Many of those children have substantial medical needs: amputated arms and legs, severely broken bones, debilitating wounds. Other children suffered physical calamity before the earthquake: malnourishment, a high rate of HIV infection, and serious illness from treatable diseases.
While headlines have been dominated by news of the 10 Idaho Baptists arrested for attempting to transport 33 Haitian children into the Dominican Republic on Jan. 29—and the subsequent release of eight of the Americans—the serious work of caring for orphans in Haiti has gone forward with little fanfare. And with the Haitian government closing the process of new adoptions for the foreseeable future, many orphanages are preparing for children who may be in their care indefinitely.
Though it’s difficult to pinpoint the number of orphanages in Haiti, last year the country’s department of social services, or IBESR, reported 100 licensed orphanages and 67 creches—orphanages licensed to facilitate adoptions. Many more informal operations exist, with some overcrowded and undersupplied in the best of times.
Authorities worry that the country’s longstanding problem with child trafficking may grow worse in the post-quake surge of orphans: UNICEF warns that children newly orphaned or separated from family are vulnerable to child predators. Haitian authorities say they want to attempt to reunite children with any living family before moving forward with new adoptions to avoid potential trafficking problems.
That means orphanages like Danita’s Children will care for children like Jean and many new orphans. Bowie says the orphanage’s population has nearly doubled. Before the quake it cared for 77 children. (The Christian ministry also has a church for 500 community members and a school for 600 children.) Since, the orphanage had taken in at least 53 children and another 22 adults in need.
Some of those children have serious injuries: A volunteer surgeon mended a severe wound for a girl with an amputated arm and exposed nerve. A prosthetics specialist assessed other children with amputated limbs. While most children at the orphanage are healthy, the workers also cared for special needs before the quake: a boy with a tumor in his mouth, children with slight mental retardation, a girl severely burned in voodoo rituals.
To care for children with old and new needs, the orphanage is bringing in volunteer doctors and building a medical facility to offer modern care in a country with severely limited medical attention. Bowie says in the past the workers have driven three hours to Santiago to obtain advanced care for children. Now they’re attempting to accelerate plans for their own hospital already two years in the making.
As the group takes in new children, Bowie says they are taking great care to make sure children are truly orphaned: “We want to reunite wherever we have that opportunity.” To that end, the organization—which doesn’t normally facilitate adoptions—is working with the Red Cross and other agencies to register children and look for any remaining family. The group has also visited IBESR officials to ensure their work is properly done, especially in light of the negative publicity surrounding the Baptists from Idaho: “We’re really being sticklers about it.”
So are the workers at God’s Littlest Angels (GLA). The orphanage located just outside of Port-au-Prince and founded by an American couple in 1995 has long cared for the most vulnerable of orphans. Board member Tom Vanderwell says John and Dixie Bickel “felt called to the tiniest of the tiny and the sickest of the sick.” Vanderwell has seen that reality firsthand: He and his wife adopted two children from GLA nearly five years ago. At 20 months old, their adopted daughter weighed 12 pounds. She’s much healthier today, and so are many of the other children at GLA.
The group regularly facilitated adoptions before Haitian authorities closed the process. Vanderwell says the organization is carefully following post-quake Haitian regulations: For now, GLA isn’t accepting any new adoption applications, even to keep on file: “We’re committed to doing things right because we’re here for the long haul—long after Anderson Cooper leaves and long after people forget about the Baptists from Idaho.”
When the Haitian government allowed children to leave the country if their adoptive parents were already far along in the adoption process, Vanderwell says 81 children at GLA were eligible to go: “We sent 81 kids home.” Since then, GLA has taken in more than 30 children, many from an orphanage that collapsed. Three children, separated from family, came from the U.S. hospital ship, USNS Comfort. GLA located the birth parents for all three. In one case, a little girl recovering from serious injuries remembered where she went to church in the city. GLA workers took her photograph to the church and within three days her father called to claim her.
Since GLA sustained little damage in the quake, Vanderwell says, “We have the responsibility and obligation to help others.” The group has facilitated nearly 1,000 tetanus shots for the surrounding community and provided help for Haitian staff members—70 percent of the local staff lost their homes. The group plans to help rebuild homes in the community and arrange sponsorships for orphans.
Bowie says the workers at Danita’s Children orphanage are in it for the long haul too. Children like Jean, she says, are “probably going to be in our care for the rest of his life.” As the workers offer spiritual nurture to the children with biblical teaching and gospel hope, Bowie says some of the greatest encouragement comes from the orphans themselves. She says the children who were in the orphanage pre-quake are helping the new orphans: “There’s nothing more powerful than seeing an orphaned child pray for another orphan.”
She hopes interest in Haiti’s orphans won’t fade with time, especially among Christians. “This isn’t an option,” she says. “This is a scriptural mandate. We have to care for these orphans.”