Haiti #3- Haitian Orphanages: Legal and Illegal

Posted: June 15, 2010 in Haiti Missions, Journeys, YOLO
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We set up our base of operations at Bethel House, a large, secure missionary retreat in the mountains which provided a great base for the mission teams. The retreat, secured by a large gate, concrete wall and barbed wire, can host up to 150 Christian lodging guests at a time. Amazingly, it even has a chlorinated swimming pool, which we all used each day to disinfect ourselves after a day in the city.

The Free Christian team included Marianne, a chemist who is on the board of one of the orphanages; Dana, a Raytheon engineer; Cheryl H., an environmental consultant; Marnie, a nurse practitioner, Jill our organizer, in addition to myself. Marnie immediately became a critical team member, as several missionaries got sick.
Grace Chapel added Michelle, a veteran of four Haiti mission trips; Trevor, an electrical engineer, Stephanie, Julianna, Cheryl F., Dave, and Aaron who were, like me, making their first trips. Cheryl F.’s fluent French was invaluable to us.
Our interpreter and leader was Jonas, an ex-Haitian business executive from Boston who supports many children in Haiti, and makes regular trips. Without his fluent Haitian Creole, French and English we would have been lost.
Each day we would travel out of the mountains in early morning, spend hours in traffic or in stores looking for supplies, not reaching our destination until at least 11:00 a.m. We had to be back on the road well before dark, as an already dangerous city becomes extremely dangerous.
In today’s Haiti, many parents try to get their kids into orphanages where they can get food, medical care, housing and education. Sadly, if they disown their own kids, they know that it might be their best chance for survival. They might tell their kids to lie and state that their parents are dead.
At a legal, well-run orphanage, spartan as they might be, a child would get stability, shelter, food, education, care, discipline, security and perhaps a little kindness. On the streets, waiting for them is a perpetual striving for shelter, food, and safety in a dangerous, polluted environment, with little chance for work or opportunity. I noticed it was especially tough on the girls and women.
But there are not enough legal orphanages, especially for the newborn and the teenagers. The newborns are difficult to care for, it is harder to feed them and are more likely to get gravely ill from malnutrition. We saw many malnourished infants. The teens eat more, are more difficult to control and even harder to get adopted. Once they turn 16, under Haitian law they cannot get adopted.
The toddler to eight year olds are those that attract the most interest and get the best donations from prospective adoptive parents. They still look somewhat fresh and show the potential ability to thrive in a different environment that might be offered to them. Amazing as it might sound, some orphanages, are reluctant to part with them. The unlicensed ones in particular, need the younger children to draw donations from abroad.
When we left for Haiti, our plan was to do construction work at the Hope for the Children of Haiti (HFC) orphanage and school (www.hfchaiti.org) in Bolosse, an impoverished neighborhood in Port-au-Prince. We also planned to do some construction work on the homes of some of the widows that work or teach at the school. These are actual people in desperate need, and I was interested in hearing their stories and understanding their plight.
HFC, and New Life Link (www.newlifelink.org), an orphanage and nursery for younger children, were founded by Dr. Jacob Bernard, a Haitian-American who returned to his country to help impoverished children. Dr. Bernard also runs Bethel House.
We found both of those orphanages to be reasonably well run under poor conditions in the country- but not by American standards by any means. The school-aged children are getting ample food, a good Christian education, and a large dose of love and care. They generally can speak some English, while fluent in French and their native Haitian Creole. Some of the HFC kids hope to eventually seek an education in the United States, while the younger kids at New Life are mostly scheduled for adoption by Americans or Europeans.
Dr. Bernard recently adopted 10 of the kids at HFC, as they were just about to turn 16, the age barrier that prevents the kids from being adopted. While it is very difficult to choose who to adopt and who to support, Dr. Bernard makes it clear that he adopts those that he believes will have the best chance of having success at the next level. That might mean a meager career in Haiti, or a college education in the United States. There is around 80% unemployment in Haiti, so not much is here for them.
We brought HFC much-needed medical supplies, money, food, clothing and other necessities. In addition to normal protein foods like peanut butter and tuna, we brought flip flops, church clothes, underwear, towels, shoes, deodorant, shampoo, shoes, lotion, toothpaste, soap and feminine products for the girls. We even brought some of the HFC boys soccer shirts from our home town of Andover. (See photo) With the shirts on, they look like any other American kid, free from poverty and language barriers.
The kids at both orphanages are desirous of interaction, especially the smaller kids, and we enjoyed playing with these wonderful children. The saddest part is, if we could bring a child home with us, many of us would have. But the archaic adoption laws in Haiti can stretch the process to as much as four years! It was temporarily shortened for humanitarian reasons after the earthquake, but is back to the same bureaucratic nightmare it generally has been. There would be many more adoptions, but couples need to be married for at least 10 years and be over 35 years of age, for example.
Dr. Bernard hoped that we would get to know the students personally and perhaps develop a life-long relationship with the school. Several of our group support specific children financially. It costs somewhere around $200 per month to support a child in school, food, clothing, etc. Some pay all of the cost, some share the cost with others.
The older kids at Hope for the Children of Haiti understand that a sponsor from afar is paying for their stay and education, simply out of Christian love and concern. It is heartwarming to see the kids glued to the side of their sponsor whenever they are around. They know that this selfless effort means the difference from a dangerous life on the street, and the relatively comfortable life and schooling at HFC.

Comments
  1. I love your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did you design this website yourself or did you hire someone to do
    it for you? Plz reply as I’m looking to construct my own blog and would like to know where u got this from. many thanks

    • wdperkins says:

      Thanks for reading and good luck on your blog! I do not know what you are going to write about (I never know) but if you are interested in writing a guest blog let me know.
      I just used one of the standard themes: “Greyzed” By The Forge Web Creations

      Bill P

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