International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Tricked into separation, a family is reunited in Haiti

Visit any orphanage in Haiti and you’re likely to find that the overwhelming majority of children there are not, in fact, orphans.
 
Even before a massive earthquake devastated the island nation in January 2010, Haiti struggled with extreme poverty. Most Haitians had no jobs, and families unable to care for their children routinely placed them in orphanages. As a result, 80 percent of children in these institutions have at least one living parent.
 
These mothers and fathers expected their children to be cared for and educated. The horrible truth was that many were neglected, others exploited and abused, and some even trafficked or illegally put up for foreign adoption.  
 
As the International Rescue Committee, UNICEF and other organizations in Haiti worked to reunite families who became separated in the aftermath of earthquake, the scale of the problem in the country’s orphanages became horribly apparent. Acting together, aid organizations are assessing the conditions in Haiti’s 650 orphanages, so far registering 13,400 children and tracing living relatives. We have helped to shut down orphanages that do not meet minimum standards. The Haitian government has enacted new protections for children.
 
The IRC strives to preserve family unity, opting for alternative care only when clearly in the best interest of the child. When families are reunited, we provide them with ongoing support such as counseling, cash assistance and access to credit, and we help families who are trying to establish small businesses.
 
Still, many families have been victimized by unscrupulous people pretending to offer assistance. Carnise, age 55, and her husband, Dieuseul, 51, are farmers from Mirebalais in northeast Haiti. The couple could not afford to keep their four children in school and were persuaded by a local pastor to enroll them in his orphanage instead.
 
“When the pastor came to the house he told us that their lives would be better at the orphanage,” says Carnise. “We believed him. Of course I was very sad seeing my children go, but I thought it was the best thing we could do for their future. I trusted him.
 
Their daughter Darline went to live at the orphanage in 2004 when she was 12, She was joined a year later by her six-year-old brother, Sonson. Then her sister Mimose, 12 years old at the time, came to the orphanage. Her younger sister, Marrie, arrived in 2011 when she was six.  
 
The pastor promised Carnise and Dieuseul, and many other poor families, that he would care for their sons and daughters. Instead their situation became far worse. They were forced to work for no pay at the orphanage, were not fed properly, and lived in smelly, unhygienic rooms.
 
The IRC was able to assess the orphanage in 2011, found it unsuitable for children, and helped Haitian social services close it down. Darline, Sonson, Mimose and Marrie were placed in emergency care and, despite the lack of available details about their true home, the IRC was able to reunite the family in July 2012. 
 
“We made a mistake agreeing to let them go,” Carnise says, explaining that she and Dieuseul were not able to visit their children – parents are often barred from doing so – and were not aware of the orphanage’s conditions. “It would have been better to have begged on the street than to have let my children leave. I couldn’t stop thinking about them. It was the cause of a lot of arguments between me and my husband. I started to spend more and more time with the other mothers in the village. They understood how I felt and gave me the emotional support I needed.”
 
The pastor was subsequently jailed for child trafficking and child slavery. Since the earthquake, the IRC alone has reunited more than 900 children with relatives.
 
“The day we were brought back together again was fantastic,” says Carnise. “I cried so much and I am so happy to have them back in my life. It’s impossible to express how I felt. I thank God that the IRC was able to find my children and bring them back to me.”

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