On my most recent trip to Haiti, another child was abandoned at the Hospital Bon Samaritan. Named John by one of the volunteer doctors, he weighed only 10 lbs but appeared to be 18 months in age. We don’t know why he was so emaciated – whether it was lack of food or an undiagnosed medical illness. The caregivers at the hospital orphanage started to feed him and during the first few weeks he responded to the attention and the improved nutrition. Unfortunately, he stopped eating after 3 weeks and despite IV hydration, died within 12 hours. There was no family to notify of his passing.
The hospital orphanage, Kai Mara, has been present for 40 years as a way to care for the children that families are not able too. Most of these children are not true orphans in that they have relatives nearby, but none that are able to feed or cloth them. Six of the 16 children at Kai Mara are severely mentally or physically handicapped and often bedridden. However, 10 of the children are of normal intelligence and mobility and range in age from 3 to 10. The four older children attend a local school and are learning to speak english from the American volunteers.
During my first few trips to Haiti 8 years ago, I explored the possibility of adoption for two of the children. Although this was before the earthquake chaos, the adoption system was still in disarray and full of corruption. It was much simpler and less expensive to sponsor one of the children financially so that the school fees, meals and portion of childcare was subsidized. Our Haitian “daughter” is now in third grade and we are able to spend time with her each year when we return to HBS. Her life is much different than the life she would have experienced had she stayed with her birth family. Three meals a day are provided by the kitchen staff, clean water runs from a faucet, school uniform and fees are paid and an after school tutor comes each day. She is missing the loving guidance of parents, but the hospital staff is available to provide much of the needed structure. Like most Haitians, she has a large extended family of siblings and cousins in the rest of the orphan kids. Haitian culture will be a daily part of her life, rather than something she reads about in books. Educational opportunities and her ability to navigate both Haitian and American culture is what many developing countries need in their future leaders and workers.
Adoption can be a wonderful option for many countries and families. I have two daughters that are proof of this. Neither of them were orphans, but were unable to be raised in their birth families or country due to cultural expectations (lack of support for single parents in Korea and the need for a son in China). Domestic adoption within their country would have been the next best solution, but adoption of an unrelated family member is not widely practiced in Asian cultures. Due to many factors, international adoption is now becoming less common and orphaned children are being raised in their country of birth. The American vision of “saving” children from a poor country is being replaced by better social service infrastructure in the sending countries.
We have found financial sponsors for eight of the ten children at HBS. My hope is that they will be the new leaders of Haiti and bring together the best of both of our countries by implementing what aid foreign nations are able to provide while keeping the rich cultural heritage alive.