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!