In Septemeber 2008, I traveled 6000 miles to Haiti's Kenscoff mountains. My mission: to care for some of the orphaned and abandoned, the sick, malnourished and premature infants of this beautiful but beleagured Caribbean nation.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

What Would Become of Them?

In January last year, I composed several blog posts that alluded to the influence that some of the major international aid agencies were having on childcare policy in Haiti, following the 7.0 magnitude earthquake.

At the time, orphaned and displaced children were taken into 'protective' custody in camps that these aid agencies set up for Internally Displaced Persons. The perceived threat to children who were orphaned or separated from their families? Orphanages. They were considered to be sites of potential child trafficking. It was frustrating to have an empty orphanage - all most all of the children in our care, who were in the adoption process at the time of the earthquake, were evacuated to their waiting families overseas. We had the capacity to provide excellent care to orphaned and displaced children, but we were not permitted to take them in.

Following one of my posts a reader, who was affiliated with one of the aid agencies commented anonymously. He or she told me that orphanages should not exist, since the best interests of children and families were served through approaches to the 'orphan problem' that targeted communities, not just children. Although this person was not brave enough to go 'on record', (s)he wanted me to know that orphanages such as ours were obstacles in the path of development agencies. Why? Apparently, we suck up donor funds that they need to realise their goals.

I don't believe that our donors would necessarily give to larger aid agencies if GLA did not exist. They are inspired to give to smaller charities, charities with hearts and souls.I believe that they care about individual children: faces, names, stories.

In may 2010, a BBC reporter asked a representative from a British-based aid agency,
that is opposed to international adoption, how she would answer grown up orphans like the GLA staff member, who said that international adoption would have been the better option for him. Better than 15 years of institutionalization in his home country. Her answer: this was a sad story, but it was just one story. Her agency had to view the bigger picture.

These were words that chilled me. They chilled me then, and for some reason, they are haunting me this week.

A week ago, two children were admitted to GLA. Julenord was the first to arrive. He cast a pitiful form in the nursery. A faded, ashen skinned, stringy-haired little boy, whimpering, and writhing in his crib. At almost two years old, his spindly legs were too weak to support his body weight. He has never learned to walk. He grieved the mother, who loved him, and he didn't understand, yet, the depth and perhaps the fierceness of this love. His Mother loved him so much, that she surrendered him. 'Do you understand, that if you make this decision,' our Haitian administrator counselled,'You are giving up your parental rights? Do you understand that if you sign this paper, one day Julenord will leave Haiti? Do you know that you may never see him again after that? Are you sure this is really what you want?'

Melouse, a tiny, malnourished infant with Downs Syndrome,came next. Slowly starving to death since her birth, she was carried here by an aging Mother. A Mother who wept as she negotiated the rocky mountain road, with her precious bundle. Tears of sorrow, of regret, of resignation, and yet accepting this as the best option for her baby. She had tried.

It seems ridiculous to those of us who work at GLA, to even consider the scenario of closing our doors, and sacrificing Melouse and Julenord to 'the bigger picture.'

We hope that one day, there will be a viable social support network in Haiti, to support children and families like theirs. Then, birth families will not be forced to chose orphanages or adoptions versus selling their child into slavery, or raising them in extreme poverty.

Until then, we are standing in the gap, because if we did not, what would become of these children?

Pray for us, that we will continue to make the right decisions for each child that comes through our gate.


r. said...

Unfortunately I think there is truth both in your point of view and in the point of view of the critics of international adoption. I appreciate that your organization's counseling of the mothers has been so thorough--if I felt confident that all the other agencies (in Haiti and in certain other troubled countries) were being thorough and truthful and only trying to take those babies who truly needed to leave and whose parents gave meaningful consent, then many of my qualms about international adoption would be eased.

Thank you for all the hard work you do on behalf of these kids. I wish there were easier answers.

Rori said...

oh Susan, one of the many sad and disturbing things about the anonymous posting is that those thoughts may sound rationale coming from an office somewhere or from a removed place of academia, but are clearly not coming from someone who looks into the eyes of suffering mommys, daddys, and babies everyday. I would venture to guess that is not the case. Yes, I do agree that the orphan crisis certainly has roots in a much larger issue within Haiti and yes, I would also venture to guess that everyone at GLA prays continually for those larger social, political etc. issues see forward movement so that babies are healthy, mommy's don't have to watch their children starve to death, daddy's don't have to walk out of orphanage doors seeing their child for the last time as a way to save their life, and families can remain intact. Adoptions and places like GLA are most certainly NOT the hinderances to the larger social issues within Haiti. EVERY single child has value---EVERY single child matters and for that reader to imply that that individual child should be sacrificed to accomplish what they believe, and I would argue against, would be a greater good, makes me very sad. Haiti has the 2nd largest concentration per capita of NGO's in the world....I don't think the orphanages are in their way!!! From someone who has a God placed loved for Haiti, its people, and particularly the children, that is just my opinion. Keep loving in the way God has asked of you Susan....some day the "well-done good and faithful servant" will be all that is needed to be glad you followed what Jesus asked.

Annette in Vermont said...

Thanks for sharing these thoughts, Susan. Each child bears the fingerprints of God, and each one is worth loving and nurturing. All of you at GLA, and adoptive parents like me and my wife, are simply trying to bring grace and hope into broken lives. The Kingdom of Christ is coming, but until it is fully realized we must take these incremental steps to bring life and hope to every child that we can.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much Susan for this post. While I am not so naive to think that international adoption is the "perfect solution", I do believe that in many cases it is the best possible option at this time. At church one day, with my three adopted children, another member of the congregation spoke to me about how in his native African country international adoption wasn't necessary. He said that in his country there was a large institution set up that would feed, educated and prepare the children for jobs. I was so crushed - Did he really think that this was a better option for a child? Would he rather see his own child in an institution than with a loving family? Second to God, isn't family the most important thing in any person's life? Also, our country (Canada) was founded by people who sought out new opportunities in another land. Aside from First Nation people, we all came from somewhere else and are still able to celebrate our heritage while enjoying the wonderful opportunities Canada has to offer.
I do pray that internation adoption will one day be unnecessary, but I don't believe that day has come yet.
Lisa Poirier

elissa said...

Kudos to you for writing this peice! When it comes to children there is no bigger picture, I am a firm believeer that the problem is too large to be fixed on its own and that, international adoption is a key role. I can say that I donate to the smaller companies because, the bureaucracy countless dollars are spent on wages, offices and administration. If they looked beyond the picture, GLA sponsors, and treats children that are not necessarily up for adoption. I say Shame on them for not opening their eyes and really looking at the CHILD! The more I research I see that instead of working for a common good many aid organizations are territorial and feel entitled to the money. Ii was shocked to learn that many of the CEO's of some well know aid agencies are working for a hansome wage and benefits.... Sorry VERY passionate about orphanages, adoption and the work GLA does. I choose to donate to GLA over UNICEF cause it gets in the hands of the people immediately not filtered out! Youu wouyld think with the billions of dollars pledged to help Haiti everyone would be in school and have houses by now.....but it is caught in red tape.