Friday, December 1, 2017

Another busy day


Some of the BRESMA crew
Once again we start the day with a trip to IBESR – early this time, trying to catch the elusive attorney who must sign off on authorizations.  Aaaand, once again, she’s not here.  But I’m still glad we came, because Mme S has decided to look harder or cross the hallway, and she now has the missing documentation that will free the case we asked about on Wednesday.  This is stunningly fast work for IBESR and I am thrilled!

Because multitasking is a necessity in Haiti, we head off to Margarette’s dentist, where Franck meets us and picks me up for my next appointment.  I’m going way up in the mountains to meet with another ABI family who is here for their socialization trip. 
Boy, did we all get lucky – they got a referral that surprised and delighted everyone involved, to a little boy at Chances for Children.  I guess this another bright point to the new system.  I now get to work with a few crèches with which we have not partnered in the past, but that I greatly respect.  This is one of them.  Visiting up here is so relaxing.  And also cool.  As in, I’m wearing jeans and a light jacket because I need them both.

Not only do I get to meet the family in person, but I get to see Kathi Juntenen, one of the founders of the organization.  I am able to thank her in person for the food she is providing to BRESMA orphanage at cost.  Chances for Children is a distribution point for Feed My Starving Children, an American non-profit organization that makes a complete meal for children.  Their rice and ‘seasonings’ contain all the nutrition a child needs in every serving.  It is amazing to see the difference that ‘ti pa nou’ makes in a malnourished child.  The food is free – all recipients must do is pay for the shipping.  And Chances for Children chooses to order extra to share with those who have shown they will use it responsibly.

I have more meetings scheduled today in Port-au-Prince, so I don’t get to spend anywhere near as much time in the mountains as I would have liked.  In fact, we’re so late in getting down the mountain that Franck has no time to drop me off at the guesthouse.  Instead, I must come along to the airport to pick up Mar Grayner, who does my job for Spanish and Argentinian families.  We’ve only met up down here once before, so this is a real treat.

After we pick up Mar, we return to the guesthouse where I meet with an American family living here in Haiti, who wants to adopt a child IBESR has placed with them for foster care.  These cases are really tricky, but worth the extra effort.  And this one was started the right way, so I get to give the family some good news.

My final meeting calls to cancel because he also had to go to the airport, but his party was hours late.  I’m okay with that.  It’s been a long, busy day and I’m tired. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Hard to work with our hands tied.


The great thing about each day having an end is that one can only attend a maximum number of meetings during each one.  I certainly met that number today.

First Margarette and I finally manage to sit down together for long enough to go over all of our mutual cases, which include a large number of relative adoptions, sibling reunifications, pre-identified adoptions, special needs situations, and repairs of muddled cases started elsewhere or independently.  It takes less time than I’d like for it to take, because we don’t have as many completed referrals as I want.  But then again, we never could.  Not while there are children left waiting.  Now all I need to do is find enough hours to update my client families.

Next I have a meeting with an orphanage director to discuss some care issues at the creche.  Agencies may not inspect orphanages, and we cannot control them, but I can certainly put in my two cents.  And that I did.  The range of care available in orphanages varies wildly, from a very close second to a real family, all the way to nightmare warehouses that should be shut down immediately.  Now that agencies can no longer choose their orphanage partners, we must all work together to raise the standards at the orphanages that need help.  It’s a tricky position to be in – colonialism and imperialism have tainted all of Haitian history.  Instructing someone in how to do her life’s work better is a delicate task.

My third meeting is with yet another orphanage director, with whom I am wrapping up two tricky cases.  We’re going to get through them both, but as always, there is no way to say exactly when that will occur.

And finally, at last, I get to have the meetings I came to Haiti for in the first place.  I’m off to BRESMA.  My partner founded BRESMA, and used to be the Director.  All five of my Haitian born children came to us from BRESMA.  In fact, my then-ten-year-old daughter stashed her lost tooth in the wall in the girl’s bedroom, where it is now cemented into place and a permanent part of the building’s history.

My job here has changed, and not in a good way.  The new law has done great good in Haiti.  I personally believe that the Haitian system offers as much protection to biological families and their children as any adoption process in the world.  But some of the policy under the new law is wreaking havoc.  Older children and those with special needs are the greatest casualties of the new committee match system.  Unless something changes, I fear that most children who arrive in the orphanages having reached their six birthdays will never be adopted.

Prior to October 1, 2014, IBSER allowed agencies and orphanages to work together to suggest matches of children to families.  I would come to Haiti at least once every three months to spend time with the children and learn about each child’s unique personality.  Then, our agency would seek a family for that particular child.  IBSER would review each proposed pairing, and accept or refuse to authorize it.  Under that system, ABI and the other agencies could actively seek families for children that we knew personally.  We are no longer allowed to do so.

Think about it: who wants to adopt a thirteen-year-old girl?  Nobody. 

Older children need families too!
Now, who wants to adopt a delightful young lady of 13, who shows strong leadership skills and great compassion in making sure that the little ones are included fairly in each game?  Who likes to help out with chores, and needs encouragement to know that she is valued for who she really is as a person?  Who has excellent social skills?  Who would do very well in a family with older or younger siblings?  Suddenly a thirteen-year-old is not a threat.  She is a child, who will grow into a young woman to make you proud to be her parent.  I know her well, but you can’t know her at all.

We agencies all have the same message – we can’t find families if we are not allowed to look.  I pray that the next time I come here, I won’t have to tell the kids who are desperately asking me to find them parents that I can do nothing.  Because I could, if I were allowed to.

Pity IBESR does not read this blog. 

IBESR has promised us a list of waiting children.  Margarette and I will fight like crazy for that list until agencies can once again serve Haiti’s waiting children.  For most of us who work in Haiti, that’s why we’re here.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Business as usual


Sometimes it’s very difficult for families to understand why everything in Haiti takes so long.  I’m sure there are many of you out there who believe that if only we tried harder, the process could be faster and better.  You’re quite right in your thinking, except perhaps in who the ‘we’ might be.  Today was a perfect illustration of how things usually work in IBESR.

Margarette and I start off early to meet with a specific attorney.  Margarette has a few dossiers delayed in receiving Authorization, and I have a relative case that is similarly delayed.  In order to get Authorization, four specific IBESR staff members must sign off on a case.  No substitutes are allowed – if someone is sick or on vacation, there will be no Authorization for any adoption.  One of the four individuals is an attorney who is only present two half-days per week.  We have to hustle to make sure arrive at the right time to meet with her while she is there.  Except, she isn’t.  She had a meeting with UNICEF.  She won’t be back until her next scheduled half day.  Maybe.

Fortunately Margarette knows who everyone is, and she introduces me to the staff member who prepares the dossiers for the missing attorney.  I’ve been forewarned that she’s a real tough cookie.  She asks me, in English, “Why should I help you?  You are not my friend.”  She’s only half joking.  Margarette tells me in Kreyol to go give her a kiss, using the phrase one uses to instruct a child to greet an adult.  Now everyone is laughing. 

The lady calls me up to her desk.  She doesn’t ask me to sit, which is unusual and quite the power play in Haitian culture.  Generally a woman of my age will always be offered a chair.  In fact, I almost never get to stand up even if I want to.  Haitian cultural strata are different than American culture in so many ways!

She will not permit me to explain the case or give her any background.  As per her instructions, I show her the dossier number and she sends me back to my seat across the room.  Then she slowly pages through a notebook and then tells me that my clients have been married for only three years.  I agree, and refer to an IBESR memo allowing any combination of marriage and cohabitation to make up the required five years.  She agrees.  I also mention that attorney Ronald Augustin has already delivered proof of that cohabitation to IBESR (actually, it’s in their original adoptive family dossier as well, but who’s checking?  Not IBESR). 

She and Margarette speak to rapidly for me to follow for a moment, and then Margarette asks her to walk across the hall to another office, which is most likely where the cohabitation evidence has ended up.  Not happening.  But she seems to have decided that she likes me, and everyone respects the attorney whose name I just dropped.  So she tells me to bring in the receipt that IBESR would have given Me. Augustin when he delivered the proof of cohabitation.  Then she’ll authorize the dossier.

This is how IBESR works.  Documents do not flow from one room to another, and papers are often misplaced or lost.  Nothing is computerized or automated.  The courts at the Justice Center are very similar.  If ABI’s team were not at IBESR every single day and at court more days than not, I don’t know how any case would ever be completed.

Haitian Christmas décor for sale
Next we go to the Haitian equivalent of Pier One to buy Christmas decorations for BRESMA orphanage.  There was a big artificial tree, but each year it has gotten shorter and shorter until it’s more of a Christmas bush than anything else.  This year we’ll start over with a tall tree, with all of the pieces included.

My final appointment is with the Department of State Adoption Unit.  A new person is cycling into the position.  She has some mighty big shoes to fill, as the people she is replacing earned a reputation for efficient and compassionate service.  But she asked to be posted to the Adoptions Unit, and she is an attorney, both of which bode well for her desire to serve and her ability to do so correctly.  It seems like yesterday that we last got a new director of the adoption unit.  The days are long, but the years are short in Haiti.

Hopefully at some point on this trip I’ll be able to spend some time with some kids, instead of just racing in and out of the house dropping items or people off or picking them up.  That is why I got involved with adoptions in the first place.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Meetings and stacks


Another big day.  I begin with a meeting with the attorney who was formerly the representative for European Adoption Consultants, which was debarred for three years by the Department of State in December of 2016.  ABI accepted the transfer of the majority of the EAC transfer cases.  We were delighted to find no irregularities with EAC’s in-country representative’s work.  He will complete the legal processing of all of those cases for ABI.

Ronald Augustin comes from generations of traditional Haitian attorneys.  His English is impeccable.  After reviewing each of our mutual cases, we discuss Haitian versus U.S. law in general.  It’s a fascinating comparison (for those who find the law interesting).

Next I cross the street for my 11:00 meeting with IBESR Director Arielle Villedrouin.  Mme Villedrouin was appointed to her position by former President Martelli.  She remained in office following the election last year, which our team believes to be excellent news.  Mme Villedrouin was the Director overseeing the process while Haiti transitioned to a Hague Convention country.  While the process has been and continues to be difficult, few of the directors I have known in the past decade and a half would have had the intelligence, flexibility, or foresight to make the transition.

Today we discuss a range of topics, ranging from alternatives to regular Hague adoptions for Haitian born children residing in the United States to agencies seeking families for children with special needs, including older kids and sibling groups.  IBESR categorically disallows photolistings and most of the other tools that agencies use to find families as a violation of the children’s rights to privacy under Haitian law.  I feel like Jerry Maguire as I keep begging her to help me, help her.  She tells me that information about waiting children can only come from IBESR.  I’m praying that the information will come from IBESR, and soon, as I already know of several children in need.  I’m ready to try to find families for them, but I cannot do it without the permission of the Haitian Central Authority.  We also discuss our one remaining 2014 dossier.  She is not at all pleased to hear that I have a highly qualified parent for siblings from that long ago.  I’m pleased by her lack of pleasure, because that means she’ll take action and follow up.

Dossier stacks at IBESR
Next we go upstairs to meet with a variety of people in IBESR.  Two other team members are already there, dropping off dossiers for children.  Margarette requests that  family dossier be pulled from the stacks and studied.  It’s a relative case, and the child’s dossier is ready to go.  The adoptive family dossiers fill three rooms, with massive stacks organized by dossier number.  I find the idea of storing so much critical information in hardcopy really worrisome.  But Haiti is still a paper-based system, and will be so for the foreseeable future.  Electronic documents are not recognized as valid.

We meet with the Director of the multi-disciplinary unit to discuss a possible referral for my last remaining 2014 dossier.  I think we were successful, but not only is in imprudent to tell families anything about a child to whom they have not been referred, it’s contrary to Haitian law.  All I can tell my client is that a proposed match is in the works.  Details will follow if and only if we receive the referral and the dossier from the Central Authority of Haiti.

Margarette follows up on a few cases for which she needs documents or is providing missing documents.  All in all, we spend about three hours in the stifling, un-airconditioned bowels of the IBESR building.  This is a short day, for Margarette.  We have at least one team member here every single day.  Only with constant pressure and monitoring will cases receive referrals and eventually authorization.  This may have been a short day, but I’m already exhausted.

From IBESR it’s a short drive to Au Bonheur des Enfants, or ‘AUBE’ orphanage.  This was one of our four partners, back in the day when we were allowed to have partners.  It is one of the finest creches in Haiti.  There I greet my friend, orphanage coordinator Sonia Andre.  I also get to meet one of my adoptive families.  They just arrived to meet their new daughter.  She is not at all happy to see me, but the adoptive parents are a bit more welcoming.  It’s always a treat to get to meet families face to face on one of my trips.

Sonia and I have only two cases together at the moment.  I hope to have many more in the future.  The Haitian adoption process is agonizing enough without having to worry that the child is not being cared for properly.

Finally, it’s back to the guest house to hit the books and type up this report.  It’s been a long day, and tomorrow is just as jam-packed.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The trip begins...


I arrived in Haiti this afternoon and hit the ground running.  I haven’t been able to make as many trips recently as I used to, so every day is important. 

Driver Franck lets me know that there are two families staying at the guest house: one Italian and the other a Dutch family with two kids.  He also tells me that he’s overheard them speaking to each other in English, which is lucky for me.  I would have guessed their common language to be French, which would have meant I was out of luck.


I arrive at the guest house and spend a bit of time attempting to track down an ABI family that was travelling today, but wasn’t at the airport when expected.  Always worrisome to misplace a family…

After a few emails and calls to my office, Franck and I are off for a round of errands.  First, we take the Italian family to BRESMA to visit with their son.  Italy just began to allow adoptions from Haiti recently, after Haiti’s accession to the Hague in 2014.  This family is one of the first.  They tell me that adoption from Russia, now closed to US Citizens, is far more popular as Russia is closer and moves more quickly.  But lucky for a little boy at BRESMA orphanage who waited a very long time, this couple chose Haiti anyway.  Italy allows families to adopt children of whatever age they choose, and this family was open minded enough to accept a little boy who is almost nine.  They didn’t know how blessed they would be at the time, but now they know.

Next Franck and I head off to another orphanage, where ABI has two families in process.  This is not an orphanage with which ABI worked prior to IBESR’s decision to manage all referrals itself.  We have concerns about the standard of care here, so a surprise visit is always a good idea.  But it takes us so long to get here that it’s almost dark when we arrive.  I don’t get to see much.  I’ll return later.  Unannounced is best, but I can always ask older kids about their usual daily routine if I come when I’m expected.  The family is there and the mother says a few sentences to me with a perfect American accent.  After a few moments of head scratching, we figure out that they are one of my own families – not Dutch at all!  This is what happens when I have multiple families coming and going on the same day.  I had thought this family was already gone, so meeting them is an unexpected pleasure.

Our sunset commute.  This is typical Haitian traffic for the area.
Driving to and from this orphanage, which is almost in Carrefour, takes well over an hour.  It has been dark for quite a while be the time we all reach the guesthouse.  The families are tired, as am I. 

While we eat supper, Margarette arrives at the office after four hours of law school.  She looks exhausted – she has had a very long, but successful day.  She and I chat briefly before she heads for home, and I head to my room to write this update, prepare for tomorrow’s meetings, and start on my own nightly studies for law school.

Never a dull moment!