Over the past year and a half 6 kids have been reunited with family and 2 more are in the process. The government has been involved in all but 1 of those cases which unfortunately is not always a good thing but today I am not going to get into the complex issues of the government here but only focus on the 1 case that they were not involved in. “Orphan” care in any country is beyond complex as is also the case in Haiti but I can only speak from our experience here. Most “orphans” are poverty “orphans” which in my mind are technically not orphans at all which is why we call our small homes a “children’s home” and not an “orphanage”. We currently have 14 children living here, 2 are in the process of being reunited with their mom, and we have hired an organization to help us track family for 3 other children that were brought to us by an orphanage that was shut down due to neglect. Reunification when possible is always the goal. We try to be very picky and thorough in our investigations before accepting any children but in desperation family has even provided fake death certificates to get their children into the home knowing that the child will have all their basic needs met and receive education which in this country is not free and most parents can’t afford. However on the flip side of this if kids in the states were only eating 3-4 times a week, not being sent to school, and sleeping on a dirt floor they would be in the system and placed in foster care or a group home. So what our own child services is doing is not really any different than what these parents are trying to do for their own children so I can’t really blame them and I can’t say that if I were in their position that I wouldn’t try and do the same thing for my children. So when someone comes trying to abandon his or her child its beyond complicated and wisdom is needed.
It was about a year ago today that an older man showed up with his little girl and only child wanting to give her to us. She was 2 years old, malnourished, and couldn’t walk. Her mom was very young and left her with the father when she was a baby and he had not seen the mom since and didn’t know how to find her. He was a farmer and would carry the girl on his shoulder all day everyday working his land. He inherited the land from his mother but their was family disputes about who really owned the land and they were trying to kick him off the land or kill him so he would stay in different places at night with his daughter and it was no longer safe for her. Initially we were like, “wow, that’s one of the better sob stories we have heard from people but pretty unbelievable”. We have learned over the years to always question everything! So we sent Haitian staff out to where he said he lived to investigate the story without him knowing and sadly it was true. So here we are with a girl whose dad cannot provide any of the basic needs for his daughter but loves her to the moon and back and wants her to have what he can’t give her. It’s heartbreaking. Since she was malnourished, couldn’t walk, and didn’t have a safe place to sleep at night we drew up a contract with the dad for temporary placement with the understanding that he would visit every week and that after she had reached a healthy weight and could walk that he would resume care of her. This also gave us a little time to figure out a safe living situation for them once she was reunited.
In the 3-4 months she was with us everyone loved her, fed her, clothed her, fixed her hair, bathed her, gave her gifts, taught her how to walk, sent her to school and church, sang to her, and played with her but her smiles were few except on visitation Sunday’s. Her dad would come to eat lunch with her, hold her, dance with her, sing to her, and she would turn into a different child with non-stop smiles and giggles while he was there. I am not a counselor or psychologist by any means but I would say her behavior Monday-Saturdays with us was that of a depressed little girl which made the decision to reunite so much easier. Unfortunately her father did not feel the same way and after the temporary placement contract had expired, visitation stopped, calls went unanswered and unreturned. It seemed as though he truly had abandoned his daughter with us. Our director and social worker literally had to drive around to track him down and physically place him in our truck and bring him to the property to make him take his daughter back. Lets just say he was not happy when he got here and we would not let him leave without his daughter. He begged and pleaded with us to keep his daughter and we just had to get mean and put our foot down because we knew she desperately needed to be with him. It was hard to explain to him why the emotional needs of a child sometimes outweigh the physical needs of the child because all he could think about was how much better she looked after being with us. We told him we would continue to help him meet her physical needs with food, school, and a house in our community where we could continue to help. Nothing we said or offered appeased him so he left that day still angry, but with his smiling little girl in his arms.
They have been back together for 9 months now and she continues to come to church with him most Sundays and to school during the week. She may come without her hair fixed and most of the time not bathed so our amazing teachers do that for her almost every morning. But she is happy, loved, and doing well. We see more smiles and giggles out of her now than we ever did before and everyday when her dad comes to pick her up she lights up and runs to him ready to go home where she belongs. Not every reunification story ends this great, but I am so thankful for that little girl that this one did. There is nothing quite like the love of a family.