Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Last Meeting and Back Home

Denye monn, genyen monn -
"Behind mountains there are mountains"
Our trip is so short that I don’t have time to go up the mountain to visit New Life Link and God’s Littlest Angels.  It’s a shame.  I would love for Danielle to see the beauty of Thomassin.  The view from Dr. Bernard’s balconies at Bethel guest house and from the roof top playground at GLA are breathtaking.
Today I visit Dr. Bernard in his office downtown.  Margarette and Danielle accompany me.  We discuss IBESR’s progress and lack of progress, exchange tips and tricks, and once again I feel honored to work with the partners ABI has.  Each of them has such dedication and integrity.  All are dedicated to helping children, so if they can help each other, they do so without hesitation.  I have been told that in other countries, adoptions facilitators can be competitive and divided.  Not so in Haiti.  We’re all on the same team. 

Finally my work is done, so I can go where I want to be – back to my kids.  I spend several happy hours at BRESMA talking with kids and staff, evaluating new children, taking photos, and relaxing.  My husband jokingly describes my trips as my Caribbean vacations.  This afternoon, I couldn’t argue with him.  I leave refreshed and ready to fight the next round for my kids.  And the one after that, and the one after that…

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Hoping for Action

You’d think after dozens of government meetings, I would worry less over them…  But here I am again, anxious and nervous and wishing it was already over.

I’m meeting with two people at IBESR today, and I’ve met with one of them many, many times before.  First Margarette and I meet with the individual who has just been assigned to cleaning up a very large mess made by an orphanage which has since lost its license.  We’re trying to get four of their old cases out of IBESR.  It’s been an exercise in frustration.  We were very specifically given permission to work on the stalled cases many months ago, but as often happens when something falls outside the conventional process, it’s been uphill work.

I’ve seen this IBESR worker many times in the past, although I didn’t know his name.  Sadly for him, Margarette and I are very aware of him now.  I almost feel sorry for him.  My partner now has a specific person to ask about our cases, and she’s at IBESR a LOT.  And she is a very persistent woman.  I suspect he’ll find himself highly motivated to do whatever it takes to get our repair cases signed out of IBESR as quickly as possible.
Next we meet with Me. Guillaume, Chief Legal Counsel to IBESR.  Sonia has arrived to join us.  Poor Me. Guillaume.  The look on his face when he realizes that once again he’s trapped with the three tiger women is priceless. Tactfully, he keeps his dread to himself.

It is my personal opinion that if there are two specific individuals to whom credit should be given that Haiti successfully transitioned to a Hague compliant nation, he is certainly one of them.  Andolphe Guillaume is intelligent, thoughtful, measured, careful, and precise.  These qualities ensured that all laws and policies were Hague compliant, intentional, and planned. 
Unfortunately, the wheels of government turn far too slowly for children who have been in care for more than two years.  They don’t have time to wait for him to change and write procedures as deliberately as he would like.  They need action NOW.  And so do I.  I’m pushing Me. Guillaume as hard as I dare, reminding him of the damage that every month in an institution causes.

He discusses specific plans for increasing IBESR’s capacity and completing the crafting of their new procedures regarding Children’s Judges and referrals, but I don’t want discussion.  I’m too pressed by the children I serve to listen anymore.  I want referral letters.  Now.
Another skeptic
I leave the meeting satisfied that there is a distinct plan and direction, but still frustrated because even if I’m told a date, I’ve become a skeptic over the years.  I’ll believe the letters are coming when I’m holding them.

In the reception area I’m pleased to meet Ms. Sawadogo, the representative sent by the Hague permanent bureau who has returned to Haiti to assist with the transition.  Ms. Sawadogo speaks a variety of African languages and French.  I speak English and Kreyol, and I can still understand Spanish but I can’t talk anymore.  We smile at each other, but are at a loss until the agency representative for a number of the French and German agencies and her husband offer to help.
Our conversation is amazingly convoluted.  I speak in English to the husband, who repeats what I say to his wife in Spanish.  Then she passes my words to Ms. Sawadogo in French.  Ms. Sawadogo responds in French, which is translated into Spanish.  I can understand, but I can’t answer except for in English.  So my replies go from husband to wife and back to Mrs. Sawadogo.  Danielle stands by watching this scaling of the tower of Babel and giggling.  I can’t blame her.  It’s pretty silly, but it works.  I beg Ms. Sawadogo for expediency for the sake of the waiting children.  She tells me she thinks they’re getting close, and issues are being solved.  My colleagues who are actually able to speak to this woman all really like and respect her, and I like her too.  Kindness radiates from her.  I believe she understands our urgency.

We drive over to AUBE at last.  All this time in Haiti and at last I can do as I please, and that is being with the children I’m here to serve.
Sonia has new children that IBESR has asked her to take.  As usual they’re easy to spot.  Red hair, papery skin, no muscle tone.  They’ll be different children in a few months with feeding and love.

Almost everyone either already had Chikungunya or they’re just getting over it now.  It’s like a dozen different diseases in one.  I seen what one might expect – high fevers, aches and pains, but also a rash that looks like a scabies epidemic and one poor little guy who is recovering from huge boils that burst on his forehead and the back of his skull.  Some children had stomach upset, some had hugely swollen glands that distorted their throats, cheeks, and voices.  Regular dosing with acetaminophen and ibuprofen and lots of fluids made the virus more of a misery than a danger.  No AUBE child had to be hospitalized.
Next we go to BRESMA, where hear similar reports on the disease, see lots of recovered children, and hear the question I’ve come to dread.  All of the older kids want to know when they will go to America.  When will they have a family?  And the hardest one of all; doesn’t anybody want to adopt me?  It is heartbreaking.  It’s also frustrating, because somebody with a waiting dossier wants to adopt almost every single child we have here, and IBESR has approved almost every single one of them for adoption, and yet here they are, waiting. 

I want to bring the IBESR staff here and let them hear these questions for themselves.  But I don’t know if it would do any good.  These children are healthy and fairly happy.  They’re watching the World Cup on television and playing with their dolls.  Supper is cooking upstairs, and they’ll sleep in their beds under their pretty matching sheets and blankets.  The nannies will bring in the fans if it’s hot to cool them as they sleep.  After the horrors that IBESR sees, it’s hard to get them excited about the plight of ‘my’ kids.  It’s all relative, I guess.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Road Trip

Travel day – and it’s a long one.  Thirteen hours out and about!  Sherley is going to scold me when we get home for being so late for supper.  Danielle and I leave the guest house at six o’ clock in the morning in the hopes of beating the worst of the traffic.

Traffic was always terrible in Port-au-Prince, but it’s gotten much worse since the earthquake.  Narrow streets built many decades, or even a century or two in the past are not able to manage today’s constant flow of SUVs driven by foreign NGOs or Haitian citizens.  In the United States, the government would find itself at a stalemate.  Not so in Haiti!  Land titles, building codes, property ownership – all are flexible in Haiti.  So, the roads are being improved.  Margarette tells me seventy percent of Port-au-Prince is now paved!  I can sure see the difference.  At times, I can hardly recognize where I am as smooth, clean streets and well-build sidewalks replace the chaos I’ve grown used to.
More chaos is being generated where the roads are being expanded.  This is the part that would never happen here.  How do you widen a road that is completely surrounded by buildings that line the street?  In Haiti, that’s really quite simple.  You just knock down whatever stands in the six feet or so that you need to widen the road on both sides.

partially demolished home
Dismembered buildings line the streets, blasted or cut apart in the middle of shops, churches, medical clinics, living rooms, and stairways.  The cost of progress is high.  I truly don’t see how else Haiti can create an infrastructure, but only one of my friends and colleagues has been injured by the construction. 
Haiti Foundation Against Poverty had just finished a number of buildings, including a modest but beautiful home at last for founders Frentz and Mallery Neptune, right against the walls of their compound.  In an amazing display of faith and generosity, HFAP’s supporters raised every penny necessary to rebuild their wall and secure the facility just in time to coincide with the scheduled destruction.

We drive over the mountains with a chauffer that my usual professional driver sent in his place.  I’d considered staying in Port today and sending Danielle off by herself, but this guy speaks almost no English and Danielle has to find two places she’s never been to before.
The drive to Jacmel is amazingly beautiful, and the town itself has many old-style, two story colonial houses and buildings.  Jacmel is considered a resort town in Haiti.  There are a number of beaches.  The Caribbean is the same amazing blue here that it is in the Riviera Maya in Mexico, but there will have to be a lot of trash pickup before they can attract traditional tourists.

Hands and Feet Project- Jacmel site
We are visiting the Hands and Feet project.  I haven’t been here for a few years, and the progress is amazing!  New family style group homes are being built in the back for children with no other options, and Hands and Feet has expanded and emphasized their family reunification program.  Their clear goal aligns with that of All Blessings, the Joint Council of International Children’s Services, and so many others: every child has the right to a loving, permanent family.

Next we visit Hands and Feet’s second campus, in Gran Goave.  About four years ago, IBESR asked Hands and Feet to take over a failing, dangerous, abandoned orphanage of thirty-one children.  As is typical for such requests, all Hands and Feet got from the government was permission to take the children into care.  Not one dime of aid, grain of rice, or any paperwork assistance came with them.
Hands and Feet has been nurturing the children, all of whom are older kids who have seen great hardship, neglect, and in many cases abuse.  They go to school, learn to manage a Haitian home, and in some cases, go back home.  Many of the kids have birth families living in Gran Goave.  Hands and Feet has been tracking them down, meeting with them, counseling them, and in many cases, reintegrating children with their families.

I’m fascinated by the poultry project.  They’re growing enough poultry to feed everyone, right on site!  Protein is a constant difficulty in Haiti.  No wonder these kids look so good.  They’re eating well, and learning how to raise, clean, and process chickens at the same time.  Now that’s fresh food!
plucking chickens in Gran Goave

Sunday, June 15, 2014


It’s a slow day for me, but a really busy one for Danielle.  ABI dossier preparer and social worker Danielle Ward has accompanied me on this trip to write home studies for four American families who live and work in Haiti.  It’s Danielle’s first time out of the US, and what a country to choose for her first adventure!  But she’s a trooper and is putting up with the heat and worries about Chikungunya without complaint.

 Danielle is teaching a class to our eight prospective adoptive parents at the BRESMA guest house.  It’s her duty to educate the families about the risks and rewards of adoption.  I imagine they’ll learn from her, but probably not as much as I have learned from them in just a short time.

malnourished infant
These people are the real deal; the full time servants, workers, warriors for change and hope in Haiti.  I flit back and forth and lobby government employees.  It’s almost a glamorous life – or at least, I hear that it looks that way from the outside. 

 There’s no glamour for these folks.  No applause or awards.  No notoriety or fame in the small pond that is Haiti or back home in the States.  They are here on the ground, day after day, year after year, grinding away their lives in tireless, selfless service to others.  Their work is rarely recognized, never mind praised.  They don’t do ‘big’ things.  No policy changes or diplomacy.  No shaking the hands of famous people.

They battle malnutrition, armed robbers, and parasites as they work at an orphanage, gather dust on their clothes as they hike through the mountains searching for the last biological relatives of an abandoned child trying to reunify the family, try not to cover their ears as they listen to true horror stories of sexually abused child slaves.  Tiny battles every day, struggling to make a difference for the least of these.

It takes some courage to face government officials and argue for children’s rights.  It takes a whole lot more courage to leave your friends and your family, live as a stranger in a strange land, and fight the same fight over again every single day without relief.

Let us honor those who sacrifice so much to work beside Haitians in building a better Haiti and a better world.  There are still heroes among us.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Maybe a Silver Lining?

Something is different this visit - I can actually smell it in the air as the plane empties.  The distinctive odor of DEET fills the airport corridor as my fellow passengers, consisting almost entirely of 't-shirt groups' coat themselves in mosquito spray before they even hit the open air.

Chikungunya - it's everywhere.  On everyone's mind, on the news, the topic of constant conversation.  What I'm hearing here on the ground doesn't match what I've been told by medical professionals who are watching closely from a distance.  Duration and intensity of symptoms appears to vary wildly.  So does repetition.  I was told you can only catch this thing once, but Margarette is telling me she knows a lot of people who had already had it more than once.  I'll have to dig into this to see if it's actually one long illness or actual re-infections with a slightly different strain of the virus.  It's a mystery we're all very motivated to solve.

So far, most of the kids in our care have been pretty lucky; miserable for a few days and then bouncing back.  But our housekeeper Sherely was sick for over two weeks, and she tells me that her wrists and ankles are still aching.  She shows me veins risen under her beautiful, sleek skin.  I expect to see veins on me, but not on Sherley who has always had skin fit to make a fashion model weep.  I wonder if it's high blood pressure or stress?  But then she shows me some edema on the back of her neck and I wonder if it's some sort of overall fluid retention.  I'll have to check in with our consulting physicians.

I have been in Haiti less than twelve hours, and despite repeated, thorough dousing in bug spray I've already been bitten three times.  The best way to avoid being bitten by a mosquito in Haiti is to stand next to me!  US 'skeeters don't like me, but perhaps I'm sweeter when I'm down here.  So here's the silver lining - if/when I get Chikungunya too, at least I'll be able to record my symptoms carefully and pass along the information to those who are tracking the virus.

In other news, IBESR released a memo today that appears to clarify several finer points of the law.  I have learned that IBESR interviews with biological families who wish to relinquish their  children are being scheduled, and at long last court visits as required under the new law are being arranged.  I intend to post the translation of IBESR's notice as soon as our translator returns it.