. Love Basket

11. Dillon International, Inc.

12. Adoption-Link

13. Building Arizona Services

14. Lifeline Children Services

15. Sunny Ridge Family Center

16. Chinese Children Adoption International (CCAI)

17. Nightlight Christian Adoptions

18. America World Adoption Association

19. MLJ Adoptions Inc.

We also know that NAS in the Netherlands and Sunrise Family Services of BC, Canada have been approved.  Congratulations to all!  I will be in Haiti from January 20th through the 26th.  I hope to meet with IBESR to understand the quota system and various other changes.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

IBESR Announces a New Accreditation Date...

As IBESR Director Mme. Villedrouin is currently in Rome, IBESR has announced that it will delay the beginning of announcements of their chosen agencies until January 15th.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

IBESR Announces Accreditation Date

IBESR will begin announcing which agencies they will accredit beginning January 10th!  We are all waiting eagerly to see what they have decided, and who has been chosen!