Despite significant changes in our adoption and sponsorship programs over the past year, we look forward to a year full of possibility for continuing our mission of ensuring stable, loving homes for children in Haiti.
At a small orphanage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, tree limbs spread across one wall, branching in every direction. Falling from each limb like leaves are exactly 53 hearts. All but one of these hearts represents a child who died when the orphanage nursery collapsed in Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake. One heart is dedicated to a nurse who died while caring for these children.
At the time of the earthquake, 156 children lived in this orphanage. Today, about 60 children remain in care. Some of them are in temporary care and will later rejoin their families. Others are eligible to be adopted internationally.
Last month, Holt enrolled every one of these children in our sponsorship program. When the earthquake hit, it severely damaged the infrastructure of the orphanage, which has struggled to rebuild over the past five years. With few resources, the orphanage staff has also struggled to provide adequate care for the children. Through their monthly donation, Holt sponsors will help meet the nutritional and medical needs of the children. They will ease the financial burden on the orphanage so the staff can focus on rebuilding the structure and making it safe for the children. And ultimately, with support from Holt, the orphanage hopes to resume an education program for children in the community that abruptly stopped on January 12, 2010.
For Holt, this new partnership highlights a new direction and new momentum for our work in Haiti.
A little over a year ago, Holt was forced to suspend our sponsorship program for most of the children we serve in Haiti. Although we continued to meet the needs of children in care at Holt Fontana Village, rising costs in Haiti hampered our ability to serve children living with their families in the community. At the same time, the Haitian government ratified the Hague Convention — changing the process for international adoption from Haiti, and creating new guidelines for partnerships between agencies and orphanages. Whereas before, agencies worked directly with orphanage partners to find families for children, Haiti’s central adoption authority has now taken on the role of matching children referred for adoption to pre-approved adoptive families on their waiting list. Although agencies can still provide non-adoption related support for orphanages, they no longer work together to find adoptive families for children.
“[Haiti’s central authority] wants the legal processing of cases to be apart from support,” explains Mike Noah, Holt’s director of adoptions services for Haiti. “The orphanage should be about caring for the child, the agency about placing kids.”
One outcome of Haiti ratifying the Hague Convention is that once adoption resumes under the new system, children from all orphanages can be placed by the central authority through any agency. As a result, Holt could potentially place many more children throughout Haiti with loving adoptive families — not just through the orphanages we have partnered with.
Today, Haiti is working on implementing the new international adoption process.
“They’re making progress with the new Hague system,” says Dan Lauer, Holt’s vice president for Africa and Haiti programs. “They’re making really good decisions about how to implement. They are pragmatic, conscientious and engaged with all the stakeholders.”
While Haiti has not yet begun finding families for children under the new system, the central authority has continued processing the placement of children who were matched under the previous system. “There’s been a big delay because of putting things in order,” Mike explains, “but Haiti is one of the few countries that has been able to transition into a Hague country without a shutdown in adoptions.”
In fact, this year, 20 children came home to families through Holt. Our last grandfathered family is now in Haiti completing the process for their children — a sibling group of three — and will likely be home before Christmas!
At present, the Haitian central authority has not yet begun matching children under their new system and Holt is not accepting any new applications for families hoping to adopt from Haiti. But we anticipate that the government will begin matching children sometime in 2015, at which time we will welcome new families into the program.
“Haiti wants to see adoption continue,” Mike says. “They’re putting a plan together.”
While new doors are opening for Holt to serve children in Haiti, this month also marks the end of our long-standing partnership with Fontana Village. In 2003, we began our work in Haiti in partnership with the Hope for Haiti Foundation, a humanitarian organization founded by Peter and Shay Fontana. The Fontanas also built the Children’s Village north of Port-au-Prince, which later became the Holt Fontana Village. Here, groups of children lived in temporary care while waiting to reunite with their birth families or join adoptive families. Holt provided the support and expertise to develop a comprehensive child service program centered at the village, and began placing children for adoption.
We are grateful for all that we accomplished together with the Fontanas over the past 11 years — providing nurturing care for children, including many affected by the 2010 earthquake, reuniting children with their birth families, and finding loving families for children who truly needed them. When the last children matched with Holt families — the sibling group of three — leaves Fontana Village with their family this month, the Fontanas will resume sole management of the village. Under the new adoption process, Holt will no longer work directly with the Fontanas to find families for the children in care. Haiti’s central adoption authority may still match children from Fontana Village with Holt families, but will also match children from there with families from other agencies.
“It has been a pleasure working with the Fontana Village over all these years and wonderful to reflect back on all that we have achieved together,” says Mike, who has worked with Holt for 32 years, and 10 years with the Haiti program. “It’s been inspiring to see the exemplary and model care they provide to the children living there. Their experience and accomplishments set the stage for continuance of their wonderful service to children and families into the future.”
As part of a new beginning for the Fontana Village, the Fontanas recently built a new structure on the village grounds that will serve as a church and school for both children in care and from the outside community — a symbol of a bright and hopeful future for this wonderful sanctuary for children.
As we look ahead, we also see a bright and hopeful future for Holt’s work in Haiti – with new opportunities to serve children through sponsorship and adoption. Although the new Hague system limits what and how agencies can fund programs for children, Holt is looking for opportunities to work within these new guidelines and come alongside existing organizations that are already meeting the needs of orphaned, abandoned and vulnerable children. We are also exploring ways to resume our family strengthening work in the region, with the goal of helping parents regain stability and self-reliance so they can independently support their children. “We definitely want to restart family strengthening services in 2016,” Dan says. “We’re revamping the whole program… We feel confident about growing the program and being successful in the future.”
While 2014 presented new challenges, 2015 is full of possibility for continuing our mission of ensuring stable, loving homes for children in Haiti — starting with the 60 children in care in Port-au-Prince. Thanks to their sponsors, these children now have everything they need to thrive while waiting for permanent families. And by the end of the year, 23 children will have come home to their families in 2014. All of these children have more stability in their lives than when the year began. For that, we feel truly grateful and genuinely hopeful for the year ahead.