Sherry Cluver is a Joint Council Guest Blogger. Sherry, her husband Chad and their two children reside in Forsyth, IL. For more information regarding the twelve children mentioned in her post, please see the Joint Council Summary Report entitled, The Haitian Twelve – A Report on Haitian Children Institutionalized in the United States. The report is available on Joint Council’s website by clicking here.
She stood near enough to see and to be seen, yet at a distance sufficient to preserve her dignity. Looking on and into my face as I attempted to blow and tie balloons fast enough for the eager hands of the smaller children, Beatha’s steady eyes held more than the mere eleven years of her biological age.
Dribbling speedily and confidently, her younger brother, Jameson, maneuvered around the concrete courtyard behind the spiked metal gate. His nimble young hands kept remarkable control of the basketballs that my husband had doled out from our tattered suitcase.
That was Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in August 2008, and their beautiful, expressive eyes belied their years of longing from within the confines of BRESMA orphanage. For three years already they’d been waiting and hoping for a mama and papa.
Miraculously surviving the Haitian earthquake January 12th, these sweet, lively children were faced with a grim future of dehydration, starvation, and riotous violence. The same day as the Humanitarian Parole Program was launched by the United States government, Beatha and Jameson were airlifted to safety in Pennsylvania in efforts to save the lives of all of the BRESMA children.
So, it came to be that twelve little unprecedented cases arrived in Pittsburgh as part of a group of fifty-four Haitian children, forty-two of whom went to families through the Humanitarian Parole program. Previously unmatched with adoptive families, this youthful dozen entered our country with permission from the U.S. government.
While in Pittsburgh, at the request of a federal government employee, our adoption service provider created careful referrals of known, prepared families for the children, and so, on Wednesday, January 20th at 3:05pm we were matched with Beatha and Jameson. When we replied to the proposed match with an emphatic “yes,” our coordinator then relayed that when she last saw Beatha in person, the child had looked her in the eyes and pleaded, “Find me a mother.”
Booking the last two tickets on the final flight of the night, we drove the three hours through slush and snow to O’Hare and ran to the airport gate just in time for a 7 o’clock departure. Thursday morning we were led to the kids’ comfort room at UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center) to meet the children, kneeling down and introducing ourselves, “Mwen se mama ou” and “Mwen se papa ou” (“I am your mama” and “I am your papa.”) Beatha did not keep any distance this day. She leaned against us and grinned and grinned. She showed us some of the baby dolls available in the play room, initiated an impromptu Creole lesson for Chad, and reveled in me helping to braid her hair. And Jameson sprawled across the carpet with Chad to use crayons together in coloring books and readily began calling him “Dad.”
At 1:00 we were asked to move to the cafeteria for paperwork and meetings, and we departed after asking a young Haitian-American gentleman to translate to each of the kids that we were leaving the room only because we needed to do some papers and that we didn’t really want to quit our playtime together. They nodded in understanding.
Over one hundred sixty-five days later, my heart sinks for the lie they think we must have told.
Two hours after we last saw them, Beatha and Jameson were moved to Holy Family Institute for what was termed temporary care until we had processed sponsorship paperwork. Until approved, we have been prohibited from further visiting, calling, or otherwise contacting the children. For six months they have laid their heads upon their pillows uncertain if they will ever deserve a mother to rub their backs, a papa to tickle their feet, or the eventual, real healing post-trauma that comes only from the unconditional love and comfort of family.
In family life children are soothed, accepted, taught, and thereby strengthened. In family life adult children receive continuing reassurance, advice, and life-long roots. Kept safe by nannies and befriended by their fellow orphans at BRESMA, Beatha and Jameson wanted a family, and they so deserved the physical, mental, social, and emotional advantages of healthy family care. Sitting at UPMC they witnessed forty-two of their orphanage “sisters” and “brothers” leave with families.
Today, however, they live in yet another institution. Hot showers, nutritious food, counseling, school lessons, and the attention of caring staff are a blessed far cry from the horror of post-quake Port-au-Prince, but their hearts cannot yet reach wholeness. Their bodies and minds are not reaching potential.
Certainly my arms yearn to hold them, but devastation is what swells knowing the grief in the souls of clever Beatha and playful Jameson who ache to be held and to know the support of a permanent, safe, and loving family.
“We’re here, babies! We’re here, praying for you, loving you, and writing and calling important people for help – to bring you home. To give you your home. “
A home for now.
A home for always.
We pray that your hearts might somehow know that we have not left you behind.