In June 2017 Haitian social service representatives (IBESR) showed up unannounced at myLIFEspeaks’ campus in a pickup truck with 15 children ages 11 months - 9 years old in tow. All were in need of emergency placement.
A local orphanage director had abandoned her orphanage and left the children behind. The children had reportedly been left alone for days. They were visibly traumatized, dehydrated, malnourished, and sick with whooping cough and scabies.
(Pictured Above: one of the children covered in scabies.)
myLIFEspeaks was already at capacity but IBESR requested that we take at least five of the children to help with the situation.
“Choosing just five children was incredibly difficult - it felt more like choosing which 10 kids we didn’t want. The IBESR agent had no idea what the children's names were, where they were from, their ages, or if any of the children were siblings," mLs staff member Anne Marie Stern recalled.
Thankfully, one of the 9-year-old boys was able to name all his peers and explain relationships. myLIFEspeaks decided to take a sibling group of three so they would not be separated and then two more of the youngest and sickest little girls.
"The rest of the children were placed back into the truck. The separation was difficult for all of them with lots of crying but they had to go quickly as it was getting late in the day and they had to find placements for the rest of the kids,” Stern said.
myLIFEspeaks staff members jumped in immediately to care for the five children now in our care - Sara, age 8, Emmanuel (Manno), age 6, Michaelle (Mika), age 3, Neika, age 5, Naikalene (Pippine), age 5 . They fed, bathed, clothed, and held them as staff figured out where they would stay.
Our newest Family Home of Dachme and FoFo welcomed the two little girls, however the three siblings needed a home. Because they were so sick, Mike & Missy Wilson, the founders of myLIFEspeaks, brought them into their home where American staff and interns could help with care until a placement was determined. In God’s perfect timing, Dr. Coburn Allen, who was on the Board of Directors for myLIFEspeaks, arrived that day with a team. He was able to evaluate and treat all the children who had whooping cough, intestinal worms, and scabies, in addition to the malnourishment and dehydration.
IBESR hadn’t given us any details about where the children came from. All we were told was that the orphanage director abandoned them. Knowing the children must have come from an orphanage nearby, we decided to do our own investigating.
We quickly learned that the orphanage had been slated to be shut down. As a result, the director took and hid the fifteen children in a locked shed. Knowing children to be valuable for trafficking or to draw sponsorship dollars, she did not want to lose them.
Knowing children to be valuable for trafficking or to draw sponsorship dollars, she did not want to lose them.
This is a prime example of how child sponsorship and orphanages are often linked to human trafficking.
According to the neighbors, people were staying with the children and feeding them for a few weeks but those people eventually stopped coming and left the children alone. After days with no food or water, neighbors heard the children screaming and crying. Realizing the children were abandoned and locked in a shed, they jumped the fence, broke the lock, and called local authorities. This is when IBESR got involved and came to us.
(Pictured Above: The lot and shed that the 15 children were found locked inside.)
The children later told us that there were others at the orphanage that "disappeared" or were taken away at night. They didn't know what happened to those children.
“We can only imagine what could have happened to these kids if they had not been rescued. The other 10 children have been placed in two other American orphanages in the area. Unfortunately, they are not growing up in families like the five we have are but we know that they are at least safe,” Anne Marie said.
Today, we are delighted to say that the three siblings joined the House Family of Rigal, a campus security guard, and his wife, Mirlande; both of whom had jumped in immediately on the day the children arrived to help.
The two girls will forever be with Dachme and Fofo. All five children, Sara, Manno, Mika, Neika, and Pippine, are safe, healthy and loved not only by their House Parents but by the whole commUNITY.
These once abandoned and neglected children finally have a forever place to call home.
Understanding the "Orphanage Crisis" and Trafficking in Haiti
In Haiti, it is common for parents, out of desperation, to relinquish their children to orphanages in hopes of giving them a better LIFE. Orphanage directors, who are most often businessmen/women in it for profit, mislead parents into giving up their children.
In fact, they hire "child finders" to go out and recruit vulnerable, poor children for the orphanage. They make false promises to parents of opportunity, food, education and care for their children. Sometimes parents are even paid to give their children away. Other times, children are simply kidnapped and taken unwillingly to orphanages, never to see their families again.
A 2017 report conducted by Lumos, a non-profit founded by Harry Potter author JK Rowling, found that tens of millions of dollars are donated every year to these corrupt orphanages, from well-intentioned, uninformed church groups and non-profits; many in the United States.
"The availability of such funding, and the desire of well-intended people to help ‘orphans’, is driving the establishment of orphanages purely for profit. Only 15% [of Haitian orphanages] are officially registered. The rest operate outside the law and therefore do not publish accounts or budgets. There is no official system to record children entering or leaving orphanages," the Lumos report says.
As a result, children may disappear or die without record. Prosecutions and criminal investigations of such cases are rare.
In most cases, donor money never makes its way to the children living in the orphanages, who continue to live in cycles of squalor, malnutrition, illness, and abuse. Instead the money goes directly into the orphanage director's pocket and the narrative and imaging of 'suffering orphans who need your help' continues to draw more donor money.
"Some orphanages in Haiti are established with the best of intentions and strive to provide adequate care. However, the case evidence in this report suggests that a trend has developed of Haitian orphanages which are trafficking children," Lumos says.
This is why myLIFEspeaks fights to empower and keep families together. We believe that children belong in families, not institutions. myLIFEspeaks places children entrusted into our care by the Haitian government, who have truly been orphaned or abandoned with no relatives nearby, into permanent foster Family Homes. myLIFEspeaks supports the forever Family Homes with educational, economical, and medical resources.
(Clarification: Due to legal and cultural limitations of Haitians legally adopting unrelated Haitian children, our Family Homes operate as forever "foster" homes. But for all intents and purposes they are the same as permanent "adoptive homes.” We continue to work with the government in hopes of developing a domestic adoption system in Haiti.)
The children in our care grow up with moms and dads, siblings, aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins. They are immediately welcomed into our Family Homes and into our bigger myLIFEspeaks commUNITY, for LIFE. They go to church, graduation parties, birthday parties and neighborhood gatherings. They receive Christ-Centered, quality education at LIFE Academy and have access to healthcare and therapy at myLIFEspeaks.
They sit on neighbors porches, help out with family chores, and play soccer or games with friends in the evenings. Most importantly they have a second chance at LIFE: full of opportunity, love, faith, and hope of a bright future. They know they are unconditionally loved, forever. They know they belong and are endlessly supported. They know they play a crucial and permanent part of our family, village, and greater commUNITY.
That is what family is.