I need adoption

The following is a piece that ran on NPR last week about the orphan situation in Haiti. I thought this was an even piece showing the complexity of the problem, and revealing the disparity between UNICEF ideology and application. They also allowed someone to speak that is rarely given a voice in this discourse: the affected orphan. Read to the end . . . it's heartbreaking, and there are no easy solutions.

Boys who lost their families and homes live together in a    Port-au-Prince park

March 9, 2010
Debbie Elliot

Haiti is a country of children. Half the population is under 18 years old. And since the earthquake, it seems kids are everywhere — carrying water buckets, pushing wheelbarrows full of rubble, flying kites and playing with toy cars amid the tents that are now homes.

There also are many children who are alone, orphaned since the Jan. 12 quake that killed more than 200,000.

In a park near the airport road in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, a group of teenage boys are huddled around a radio, listening to Creole rap music. They are not related, but have formed a brotherhood in the disaster. Five of them are living in the park without shelter — or adult supervision.

“After the earthquake, all of us came here to sleep,” 16-year-old Luckson explains through a translator.

Their homes and neighborhoods collapsed in the earthquake. “All my family died,” Luckson says.

Jean, also 16, can’t find his family. “Me, I heard they are somewhere, but I don’t know the place,” he says.

The boys do odd jobs to earn money, like fixing cars that break down on their way to the airport. They share food and try to survive with what little they have, washing out the same clothes they’ve been wearing since the earthquake.

UNICEF estimates that more than 20,000 children lost their parents in the quake and its aftermath. Relatives or neighbors are caring for many of these children. Others, such as the boys in the park, are fending for themselves.

Humanitarian groups are working to track the separated children and reunite families when possible. The children’s names are entered into a searchable database with information about where they used to live and whether they have relatives in the countryside.

Registering Children, Reuniting Families

Late on a recent Friday afternoon, a team of social workers came to register the teenage boys living the park. The workers took photographs and promised to return Monday morning to take them to an orphanage, where they would be cared for and would be able to resume their studies until caregivers can be found.

UNICEF officials say they have registered more than 300 children so far and reunited about a dozen families. It takes detective work, says Marie de la Soudiere, coordinator of UNICEF’s program for separated children in Haiti.

Until caregivers are located, the agency tries to place kids temporarily in orphanages or designated child-safe tents in the spontaneous camps where earthquake victims have settled. Soudiere says there is danger in the chaos of disaster.

“You can take children [who] are lost, and nobody will even find you,” says Soudiere. And you can take advantage of desperate parents “who don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, because their lack of knowledge that aid is coming … then they just say, ‘Take my child,’ ” she says.

Even before the earthquake, Haiti had more than 300,000 orphans. Destitute parents gave up some, and in the worst cases, handed the children over to wealthy families as servants, known asrestaveks in Creole.

Since the earthquake, the government has tightened its watch on child trafficking and temporarily halted adoptions, a move supported by key humanitarian groups.

“No one has the right to take a child out of this country,” says Caryl Stern, president and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. She says good intentions don’t always result in what’s best for a child.

“You hear frequently in the States, especially, ‘Well, but we can provide for them so much better.’ Where do you draw that line then? So this summer, when it’s really hot and the kids in the ghetto or neighborhoods where they don’t have air conditioning, are we going to pluck those kids and take them to parents who have air conditioning because they can provide for them better?” she asks.

“No one has the right to decide where a child should be except that child’s family,” Stern says.

No Safety Net For Families

But some say the crackdown on adoptions is misplaced.

“In a perfect world … I would love to see international adoption stopped,” says Dixie Bickel, who runs the orphanage God’s Littlest Angels, about 45 minutes outside of Port-au-Prince. “I would love to see Haitians take in and adopt a child without making it a slave in their home,” she says.

Bickel is an American nurse who has lived in Haiti since 1991. There are about 60 children staying at the orphanage now, mostly infants and toddlers she has taken in from other orphanages that were destroyed by the earthquake.

Bickel is frustrated by what she sees as hostility toward orphanages like hers.

“Nobody says a thing because mothers give up their kids in the U.S., because we know they can’t take care of their kids,” she says. “But in Haiti, it’s made to look like it’s an illegal trafficking situation because the mother says, ‘I would rather give up my baby than see it die in my arms.’ ”

Bickel says that until the cultural system in Haiti changes to support families with children, institutions like hers are crucial.

Some U.S. senators, including Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu, believe the influx of international aid after the earthquake provides an opportunity to build a modern child welfare system in Haiti.

“The problem is there’s no safety net of support services in Haiti,” Landrieu says. “And it causes many parents to want to or to be forced to or encouraged to abandon their children.”

For now, UNICEF’s Soudiere says her agency is trying to get emergency assistance to families in crisis.

“If it’s a bit of food and a tent so be it, because it’s criminal that money should be spent on a child in an orphanage, separated from the family, where a quarter of that amount of money could maintain that child at home,” she says.

Shattered Hopes

On Monday morning, the teenage boys living in the Port-au-Prince park are up early, backpacks on, waiting for the social workers to return for them.

“It makes me so happy that I have a chance today,” sings 15-year-old Steve. He says the group wanted to get back to school so they will have a future.

“Me, what I would like is every one of us to have something to do,” he says. “Like if this one could be an engineer, this one could be a doctor, it would be great.”

But something is amiss. Two of the boys do not show up. Over the weekend, they left with foreigners offering food and money. The others didn’t have details, but think they went to a hotel downtown. They are surprised their “brothers” did not return to meet the social workers.

The social workers arrive late, and with bad news. The orphanage won’t take the boys because they are too old. The plan now is to give the boys a tent in one of the settlement camps throughout the city.

The smile fades from Luckson’s face. He doesn’t like the idea.

“We will always stay [here] until we find someone [who] is not lying so they can help us really,” Luckson says.

He sits down on one of the brick garden walls that has been his home since the earthquake. In his pocket is a folded piece of notebook paper, with a poem neatly written in English:

My name is Luckson
I’m sixteen years old
My mother and father’s dead
I don’t have no one to help me
I don’t have nobody in haiti
My sister and my brother’s dead
I’m sleep in the street
I don’t have no one to take care me
Please lets me go whith you
I need adoption.
Please help me.


13 comments:

  1. Anonymous5:25 AM

    like dixie said, "in a perfect world...." she hit the nail on the head. but this is not a perfect world. these children need (and want) help.
    luckson is speaking out as the voice of many many orphaned children - these children need homes, safety, provisions. with all due respect to unicef, they need to open their eyes and see the situation in front of them. they need to make adjustments to their policies. 300,000+ orphans in haiti - BEFORE the earthquake????!!!! oh dear, i better stop now before my emotions get the best of me and i start writing unkind things i will regret.

    luckson - i wish i could tell you how many people in this world (dozens of whom i know personally) would adopt you into their home. tears are streaming down my face as i think of you and the millions of other children in this world, caught up in red tape, that need a place to be nourished and cherished. YOU, are important, luckson. i wish i could tell you face to face how important you are.

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  2. my heart is breaking, especially for those missing boys lured to a hotel somewhere. those children are so vulnerable.

    there is certainly a lot to be said for preserving cultural identity, and there is something creepy and wrong about "adoption as salvation" mentality from rich/white to poor/brown, but your family and so many others prove that is not the model or intention of most international adoptions. kids need homes and love, and halting adoptions (for the 200,000 CONFIRMED orphans, for starters) is not serving children who cannot speak up for themselves.

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  3. Anonymous6:26 AM

    My heart is breaking for these boys in particular and others in situations similar. And the babies, oh my God, the babies...

    I'm not saying that any child (here in the US or abroad) would be "better off" with me, but they would be loved, cherished, nurtured and allowed to grow. Oh how I wish I could help. But what can I do? How can I help? How can I help these children realize that they have worth?

    Jill

    Jill

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  4. Kristen, do you happen to know or have any information on the process or liklihood of a single woman adopting a child?

    Thank you for your posts; I look forward to them every day.

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  5. Oh, my heart hurts!
    What can we do to help?

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  6. Thanks for posting the article and sound clip. I hope someone from UNICEF reads it as well.

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  7. And Haiti is just one place in the world with many children in need.

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  8. This is just heartbreaking. Thank you for getting the word out so that others can take action and hopefully make a difference.

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  9. It is tragic, it seems that orphanages and aid groups are having to prioritize who to help to make the most of limited resources. The older orphans get left in the cold.

    For people whose hearts go out, I don't have information about adopting in Haiti, but these blogs have been truly inspiring about helping wonderful kids in the US who really need safe havens. They make it seem doable:

    Single working mom fostering an infant/toddler:
    http://fosterhood.tumblr.com/
    Couple who adopted a teenager:
    http://lafosterblog.blogspot.com

    I wish for those boys in Port-au-Prince to find their way.

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  10. what is the answer??...how do we change it??...

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  11. I listened to this story in the car on the way to work when it played. I was in tears at the end and had to compose myself before I could go into the office. I have to say that I thought the lady from UNICEF came off like a psycho. Comparing the lack of air conditioning to living as an orphan in Haiti is ridiculous.

    I loved the point about how when mothers give up their children in the U.S. no one says anything - in fact it's seen as a noble thing. Chances are that even those mothers would have been able to give their children more than the children in Haiti would get.

    I admire you for what you have done in adopting your boys. I hope you NEVER, EVER doubt that you did the right thing.

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  12. Thanks for sharing this Kristen!

    (Said this before, saying it again...)I've been wanting to adopt from Haiti since spring of 07....and that desire will continue to be at the very forefront of my thoughts until we bring a child into this home whose country of birth is Haiti. It may be 10 years from now but I'm pretty dang sure it's gonna happen. God knows. We need to(get to!) pray for safety for all of the current orphans there, whether they're 16 months or 16 years.....and wait for the doors to re-open for adoptions. And then be willing to step up when the time comes.

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  13. Anonymous6:16 PM

    How heartbreaking is that!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


    Erika

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talk to me.

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