Written by: Kelsey Wilson, Executive Administrative Assistant at myLIFEspeaks
You can listen to the audio version of this story, here.
“Children belong in families.”
My first trip to Haiti in 2016 was through a different organization in Port Au Prince, Haiti’s capital city. Our days consisted of touring Haiti and traveling in “tap taps,” Haiti’s taxi system. I’m thankful for the days that I adventured and witnessed the beauty of Haiti; from drinking coffee in a local’s home on the mountainside to playing soccer in a dry, remote village.
The day that will remain engraved in my mind was the day we visited an orphanage in Port Au Prince. We pulled into the 12-foot, metal-gated property, and dozens of children were standing on the porch and peering through the windows of the building. From memory, there was roughly one adult for every 10-15 children. We walked through the building, children climbing on us, to the “backyard” of the orphanage. The yard had a rusted swing set, a basketball half court with a missing backboard, and two plywood buildings at the back of the property.
Within the rooms of the dark plywood, buildings was a concrete floor, wooden pallets, and water dripping down areas of the wall causing mold to grow. I remember asking someone what the purpose of the rooms are for and they said, “This is where the older children sleep. Girls in here, boys in there,” as they pointed from building to building. Immediately nausea filled my body.
We completed the tour in the “baby ward.” The nausea grew worse as I saw what looked like dog cages stacked from floor to halfway up the wall, with a baby in each cage. In complete shock, I immediately laid belly-down on the floor to see a baby who would only see our shoes as we walked by. I began smiling at this baby, putting my fingers in the cage, and tried baby-friendly tactics to get him to smile. The infant’s face was stone cold; he was looking right through me with no emotion or stimulation. I asked why the babies aren’t sitting and playing in the empty space of the room. The caregiver's response was, “There aren't enough people to hold them.”
Our team began taking the babies out of their cages to play on the floor and stimulate their little minds. The babies slowly began to come to life; smiling, playing, simply enjoying being held.
While holding one of the babies, questions flooded my brain about the orphanage. How did these kids get here? Do they have living parents or family members? How does the orphanage get money to feed the kids? Why don’t they hire more help to hold these sweet babies? Why are the kids sleeping on wooden pallets? What happens once we leave the orphanage?
After much research, I learned that many kids in Haitian orphanages have a living parent(s) or family members nearby. In Haiti, children are placed in orphanages because families are told they don’t have the ability or necessary tools to raise their children in their homes.
Children are often relinquished in desperation or under false pretenses to orphanages who use them for profit. However, I quickly realized, through the mold-infested walls and caged children, that children are not receiving the promises that the orphanage once promised the parents.
And ultimately, when the children turn 18, they “age out” of the home and are transitioned out of the orphanage to fend for themselves on the streets of Haiti.
Children deserve to be raised in a home setting and not exposed to the horrific living arrangements a for-profit institution often force on their innocence. Children desire and thrive from their parents who provide a nurturing, supportive, and inclusive environment on a daily basis. Family-based solutions reduce the risk of abuse and trafficking while resulting in more positive outcomes for children.
Simply put, children belong in families. God reminds me every day that the children in the orphanage are His children and loved beyond measure, despite the sin in the world we live in. I believe he placed me in the orphanage for a reason; to gain knowledge on the heartbreaking situation of institutionalizing children for-profit and to use my voice to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.