Our Team Arrives in Haiti – a few thoughts and ramblings

28 01 2010

Rebecca Harris, Tom DiFilipo, Dr. Jane Aronson, Steve Nagler, doctors from Mount Sinai Hospital and Partners in Health, landed in Port au Prince this morning at 8:15 a.m. on Wednesday.  After standing on the tarmac for 15 minutes and a short lived panic when our water ‘disappeared’, we were greeted by a captain in the U.S. Army who kindly helped us locate our Haitian colleagues and carry our supplies…including Jane’s Devil Dogs.  The kindness of the soldiers and the comfort of the Devil Dogs stayed with us throughout the day.

Our first day was a mixture of sadness and fatigue, dehydration and guilt, resolve and awe.  I witnessed the destruction of the earthquake, felt the effects of the heat and the rallied in the strength of the Haitian people as they begin to bring the city to life.  Despite having worked with the most vulnerable of children in over 20 countries, I still can’t shake the guilt of knowing their suffering while I fly in on a jet, have ample water and a comfortable bed in which to sleep.  And I hope that I never become anesthetized to suffering or comfortable with the plenty that is my life.

Our team spent a good portion of the day at the UN compound near the airport.  We participated and registered Joint Council in UNICEF’s Child Protection Cluster, attended the World Health Organization’s meeting on food distribution and scheduled numerous meetings with colleagues from Harvard, Columbia and USAID.  That portion of the day was ‘policy and coordination’.  The rest of the day we spent witnessing the human element during our visit to a camp of displaced persons – which is just a nice way of saying ‘a former golf course and country club filled with over 10,000 mothers and fathers, sisters, brothers and orphans– all of whom had lost their home and virtually all of their possession.

At the Disaster Medical Assistance Team’s medical center – a large tent on the grounds of country club – we met Ridley.  Ridley is a young boy who served as an interpreter and guide.  We met a young woman being comforted by a U.S. Navy officer.  And we met two volunteers who told story after story of the injured, the hungry and frightened.   It was impossible to be unimpressed or untouched.

At an orphanage in Petionville, we found only a silent yard and empty rooms.  We hope to find where the children are on Thursday.

At the end of the day, our biggest concern was obvious – child trafficking.  But not the ‘trafficking for adoption’ that appeared in the New York Times on Wednesday.  The concern of Joint Council and many involved in child protection in Haiti is the abduction of children for indentured servitude into the Dominican Republic through boarders that are too easy to cross.  Ask the authorities in Haiti and they point to those in the Dominican Republic.  Talk to authorities in the DR and they point to the Haitians.  And children are at risk while they point.

We are concerned about the trafficking of children into the Haitian child slavery ring – a real, long standing and well-known practice of using children for labor against their will and without pay.  Some are bought from their families.  Many are sexually abused by their owners.  They call these children “Restavek” – did you ever hear this term?  Have you seen it in the New York Times lately?

Today we are off to meet colleagues and organizations working to protect children (read more meetings) and most importantly to conduct assessments at seven orphanages outside of Port au Prince.

Tom DiFilipo

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11 responses

28 01 2010
Val Soldat

Thank you for the work you are doing to protect the children from abuse. I am very dissappointed that the Haiti government and the U.S. are not willing to implement a 2nd Pedro Pan type effort. All the reasons I have read for not moving forward pale in comparison to the trauma and potential abuse unprotected children face in Haiti. There are many good American families willing to open their homes and many have already been evaluated due to previous adoptions. The scars from remaining abandoned and unplaced for months and maybe years is what cannot be healed easily. Please support the swift movement of children to a new happier life in the US.

7 02 2010
Reed Maggy

Greetings Val Soldat! I have a plan please visit my website at http://www.karibamerica.org try to reach me.

28 01 2010
Paula Davis

Having children in “tent cities” makes them more vulnerable to those that are interested in trafficking them for the purpose of slavery. That is why I am advocating for children to be placed in safe foster homes in the US temporarily until their status can be proven. Those that were available for adoption and waiting for a family match prior to the earthquake should be given the opportunity of a family. UNICEF is not advocating for these children, nor is the UN. It is time that “real” people push the governments of Haiti and the US to make decisions the provide opportunities for children to survive and thrive in loving environments. Children are dying while agencies over policy and procedures. These children deserve a chance. Let the adoption community, that have been screened and checked, provide the homes so many children need.

7 02 2010
Reed Maggy

Greetings Paula Davis! I thank you for such a touchy message, I have a plan, try to reach me via my website http://www.karibamerica.org your help is needed there because you are very valuable. Bless your heart.

28 01 2010
Sam Pitkowsky

It is almost totally depressing that other organizations than JCICS do not realize that the clock is ticking on the childrens lives. First the earthquake, then no food or water,and then disease Now the clock is ticking louder. In less than 90 days the HURRICANE season will again be threating the very existence of the people of Haiti. How do you survive in tents in 100 mile per hour winds?! These children need help NOW! I challege every family to look deep into the eyes of their own children and realize that It could just as easily be their survival that could be threatened . GIVE ! Give What you can ! To JCICS in order that their be someone who can advocate for these unprotected children

8 02 2010
Reed Maggy

Greetings Sam! I can’t stress enough how much people like you is needed to get on the plan to rescue this children in spite of the difficulties we in the US might encounter trying to help these children. I have a plan around these obstacle in the mean time visit my site http://www.karibamerica.org get my info and get in touch with me. I need you. Bless your heart.

29 01 2010
Vicki Dalia

I would like to know how I can help. I have in the past supported orphanages inHaiti and in the present have an orphanage in Guatemala for street children. I was trafficked as a child in the US as my dad used me for child porn and prostitution. I know the pain. Would more orphanges help? I know the ropes and could set one up fairly quickly.

8 02 2010
Reed Maggy

Greetings Vicki! It took a test to get this testimony, on behalf of every child you have ever helped and those that you’ll help I want to say thanks from the bottom of my heart. You ask a question here is the answer to how you can help visit my site http://www.karibamerica.org and find a way to reach me as soon as you can for I have a plan and children in on top of my list, with someone like yourself on my side we can accomplish a lot. Bless your heart Vicki. Find me please the plan is to go to Haiti the end of this month by Feb21, 2010. I have already sent tents, teddies, flash lights, crutches with the city of Miami etc… need you.

29 01 2010
LeAnne K

My one complaint I guess, is that adoptive families in process are being held up by governmental red tape, while the real trafficking issues are over the border. Is anyone explaining this to UNICEF and others involved in decision making? Children who are approved for adoption with already waiting / in process families should be allowed to go home, so room for new orphans or displaced children can be put somewhere safe until their status is determined.

30 01 2010
Ann Meadowbrook

Tom — I want to thank you for your good work. You accompanied us to Haiti 6 years ago when we brought home our youngest daughter from Foyer de Sion Port-au-Prince. Things are well with our family. My heart aches for the children who are trapped in the physical and emotional hell that is now Haiti, and for the emotional scars the survivors will carry. I appreciated your thoughts on NPR recently, and know that you will do your best to get kids reunited with family in Haiti, or into new healthy homes elsewhere, as quickly as possible. Know that our thoughts and good wishes are with you, Tom.

30 01 2010
Michelle Crombie

Tom,
My husband Philiip was just there in the Carrefour area at the Hopital Adventiste. Since his arrival back home the director of ACTS, http://www.actswr.org is working to set up 5 ambulatory clinics with various medical and dental teams along with helping 50 orphanges. i’m seeking more information. If you go to that hospital, please find the director David Canther. If you require more information, please call my cell or email.

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