Saturday, March 28, 2015

A Slow Day and an Epic Tantrum

A slow day at last.  I go do BRESMA in the morning and spend several hours doing what I wanted to do in the first place; relaxing with the kids.  This is my time to take photos and videos and meet several new children who have arrived recently.  They’re easy to identify, with their papery skin and red hair.  In a few months, they will look so much better.
Speaking of looking better, I check in on the little boy of a set of twins who became very ill last summer while Margarette was away in Europe.  She and their adoptive family came to Haiti on the same day to find both twins alarmingly thin and listless – the little boy frighteningly so.  No more.  He’s fat, fat, fat now!  And spoiled too.  I couldn’t be happier.  He’s the special project of one of the nannies, who watches over him jealously, but the others like to fuss over him as well.  Nobody would ever guess that he had given us all such a scare.

The kids enter the room where I’m observing carrying little packets of something sticky.  I’m offered several pre-chewed bites, but politely decline.  I don’t need any Medika Mamba to help me gain weight, thanks.

From the other room comes the sound of a child being beaten or murdered or tortured – I’m not sure which.  They are all toddlers in this room, after all…  The racket continues for a good five minutes and I go to investigate.  L. is sitting in a high chair, next to his twin sister.  She’s scowling, but he is screaming his head off, his whole head wet with tears and sweat.  L. is trying to hit everyone in sight, filled with rage.  The nannies are bellowing over his deafening protests, discussing the Nutella they are mixing with his Medika Mamba.  I knew he didn’t like the Medika Mamba, which he needs, so they have to mix it with chocolate to get him to eat it, but this is ridiculous.  A nanny forces a bite into his mouth, L. screaming so hard I’m worried he’ll choke.  He shoves the bowl away violently. His sister is feeding herself the peanut butter mixed with chocolate, still glaring at everyone, but eating it.  I take a taste.  It’s delicious – like Reese’s peanut butter cups melted in a bowl!  I tell L. that if he doesn’t eat it, I’m going to take it and eat it myself.  That cools him down a little bit, but he’s still throwing an impressive tantrum.  I ask his nannies what the problem is.  It is very difficult to imagine any child who would not be very, very happy to eat what is in L.’s bowl right now.

One of the nannies explains the problem.  It’s the bowl, not what is in it.  L. is outraged that they won’t stuff the mixture back into the little baggie so that he can squeeze it out into his mouth like everybody else.  So, to summarize, our previously starving Haitian orphan is now a spoiled little prince!  I am delighted.  One of the nannies scolds him, tells him to eat or she’s going to take his bowl away, and he resentfully begins to stuff himself, still giving us all the evil eye.  Ah, the drama of toddlerhood.  Praise God that our little prince now has the energy, determination, and confidence to protest how he is served the food specially mixed to meet his discriminating palate!
The new kids have not yet learned to be so demanding, but I have faith that in time they too will become the little tyrants that every tiny child has a right to be.

At the guest house I eat lunch (yeah!) and meet with the director of another orphanage about a complicated case.  The child was in the US on a medical Visa for 20 months, having been born without an anus.  The repair was not entirely successful, and B. now has no bowel control.  She’s back in Haiti, but her biological family has eight other children and is unable to care for a child who ‘leaks’ and will probably be in diapers for the rest of her life without more intervention, never mind the repeated serious bladder infections her condition is causing.  We’re going to attempt to do the next-to-impossible: a pre-identified Hague adoption when one of the parents is over age.  But exceptional circumstances merit exceptional measures, and as I told the delegation on Wednesday, odd cases roll downhill to ABI.  This will be a huge battle, but it is absolutely the right thing to do.  Finding another family for a child with B.’s condition when there is already one who wants her, who she already thinks of and refers to as her own family, would be even more difficult.  So, we’ll do what we must for the love of one child.

Finally Margarette and I get to meet.  We’ve gone over our cases in the van between our endless meetings and appointments this week.  Now we must go over our contracts for all cases submitted to IBESR following October of 2014.  It’s a radical shift in how we work, and after eleven years of trust and partnership that have worked so very well, neither one of us is pleased about making any changes.  I tell Margarette that if she doesn’t like the contract it’s my fault, since I’m the one who edited it for Haiti.  It’s ten pages of single-spaced legalese, all written to conform to the Hague and US Immigration law. 

Our contract was not easy to write, and it’s not pleasant to sign as it represents a parting of the ways.  All these years, we’ve worked only with orphanages we know and trust.  Safe homes for children where they are not only fed and given medical care, but also love and opportunities for development.  Places which would give us honest evaluations of each child’s needs and strengths, with which we would jointly propose matches to families who would best serve each child.  Now, the matches will be made by a committee that does not yet exist, and the trust will be replaced by protocols, hope, and faith.  My visits to our partner crèches will be no more than that – visits, not evaluations of children and who can best parent them.  Now I'm the one who wants to scream and cry, but it won't do me any good either.

Margarette signs, but she doesn’t like it.  Neither do I, but what choice do we have?  Haiti is still full of children in need, and we have been called upon to serve them, even if we will now only be permitted to do so in an inferior way. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Missed Meetings Again

An album from his new family to show off to his buddies
Me Jean is kind enough to call us this morning to let us know that she won’t be at IBESR to meet with us.  Sadly, this does not save us the drive, as we have to go to meet with her assistant to agree upon how we will officially request permission to re-do the little girl’s dossier, which Me Jean has already granted us over the phone.  We have to have a paper trail, I guess. 

It’s a useful trip anyway, as I get to say hello to a lot of the workers.  Face time is critically important in Haitian culture, and it’s very political to speak some Kreyol as well.  It shows that you care and that you respect the culture.  I’m surprised by how many people here I know.  Our agency has taken on a lot of the more complicated cases, so maybe it’s to be expected.  I meet the new person who is handling sending out referral letters and receiving the acceptances.  I apologize in advance for my atrocious written Kreyol.  I can get by verbally, but I’m pretty much illiterate.  I learned Kreyol from the kids, not from books.  I still have to say the words out loud to myself to understand what I’m reading.
We spend a few hours waiting from Me Guillaume (an attorney and the head of the Adoptions Division) as well, with whom we’d like to discuss a few issues, but he never appears.  Perhaps someone tipped him off that we’re here.  Poor man.  I always have questions for him that are difficult to answer.  I congratulate Mme Villedrouin on her recent award from the US Consulate for Women of Courage.

K.E. (soon to be K.E.B.) gives AUBE orphanage
a thumbs up
Next stop is AUBE.  The nannies have the kids chant a welcome for me and I get to applaud and tell them how wonderful it was.  I take a few photos of the children who are already referred and those for whom we hope referral letters will soon be issued.  Sonia and I go through our cases together.
Yesterday, Sonia parked herself in the office of the Mayor of Port-au-Prince all day long.  She is a kind and gentle woman, but she is also indomitable and persistent.  Apparently the Mayor has finally relented and stated that he’ll go to the Children’s Court next Tuesday.  I’ll believe it when I see it, but I know for sure that if he isn’t there, Sonia will stage sit in after sit in until he does.  She has no choice, as none of our abandoned children can go anywhere until he cooperates.

The kids look great.  I get to deliver an album to a little boy whose family will come soon for their visitation, chat with a few kids whose Manma Blan just came for a visit, and meet some delightful new older boys who are able to tell me why they are at Sonia’s and have a few questions about what will happen next.  I sure wish I could tell them when it will happen.  IBESR doesn’t want to do any more biological family trainings for a few months.  They’ve pulled the single social worker who does them off of interviews and have her doing some other job.  They so desperately need a reasonable sized team!
Back to the guest house at last.  I missed lunch again!  Perhaps it is because they know this that the ladies have prepared enough food for at least three people, even though I am currently our only resident.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

A Cold Day in Haiti

It's not Disneyland, it's God's Littlest Angels' new facility

To the mountains!  I always love a visit to GLA, particularly when I’m visiting Haiti in the summer.  I live in South Dakota in the US, and it’s hot there, but nothing like Haiti in August.  Every year I vow not to come in July or August, and inevitably some meeting or event is scheduled for which I must be present.  The Haitian mountains are cool and beautiful – tropical green with towering evergreens and brilliant bougainvillea and hibiscus everywhere.

We must stop on the way to GLA as the street is blocked with people all in formal wear.  Everyone is wearing black, white, or both, and I’m confused at first.  Franck explains this is a funeral.  I tell him that we don’t wear white to funerals in my country, and he is surprised.  Dressing all in white for a funeral is quite conventional in Haiti.  There are a lot of other differences between a Haitian funeral and those I’ve been to in my community, and when it’s my turn to go, I want to go out Haitian style!!
Funerals are not generally mournful gatherings in Haiti.  We did see a few people crying, but most were celebrating.  One of the most important parts of the celebration is the marching band.  In Haiti, one departs the Earth with joy and singing and celebration of one’s life.  The band marches, the hearse or coffin bearers follow, and then come all the participants (I can’t quite call them mourners as they march or dance in step, clapping and sometime even singing hymns).  That is how I would like to be remembered too!

My meeting with Dixie is more frustration.  She has many abandoned children in care from the Kenscoff area.  It is necessary for the Mayor of Kenscoff to sign off on their adoptions before the children’s judge.  This is a common theme – certain mayors of the larger cities are trying to extort the equivalent of US $320 PER CHILD from the orphanages for each certificate they sign in court.  In this case, the problem is different but just as maddening.  The previous mayor issued the original abandonment certificates.  Now this one doesn’t want to continue what he started.  This is a perpetual problem in Haitian bureaucracy, even more so than in our own.  Public servants seem to have no concept of their office as a continuous entity.  It makes no difference who the mayor was when the certificates were issued, so long as the office did in fact issue the certificates.  They were not issued by a person, but rather by the position itself.  Dixie has had many children in care for many, many years at this point, and some of them have no other homes to go to.  So difficult.

Playhouse at Ft. Jacques
Finally I get to see GLA’s new facility up in Ft. Jacques.  It is amazing!  They have almost five acres at the very top of a mountain.  You can see forever from here.  The construction is just what I would have expected from a group that has dedicated their whole lives to the service of children.  It is beautiful, cozy, and comfortable.  The kids live in delightful cottages adjoining their playground.  The spacious school building even has a computer lab and classes in English.  GLA older kids come home with the ability to communicate and to participate in school very quickly.  They are very fortunate children to have ended up here.  I am too.  I just wish I'd brought a sweater, because it's a cold day in Haiti!!

My final appointment of the day would also have been in the mountains, but today Dr. Bernard is downtown in his office.  At least we beat most of the traffic as it is only midafternoon when I arrive.  We discuss a few of our cases together, including a really complicated situation involving a child who is in the US on a medical Visa and cannot return.  Dr. Bernard is even more of a cynic than I am, but I persuade him that we really do need to keep all relevant government officials completely in the loop, even though I agree that he is surely correct and that they have forgotten all about the child and her medical needs.  We will do every single step by the book.  That policy has served ABI very well over the years, and we’re sticking to it!

I’m very happy to learn that New Life Link has in fact gotten multiple referrals, not just the one for the twin girls going to an ABI family.  Dr. Bernard’s young employee Emmanuel is doing an excellent job, and I make sure to tell Dr. Bernard that he is.  Really dedicated, competent help is hard to find.

Finally, back to the guest house.  I missed lunch again.  Bedtime at eight o’ clock, I hope.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


Earlier this month I was honored with an invitation to another Adoption Round Table at the US Embassy.  Unfortunately, I had to send my regrets.  My work in Haiti has caused me to miss more proms, games, first steps, and birthdays than I even like to consider.  But I was not about to miss my daughter competing in the state high school basketball finals.  Her team finished seventh in the entire state B tournament, and this time Mom was there for every moment of her triumph.

Good ol' Boys Club
At the same time, there were transportation strikes in Haiti and the US Government postponed their delegation to Haiti.  Much to my delight, the meeting was rescheduled for today, when I was already scheduled to be in Haiti.  The meetings are always informative and useful, and this one is to be attended by several people I’ve worked with for years but never met face to face.  What a gift!

The morning starts with a tour of BRESMA for some special visitors.  I think they’re very impressed by what they see, and one person present (who is an attorney in real life) shows her true colors when her colleagues have to shoo her out the door.  She would rather stay and color with the preschool age girls.  I would too, but today is not the day for personal preferences.  It’s time to put on our diplomatic hats and fancier clothes and head to the US Embassy.

It’s a limited meeting, with only a few US agency representatives and the Directorship of three crèches invited.  I’m delighted to learn that Dixie Bickel from God’s Littlest Angels is here as well.  Hers is always a voice of reason, and of course she is very well informed.  Lucien and Gina Duncan are here, as is Margarette Saint Fleur of BRESMA.  Definitely a good sampling of the best informed and most ethical adoption facilitators and crèche directors in the country.  The US delegation includes the in-country staff of both USCIS and DOS, as well as many important leaders from both departments from their Washington DC offices.  I will not share names here to protect their privacy, but suffice it to say that the US Government is demonstrating a very strong interest in and concern for the welfare of Haiti’s vulnerable children.  USCIS and DOS often get a bad rap from adoptive parents, but over the past eleven years I have overwhelming found their personnel, at least at the higher levels, to be not only cooperative but compassionate as well.

We discuss various issues that we’re seeing lately.  At the moment, the primary focus is on transitional cases.  There are approximately 400 I600A petitions filed by US families to adopt from Haiti, which is now a Hague country.  Therefore, all of those cases are considered transitional.  They will be processed as would a Hague case in Haiti, under the new law (unless they are already begun – contact your agency or an immigration attorney for details), but as an Orphan/I600 case in regards to US Immigrations. 
Please read this information from USCIS for critical details regarding the filing of forms I600 in transitional cases:!

The delegation tells me they have not yet begun to focus on the straight Hague cases, as they don’t anticipate any I800 filings for Haiti cases processed under the new law for quite some time.  They are visibly taken aback when I inform them that I will in fact be filing the first such case in about two months at most.  The moral of the story, my American readers, is DO NOT LET YOUR I600A EXPIRE!  I suppose they’ll have to figure out how to process Haiti Hague cases sooner rather than later!

There is extensive discussion of the delays at IBESR.  Lucien Duncan expresses his opinion that the issue at IBESR is “lack of qualified human resources”.  I could not agree more!  There is one social worker to meet with, inform, and counsel biological families considering placing their children for adoption.  One social worker to meet with each adoptive family visiting Haiti on their socialization trip.  On Tuesday she was way up in the mountains in Thomassin, meeting with one of my families.  The trip and visit took most of the day.  When exactly is she supposed to write up her report on their meeting?  Mme Jean is a superb social worker, but she’s only human.  IBESR desperately needs a team – a large one – to accomplish their designated tasks.  Margarette and I calculated that the fees for the dossiers currently submitted must total at least $520,000 US, but I imagine that money is long since spent, and that IBESR lacks the financial resources to hire more staff.  As I told the US delegation, as I continue to tell IBESR, $385 was never enough funding to complete all of their assigned tasks.  I urgently wish that IBESR would now require an additional $1100 for each dossier already filed but not yet matched, as they plan to do for each dossier from October 2014 on.
I am able to relate to the delegation how much more reliable and safe the new relinquishment process is.  At this point, I think it would be very difficult indeed to traffic a child for adoption, with the birthparents unknowing of what is was to which they were agreeing.  They seem very pleased to hear about all of the safeguards in place.

Overall, I’d say that all the meeting participants are quite pleased with IBESR’s work, just not the speed at which is it being performed.  We all understand that transition is very difficult.  Unfortunately, the children who are growing up without families do not understand.  Nor should they have to.  They don’t have the time to wait and be patient as their childhoods slip away.
My Haitian colleagues and I leave the meeting in a bilingual discussion of all that occurred.  They are very satisfied indeed – they feel heard and they are very impressed by how much the US Government cares about Haitian adoptions, as evidenced by the number and importance of the personnel that they sent to speak with us.

Leg of a starving one-year-old child
Speaking of trafficking – as soon as we are finished with the meeting at the Embassy, Margarette and I go directly to IBESR to continue our very, very long battle to attempt to repair a few cases from an organization that had some very questionable ethics.  Today we need to meet with Me Jean, an IBESR attorney.  In one of the cases, the child’s grandmother was made to sign as her mother.  The little girl’s entire dossier is false!  We need permission to do it over again, this time with a family counsel and a death certificate for her mother, who is in fact deceased.  I’m angry twice over, as this particular bit of fraud will not only set the child back even more months of waiting, but it’s not even that hard to get a family counsel for a true orphan.  This was a lie born of sheer laziness, and the child is paying for it.

I’m very glad I came along.  Me Jean is empathetic to Margarette’s request, but she says she’s worried that the US government will not allow the case.  I am able to explain to her exactly how the law works – we haven’t submitted any of the falsified dossier to the US Government.  If only she’ll allow us to do the child’s dossier over, and correctly this time, we’ll file a clean and legitimate case with US Immigrations.  We are not required to turn in documents that we know are false and replaced with correct ones.  She’s running out the door and instructs us to return on Friday.  This is how it usually works in Haiti – you have to have an appointment to make an appointment, and even that is no guarantee that both parties will appear at the right time or even on the right day.
Finally I’m home again.  Dinner is ready and so am I – in Haiti I too seem to usually get just two meals per day.  My husband likes to refer to my travels as my ‘Caribbean Vacations’.  Funny how I always wish I could take a few days off after one of my ‘vacations’!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


This morning I awoke at 4:30 to a gray and cloudy Minnesota morning, and slushed through the hotel parking lot still filled with melting snow to the airport shuttle, wearing my sandals and a light weight dress under a Carhartts parka.  Such is my dual life…
Haiti is hot today – hot like July would normally be, and I stuffed my parka in my bag while on the plane.  An essential back home, it is useless weight to me here.

I’m met by friends and colleagues at the airport – the Jacmel site directors of the Hands and Feet Project.  They live here full time, and if they have parkas anymore, I imagine it takes some digging to unearth them.

We go to a restaurant called The Deck, which I have not visited before.  It’s in the UN compound.  You have to give them your ID to get in, but after that it’s pretty ordinary inside.  I have been here before, years ago, just after the earthquake.  At that time it was bristling with arms and activity, and I had to do a lot more than just provide an ID to get inside.
The compound is still an international mixture, with a kaleidoscope of languages and ethnicities.  The variety is reflected in the menu at the restaurant, which must be intended to make a world of workers feel more at home.  I order an ice tea, which arrives tasting like beer with lemon and sugar.  I’m not a beer fan, and I can’t even make myself drink it.  I’ve only been here an hour, and I’m already acting like a spoiled American brat.  But I’ve eaten cat that I liked a lot better than beer!

We talk about the progress, or lack thereof, at IBESR.  Everyone is frustrated to no end.  But this is Haiti, and things move even more slowly here than they do in our own US Government.
Driver Franck comes to fetch me, and we go straight to BRESMA orphanage as soon as I have dropped off my bags at the guest house.  I’m very tired, but there is not time for rest on my Haiti trips.  I am thrilled to see the kids, and with a few toddler exceptions, they are very happy to see me.  The best part of all is seeing that a little boy who got very sick in the summer and became dangerously thin is not quite fat.  Serious thunder thighs.  Glorious!  Medika Mamba and intensive attention have worked their magic and he’s a real chunker now.  I take a few photos and spend some time just relaxing with the kids.  If it were up to me, this is all I would ever do in Haiti – relax and play with the children I came here to serve in the first place.  But that’s not how it is.  Not for me, anyway.  God puts us where He wants us, not always where we think we want to be.  Tomorrow is a big day.