The Only Home He Knew

When a tragic fire burns down an orphanage in Haiti, Holt donors immediately step up to provide nourishing food, safe shelter and psychological support for the 28 children who survive — including one boy who lost the only home he ever knew.

Samuel with a life skills trainer at the transit center where he has stayed since the fire at his orphanage in Haiti.
Samuel with a life skills trainer at the transit center where he has stayed since the fire at his orphanage in Haiti.

Ten-year-old Samuel can’t remember how old he was when his mom left him at an orphanage in Fermathe, a city just south of Port-au-Prince in Haiti. He was little, though — around 3 or 4 — and he remembers that his mom visited him for a while afterward. Until she didn’t.

He remembers he had a half-brother and sister, and he has never stopped asking why, of her three children, his mom placed just him in the orphanage. He has never stopped wondering where she is, or if she will come back for him.

But the more time that passed, the more the orphanage in Fermathe became Samuel’s home — and the children and caregivers, his family.

So when, on the night of February 13, 2020, a fire broke out at the orphanage — killing 15 children and burning the care center to the ground — Samuel felt homeless in a way he never had before.

“The fire destroyed the only home I had ever known. And now, I must forget about it.”

Samuel, 10 years old

“The fire destroyed the only home I had ever known,” he told Holt’s staff in Haiti. “And now, I must forget about it.”

Twenty-eight children, including Samuel, survived the orphanage fire. Immediately, they went to stay at a temporary shelter — a “transit center” that Holt partners with in Port-au-Prince — where they received emergency care and support.

Samuel in his room at the transit center in Haiti after his orphanage burned down.
Samuel in his room at the transit center.

Children typically stay at the transit center for a short time before transferring to a more permanent home. Some of them have run away to escape an abusive home life. Others were placed in care by parents unable to support them. Some children will ultimately reunite with their families once social workers help them create a plan for financial stability. Others will go to live at a more long-term care home. And ultimately, some of them will join permanent families through adoption.

Hungry, Homeless and Traumatized

When Samuel and the 27 other survivors arrived at the transit center, 24 children were already in care. Overnight, the center became overwhelmed with children, all of them suffering from trauma and loss.

“During our first visit with the victims of the fire, the children’s faces expressed withdrawal, sadness, incertitude, hopelessness,” our Haiti staff shares. “There was evidently an urgent need for emotional support. In addition, we found out that with the number of children suddenly doubling, the center’s food stock became insufficient.”

With a limited supply of food for the 52 children in care, the children’s meals were reduced to just two per day — and then, just one. Hungry, homeless and emotionally traumatized, the children urgently needed help. Concerned, Holt’s staff in Haiti immediately contacted Holt’s headquarters in Eugene, who then reached out to Holt donors to help meet their most critical needs.

Through their generous gifts, the donors provided:

1) Psychological support for the survivors of the fire and other children at the center who had gone through trauma.

2) Nutritional assistance to ensure the children had enough to eat every day.

3) Medical care to ensure the health and wellbeing of the children.

Through talk therapy with visiting psychologists, the children worked through their grief. The center’s caregivers also attended a two-day workshop to learn how to identify signs of distress and provide emotional support when needed.

As many of the children, like Samuel, are older, the transit center also used donor funds to provide life skills training — teaching the children trades that could help them one day support themselves, especially if they age out of orphanage care. While some of the children loved the classes in cooking and baking, Samuel particularly enjoyed jewelry- and sandal-making.

Hope, and a Home, for Samuel

In the nine months since the fire, 26 of the 28 children who survived have gone home to live with their families through reunification efforts also made possible through the support of Holt donors. The staff was, however, unable to locate Samuel’s family, and he will stay at the transit center until a more permanent home can be found for him.

As part of their group therapy, the children at the transit center read and discussed the themes in Bible stories.
As part of their group therapy, the children read Bible stories and discussed their themes.

But he feels hopeful about his future.

As part of their group therapy, the children discussed themes in certain Bible stories. One story in particular left an impression on Samuel.

“He especially remembers the story of Naama, as narrated in the second chapter of the book of Kings, which tells how a strong man, formerly recognized for his bravery, found himself sick and rejected …” shares our staff in Haiti. “Fortunately, the man was miraculously cured for he listened to the advice given by a very young girl.”

The kids gathered for a celebration at the end of the life skills training at the transit center in Haiti.
The kids gathered for a celebration at the end of the life skills training.

Whenever he feels sad, Samuel thinks about this story. “I am thinking that one day, a miracle will happen in my life, too,” he said, “and I will find my mother.”

While the staff continues to search for Samuel’s mother, Holt donors make it possible for him to continue receiving the love, nurturing care and support of his caregivers. Caregivers who will give him a sense of home, and family, until he has a home and a family of his own.

caregiver feeding baby in orphanage

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