Closing orphanages in Haiti | Thoughts on the NYT article

Today the New York Times published an article about orphan care and adoption in Haiti. The article by Nicole Brennan, Campaign in Haiti to Close Orphanages Where Many Aren’t Orphans At All, highlights an important issue. The article also raises some challenging questions. But in many ways, the article does not dig deep enough into what is a very complicated issue.

This photo is from Loving Shepherd Ministries, a Christian ministry working in Haiti to prevent children from being orphaned and exploited and to place orphans in loving homes. Learn more at www.loving-shepherd.org

What is the important issue?

Most children living in orphanages in Haiti are not orphans. They have families. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Most families in Haiti are poor – often desperately poor. Nearly 80% of families live on less than $2 a day. Families struggle to afford the basics: food, shelter, medical care and school fees.

When parents are struggling to care for their children, they may place these children in an orphanage.These children are not truly orphans because they have families that love them – who would love to be able to welcome them home.

The article claims that there are 30,000 children living in orphanages in Haiti. This sounds like a very conservative estimate. In talking with people living and working in Haiti, I’ve heard estimates of up to a half million children who are separated from their families – living in orphanages, on the streets or as restaveks (essentially child slaves).
What questions does the article raise?

Haiti is in the process of implementing the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. To comply with the Convention, the Haitian government will need to do more to regulate orphan care and adoption. In particular, the government will need to ensure that poverty is not the only reason children are placed for international adoption.

But many in Haiti and around the world are asking whether Haiti is ready to close orphanages. How do you close the worst orphanages when all the other orphanages are full? How do you reunite children to families who cannot afford to care for them?

The article ends with a quote from the director of an orphanage in Haiti who believes the country is not ready for orphanages to close: “When there are not kids sitting on the street dying, we’ll stop having an orphanage,” he said. “Right now, the reality is that there has to be orphanages in Haiti.”

But to make a lasting difference in Haiti, there are deeper questions we need to ask. Here are a few places to start.

    1. How can we address the poverty and injustice at the root of the orphan crisis in Haiti? If most children living in orphanages, on the streets or as restaveks in Haiti have families, what would empower these families to remain together? There are many issues to think through, from education to health care for mothers to sustainable development.

 

    1. How do we change a culture that exploits vulnerable children? Haiti has a culture of exploiting children. When a family is struggling with poverty, it is common for the family to sell one of their children to a wealthier family. Traditionally the child – called a restavek – would work for the wealthier family, in return receiving shelter, food and an education. But in many cases, restaveks are treated like child slaves. They are exploited. Many children living in orphanages are likewise exploited. Orphanages sometimes use children to raise funds, but spend the money they raise on their own families. What must happen for this culture to change?

 

  1. Why do Christians continue to build, support and visit orphanages in Haiti? This is so important. There is a movement across the Evangelical Church encouraging every Christian to get involved in caring for orphans. A rapidly growing number of churches are starting orphan care ministries often focused on building, supporting and visiting orphanages. More and more Christian churches and families are involved in orphan care in Haiti. Why are we investing resources in an orphanage system that are harmful to children – and that does nothing to address the root causes of the crisis in Haiti?

Want to learn more?

I am not an expert in the issues in Haiti, but I’ve been challenged and encouraged by a few people who are. To learn more, visit Tara Livesay, a blogger living and working in Haiti. She’s wise and fearless in sharing the truth.

 

What to do something to help?

Check out Heartline Ministries. Among many things, Heartline works to support vulnerable mothers and babies.

Check out Loving Shepherd Ministries. This ministry has a vision to place orphans with loving Christian families instead of institutions in Haiti. They are focused on sustainable development. They also have an innovative approach to fighting the restavek system in Haiti by working with and through the local church.

What do you think?I’d love to know what you think so plese comment. If you have links to other resources or you know anyone making a difference in Haiti, please share in the comments.

Sara Brinton

sara@defenseofthefatherless.com

SARA BRINTON is a writer and entrepreneur with a passion for reforming international adoption and orphan care. She leads marketing for Noonday Collection, a business that uses fashion to create opportunity in developing countries. Sara and her husband, Mark, live in Austin, Texas with their four children, including daughter Gabrielle who was adopted from Uganda.

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