Though the Earth Give Way

Holt’s work in Haiti after the earthquake…and how you can help

Near Port-au-Prince Airport Road, in a Haitian community called Village Solidarite, 22-year-old Nahomie holds in her arms her ailing 2-year-old daughter, Nournia. Nahomie has just returned from her fourth trip in eight months to St. Catherine hospital in Cite Soleil – a slum of Port-au-Prince. Nournia, they tell her, is extremely malnourished. She also has tuberculosis.

Abandoned by Nournia’s father, Nahomie earns what she can as a part-time housekeeper, but it’s not enough. Unable to provide the care her daughter needs, Nahomie stands helpless as Nournia wails in pain and hunger. Nahomie begins to weep with Nournia. She weeps for her mother, who died one year ago, and weeps for her poor daughter. It seems impossible that their situation could get much worse.

And then the sun rose on January 12th, 2010.

In just 60 seconds, 230,000 people were dead. Millions were homeless and an estimated one million children were orphaned. For many already living in the clutches of poverty and hunger, life became even grimmer.

“I had never seen a city so devastated as Port-au-Prince,” says Will Dantzler, Holt International’s board chairman, who traveled to Haiti in June. “To see the hopelessness and emptiness of spirit in so many people as we drove through the city shed light on the magnitude of this disaster, and its long-term effect on an entire society.”

Just two of millions whose lives changed forever, Nahomie and Nournia lost their one source of stability in the January 12th earthquake – their home.

After five months living in the streets, Nahomie sat in a church service in Port-au-Prince and prayed. Prayed for her daughter, prayed to survive. Here, she heard of a temporary care program offered by Holt Fontana d’ Haiti – Holt International’s partner in Haiti. Nahomie applied and her daughter was accepted into a 3-month temporary care program at Holt Fontana Village in the western city of Montrouis.

“Nahomie said it was the first time in years she felt a moment of joy,” says Mansour Masse, Holt Haiti director. “Her daughter would be taken care of.”

Established by Peter and Shay Fontana, Holt Fontana Village provides temporary care for orphaned, abandoned and vulnerable children in Haiti. Holt partnered with the Fontanas to develop a comprehensive child service program here in 2003. Last year, Holt funded construction of four new cottages for the children. Following the earthquake, Holt Haiti immediately readied the cottages and hired additional staff to accommodate an influx of displaced children. While 21 children departed the United States on humanitarian parole visas, another 25 entered the village. Nournia, malnourished and sick, was among them.

“The children at Holt Fontana were quiet when we first met them, but after handing out soccer balls, they warmed up to us quickly,” recounts Dantzler. “I was very impressed with the maintenance and spirit at Fontana Village. These children were well taken care of.” Although many staff members lost loved ones in the earthquake, their devotion to the children never wavered. Several staff remained at the Village.

After three months, Nournia’s condition greatly improved. Medically and socially, says Mansour, the program made a vast difference for Nournia and the other children, and gave devastated families some respite while they rebuilt their lives.

In late September, the 25 children in emergency care rejoined their families, who entered Holt’s family preservation program, Fanmi Ansanm (family together). Now stable, Holt continues to monitor their situations through regular home visits and ongoing support.

“Our ultimate goal is always to see families preserved,” says Sarah Halfman, Holt’s director of Haiti and Latin America. “We do what we can to keep families together.”

What More Can We Do?

Holt is first and foremost an adoption and child services agency – not a disaster relief organization. But when disaster strikes a Holt program, Holt must find a way to continue providing services in these regions.

After the quake, *international adoption from Haiti — with the exception of children already matched with families — came to an abrupt halt. With more than one million children orphaned – a figure in constant coverage on the news – the interest in adoption from Haiti heightened, as did the potential for child trafficking. In response, Holt decided to temporarily halt all Haitian adoptions while staff in Haiti worked to locate surviving family members of children.

During this time, Holt committed to meeting the needs of children still in care and serving the families devastated by this tragedy. To this end, Holt expanded Fanmi Ansanm; increased services to the 117 families already in our program; and brought 25 children into care at Holt Fontana Village and their families into the preservation program.

In May, Holt expanded to Jacmel, a southern city and the second largest hit by the earthquake. Within six months, 3,000 families had applied for services in Jacmel. Holt could only accept 100.

Today, 234 families receive family preservation services in Haiti — a meager number compared to the millions who need support.

Determining who would receive support was a decision both difficult and heart-wrenching. After rigorous screening, Holt identified approximately 100 of the most disadvantaged, vulnerable families in Jacmel. In most cases, one or both parents had died in the earthquake or a family had lost their home. Holt, with donor support, built five houses for vulnerable families.

Holt’s limited resources cannot meet the immense need, says Halfman. For now, we need to maintain the services we currently provide, with hopes for expansion in the future. “We are looking at how we can really improve on what we are doing while simultaneously trying to increase the quality and quantity of services available to the families we serve,” she says.

Before six-year-old Peter’s family entered family preservation, he weighed 37 pounds, had poor hygiene and had never attended school. His family lived in a one-room house in Jacmel, with one chair and one tiny bed. The children walked around barefoot in tattered clothes, the father’s meager earnings not enough to meet his children’s basic needs. This family’s survival hinged on intervention and ongoing support.

Peter’s family now receives one food kit per month with 11 pounds of rice, beans and pasta, cooking oil, dried fish and seven bars of soap. Holt also provides regular visits by a social worker. Education and nutritional training also helps keep families stable and together. “We were amazed at the efficient and orderly process Holt staff had established for the food distribution, skills training and monitoring components of the family preservation program,” says Dantzler.

Many families had never experienced an earthquake of that magnitude. Some had no idea what was happening as the ground shook below them. Educating families and preparing them for recurring natural disasters are key components of Holt’s program. Holt provides lessons on how to use tools and supplies families receive. “If the families are learning a lesson on hurricanes, for example,” says Halfman, “something that might be given to them is a flashlight.”

In the future, Holt hopes to increase both the services we provide families and the number of families we serve. New services may include a well baby clinic and day care center in Jacmel.

Holt strives to change the realities of families in our programs. We give them the tools they need to create better lives for themselves. In October, Holt sponsors helped Peter – and the other school-aged kids in family preservation – start his first day of school. His family is on the road to stability.

“Holt is making a difference one family at a time and one child at a time,” says Jeff Saddington, a Holt board member who traveled to Haiti in June. “Holt is in the front line of this battle, which some estimate will require 20 years just to allow Haiti to return to the conditions which existed the day before the earthquake. We must do more to help them help themselves, and Holt International is positioned to do this well.”

The Lord’s hand is on the families of Haiti and “though the earth give way,” God will never forget the people of Haiti and neither will Holt.

*Click here to Help Children in Haiti

*While adoptions from Haiti have reopened, it will take time to learn how the legal steps of the adoption process in Haiti may have changed as the country rebuilds. Click here to learn more.

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