I remember the first time I learned Jean Celiene had parents. And siblings. All at the #7 orphanage, a place I had been volunteering my time and finances for a while- at least over a year by then. While I learned that they had parents, it was still a while later before I understood enough Creole and Haitian culture to understand that all but 15 of the kids had parents. Some of the parents who live close enough attend church at the orphanage on Sundays to see their kids and spend a morning with them. Others made the trek from the mountains near Montrouis to drop their child off, never to be seen again. For me, this was one confusing thing to learn. As time goes by, I continue to relearn it, allowing myself to consciously be thrown into the waves of an incredible amount of injustice regarding at risk, impoverished kids, missions and the so called “orphan crisis” all over the world.
As a disclaimer, I first must say I do not work with a number of orphanages and I am aware that there are a number of different types of services orphanages provide. I am not a social worker and I am not someone who ever thought I would really be involved up close with the plight of the orphan. However, it is totally a part of what I do now and such a big part of my heart that it would be wrong for me not to share it. But, I haven’t shared it. I have tried so many times to write down how I feel about this wonderful children’s home, the good home they have at the orphanage, but also how every time I help I feel like I am creating more space for more little children with parents to be dropped off in. It has been a total uphill battle where I have attempted to throw in the towel numerous times. But, the Lord has been gracious to us and has shown us that this little home is one of His favorite little spots. His love and laughter is so thick there, and it reminds me that there is hope and that we are blessed to play a small part of it.
The Pastor at the orphanage is an amazing man in many ways. I can also call him one of my greatest teachers to the culture of Haiti and the lengths some will go to in order to secure their next meal. He is one who has clearly been burned by many westerners- and I have personally seen many westerners knock on their gate and file out of of their vans. They come bearing stuffed animals and coloring books and iPhones. They leave 30 minutes later, excited that they have been a part of taking care of orphans. I have heard, from the very mouths of these people that it is important to “just love on the orphans” as if hugging a child is truly all we can do to fight the injustice of the broken system of the orphan. I have grown to look at this and call it what I believe it is: lazy. I believe it is a lazy, western Christian thing to do to look at an orphanage and think that the best we can do is bring these impoverished children more material… stuff. It leaves me thinking, is that it? For many years, as I said, this is what I brought. It comes from a decent heart, I also agree, but there is more that can be done.
When I found out that one of the girls we were seriously considering attempting to adopt had parents, I was totally confused. I wanted to know more. The pastor and his wife were very protective and ambiguous for years as I asked about her parents. The truth is still not totally clear, but they exist. As I have continued to ask the questions over and over again, I have started to see something: a Haitian parent dropping their child off at an orphanage is, in their eyes, not an act of negligence but an act of sacrificial love. When I began to look at the orphan crisis in this way, I had new eyes to see them through: these parents need to be empowered, not encouraged to drop off their children at westernized, white washed institutions. Furthermore, this forced me to ask the question, If I am not helping these families stay together, what am I doing?
Obviously its difficult when the kids need food. Immediate needs should be met. But, in that we are able to teach and speak into the pastor’s life. As we get to know him and the kids better, we are able to ask the questions of the kids’ parents and such. In 2015, I will be meeting some of the parents and hearing more about their lives and their struggles. Because we believe in Haitian-led development, we will also continue to educate the pastor on things such as Reactive Attachment and other issues that can happen when people pop in and out of the orphanage. We will continue to ask him what he thinks would be the best solution to helping these children. He has already come to some cool conclusions- including the fact that he wants to help kids stay with their families. He has already, on his own, made some strides to see this happen. He has created a school facility on campus for free in our community in Haiti.
At first, I didn’t really get how a school would help the kids in regard to keeping them in families. However, as I met some of the students attending, I realized some of them were the kids who had stayed at the orphanage before. Some of the students are the brother or sister of the kids staying at the orphanage. This school is empowering, educating and showing Haitian parents a new way to care for their kids. And, I totally believe in it.
We are taking our support and help of this place to new levels in 2015. One of those ways has been through the help of many new friends across the states and their partnerships with us. Lindsey, a dear friend who has worked with us for the past 6 months, has launched a campaign to help pay the teachers at the school and provide one meal a day to the kids at the school. You can find more information here: www.sevenforseven.weebly.com
More than that, I write all of this to say that Haiti has some issues. But Haiti also is already doing these projects and programs we deem “new” and “right” and “innovative”. The Pastor at the orphanage wants to help his own people and their children. Sometimes that has meant that they stay at his facility. Now, it also means helping them keep their children as they provide free schooling for them with quality instructors. I believe, as many things in Haiti are, slow is fast and fast is slow. So, we are slowly and with great conviction, continuing to partner with this home for children, attempting to provide them with love and care but also believing more for them. We are so excited to be able to work with them as they innovate for themselves and solve some of their issues as God leads.