What Matters Most

22 06 2012

It’s 6:37 and I just made it back to Haiti for the first time since June 2010.  Two years have passed but as the old saying goes, ‘it feels like only yesterday’.

As I write this note, I sit on the balcony of a guest house with a mild breeze cascading over the trees, a few remnants of which make it down to the sweltering workers on the ground floor.  Flowered vines camouflage the razor wire.  Voices, impassioned by the work of carrying for Haiti’s most vulnerable children, resonate through the house.  A nocturnal rooster begins his nightly serenade.  I could be anywhere in the Caribbean, but I’m in Haiti.  One of my favorite places in the world.

Tomorrow morning our work will begin and carry forward for four days.  Four days of meeting the people who matter most – the kids.  And the people who care for them.  We’ll meet with the director of IBESR who is making more strides in protecting children than any IBESR’s Director I’ve ever met.   We’ll meet the caregivers and crèche directors who struggle with too few resources to care for what is increasingly too many children.  And if I’m lucky, I’ll meet Rene again.   You might remember Rene from our work after the 2010 Haiti earthquake.  If not, click here.  He’s quite a young man.

After our days here are over, we will carry on our work back in Washington, in suits and in meetings.  Important work.  But not the type I long for.  Here in Haiti, touching lives and having my life touched.  Seeing the policies and programs we help create actually helping children. This is what I long for.

Feeling the heat.  Breathing the dust.  Holding their hands.  And walking together.  This is what matters.   This is what matters most.

-Tom DiFilipo, Joint Council President & CEO

Two Years Later, and It Feels Like Yesterday

13 12 2011

As you may know, Joint Council has participated in Haiti’s child welfare system since 2003, but following the January 2010 earthquake, we significantly stepped up our efforts on behalf of Haitian children. Together with our partner organizations, we served over 45,000 children and families through programs at hospitals, medical clinics, child care centers, and adoption and food distribution programs. Specifically, we

  • Coordinated the emergency aid to orphanages and other institutions,
  • Created a database used to identify children, families, emergency relief needs and permanency options,
  • Directly educated and informed over 51,000 individuals, adoptive families and professionals,
  • Assisted with the development, coordination and implementation of the USCIS Humanitarian Parole Program for children.

Following the earthquake it has become increasingly clear that our partners (many of them small NGOs) need leadership from an organization that works on a spectrum of services to children — the kind of leadership Joint Council can provide. However, in the 23 months since the disaster, a lack of funds has forced us to decrease our efforts in Haiti.

Please help us change the lives of countless children in Haiti by making a tax-deductible donation to Joint Council today. Together, we can make sure that these forgotten children live healthier, happier lives and for countless orphans, help them find a permanent, loving home.

Hydrocephalus: why care needs to change

17 08 2011

Over the last two years Joint Council staff has met many children throughout the world affected by Hydrocephalus, a debilitating and sometimes fatal special need.  In our travels and work we’ve met Addison from Kyrgyzstan who has succumbed to the disease; Rene in Haiti; Josh in South Africa; and most recently Sun Cheng in China.  All of these children were orphaned because their biological family was unable to care for their disease. All of these children will most likely meet an early death due to their disease.  Many of them will pass slowly and alone.

On Tuesday, August 2nd Joint Council staff attended a Congressional Hearing at Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights focused on Hydrocephalus.  Hydrocephalus is the excessive accumulation of fluid on the brain and because of the pressure of the excess fluid, if it is left untreated it can cause brain damage and in many cases death.  The need for improved solutions to Hydrocephalus is imperative in our world today; with 1 out of every 2,000 children in the developing world being affected and more than 400,000 new cases of Hydrocephalus in Africa last year alone.

The most common strategy for treating the disease is placing a shunt, a tube implanted from the brain to abdomen, to drain fluid from the brain to the abdominal cavity. However, typically a shunt will need to be replaced up to five times in a child’s lifetime.  Oftentimes, due lack of resources, transportation difficulties, lack of accessible healthcare and various other factors, children often pass within the time it takes to get to a hospital to have the shunt fixed.  Clearly, another solution is needed.

The three Congressional Hearing panelists; Dr. Benjamin Warf, Dr. Steven Schiff, and Jim Cohick, have developed a groundbreaking surgery that has saved countless lives in Uganda. The new surgery uses an endoscopic treatment paired with an ETV/CPC procedure that reduces the tissue which creates the excess fluid. Although the research is limited thus far, the new treatment has a 75% success rate and the need for a shunt has been eliminated.

The panelists provided several recommendations to the international health community to reduce the number of cases of Hydrocephalus and promote sustainable strategies to treat the disease. They include strengthening health systems training, empowering local surgeons to treat children with Hydrocephalus, facilitating research to find the best practices to prevent post infection, and passionate care and concern. The panelists also spoke of the need for more neurosurgeons in developing countries, most specially Africa; in the United States there are 3500 neurosurgeons, in Uganda there are four, and in Congo there is only one. These staggering facts, and the children lost each day due to the disease, should motivate the international public health community to not only educate themselves about Hydrocephalus but also begin to provide resources so that more children can be saved and given a chance to live and thrive in a family.

For more information regarding the Congressional Hearing and the needs for better treatment options please to go:


No to corruption. Yes to families.

14 03 2011

by Rebecca Harris, Director of Programs & Services

The following as an excerpt from our newsletter, Mbali’s Message.  Sign up to receive it by clicking here.

Already in 2011 we’ve seen Ethiopia move to reduce intercountry adoptions by 90% and Kazakhstan officially suspend adoptions in anticipation of their ratification of the Hague Convention.  Haiti and Ukraine are on what we’ve termed our “high alert” list – countries that show indications of closing in the next 12-months. This is a scene we’ve seen play out over and over again, in country after country.  And every time a country has chosen to suspend or close intercountry adoptions, children suffer.  It’s a scene that is quite frankly, confusing, unneccessary, and very disturbing.
In allowing this to occur, we’ve failed the biological families who need preservation services, we’ve failed the children who legitimately need intercountry adoption and we’ve failed our global community.  I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of failure.  I’m tired of seeing children, like Addison, become “collateral damage” in the battle against abuse.  Allowing children to die needlessly and alone is simply unacceptable.

Over the last ten years we’ve fought the good fight.  But we’ve lost too many times.  And every time we lose, children lose.  This month we’ll release a report about the systematic elimination of intercountry adoption and the decrease in services to children.  And we’ll ask you to join us in changing the tide.  We’ll ask you to rally your friends and family to stand up and say “No” to corruption and “Yes” to families.  It’s not enough to just stop bad things from happening – we have to make good things happen too!

So, be on the look out over the next month – in your inbox and our website – I hope you’ll join me in standing up and demanding the fulfillment of every child’s right to a safe, permanent and loving family.  Join me in speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Be the Answer for Haiti

22 11 2010

To learn more about Joint Council’s National Adoption Month Advocacy Campaign-Click Here


by Madison Moyes

My legs were starting to get cramped up from sitting in the small airplane.  Why did I have to get the middle seat again? My mom and sister always got the outside seats.  “We’re here!” my mom said.  I leaned over my sister to look out the window.  “Wow, it’s beautiful!” I sgaid, almost shocked.  The small island looked like it could be swallowed up by the ocean surrounding it.  There were big mountains covered with beautiful green trees.  I could see tiny little shacks stacked up one side of the mountain; they looked as if they were all going to slide off at any second.  I had never thought of Haiti as being such a beautiful place.

The moment we stepped off the airplane, I felt as though I had just run straight into a brick wall.  It was so hot that it was difficult to breathe.  My mom saw the looks on my sister’s and my faces and laughed, saying, “Welcome to Haiti.”  She had been here many times before.  My mom had fallen in love with Haiti and the Haitian people about three years ago when we adopted my little brother, Robby, from Haiti.  She had become so passionate about helping this small country that she and her friend started an organization called Haitian Roots.  The program finds people to sponsor children so they can have a chance to go to school.  They also fund-raise to build schools and employ teachers to improve the education system.

When we left the airport, we were greeted by my mom’s friend, Harry, who owns and runs an orphanage.  He drove us to our hotel to drop off our luggage, and then it was straight to the orphanage to get to work.  As we were driving, I noticed the city looked so much different on the ground than it did from the airplane.  It didn’t look like the same beautiful place I had just seen.  There was garbage everywhere, piled all along the streets; the people were walking right through it like it wasn’t even there.  The smell was so strong it burned my nose.  I guess I’ll be breathing through my mouth this entire trip.  I also couldn’t believe how many people there were packed into this tiny city.  How does everyone fit on such a small island? I realized that my fingers had started to go numb from holding the seat so tight.  Driving in Haiti was absolutely terrifying!  There seemed to be no speed limits or traffic laws at all.  There were cars flying in every direction and I could hear the sound of honking cars all around me.  Oh, please let me make it out of here alive!

It seemed as if everywhere we drove, people on the streets would stop and point and stare at us. “Blanca! Blanca!” I heard some of them yell.  “What does that mean?” I asked.

“White,” Harry answered, “Ya know it’s not every day you see a car full of white people in Haiti,” he laughed.  He pointed to the right and said, ‘Here we are.”

There was a giant wall with cartoon characters painted all over it.  We drove past the gate up to what looked like a big house. This is the orphanage? It was nothing like I had imagined.  We walked in the front door, and I saw to the right of me a room filled with cribs.  I have never seen so many babies in all my life.  There were two or three to each crib.  The room smelled so badly of urine that I could almost taste it as I breathed.  I was trying to fight the strong urges to gag.  The sound of crying babies overwhelmed my ears.

My sister and I picked up the two babies closest to us.  “You won’t be able to put them down until they fall asleep!” my mom warned us, loudly shouting over the pitiful cries.  My mom was right; if you picked up a baby and then tried to put him or her down before they had fallen asleep, they would go crazy!  I watched a baby boy screaming on the floor after he had been put down by one of the nannies.  He was so frustrated; he began to bite his own arm.  I felt so overwhelmed by all the babies and the crying, I wished I could take care of all of them.

“Come on, girls.  Let’s go upstairs.” my mom said.  We followed her up the stairs to the second floor where we saw there were about five different rooms filled with children of all ages.  There’s more! I couldn’t believe how many kids there were!  My sister turned to my mom.  “How many are there?” she asked.

“About eighty,” my mom answered.  “Come here,” she said, “and I’ll show you where your little brother used to live.”  We walked into another room filled with cribs, and my mom walked over and pointed to the crib in the corner, “That’s the crib your brother spent most of his life in until we brought him home.” she said.  I walked over to the crib and saw a beautiful baby boy lying inside of it.  He looked up at me and smiled and reached his tiny little hand through the bar of the crib. I took his hand and held it in mine.  I looked into his big, brown eyes and realized that not too long ago that was my baby brother laying inside there.  I felt a big lump begin to rise in my throat.  My brother spent two years in this orphanage.  How long would this baby stay here?  Would he ever get a family?  I felt the strongest wave of sadness wash over me and I couldn’t hold back the tears anymore.  I had to get out of there.  It was too much.  I couldn’t take it.

I walked outside and my mom followed.  “Madi, what’s wrong?” she asked.

“It’s not fair!” I sobbed.  “What if some of these kids never get a home?  What if they are never adopted?”  My mom held me in her arms while I cried.  She didn’t say anything, she just held me.  The truth was that a lot of the children will never be adopted and never get a family, and we both knew it.

I couldn’t help but think back to a couple of weeks before we left for Haiti.  There was a dance coming up at school.  I had been so nervous that the guy I liked would ask someone else, or I wouldn’t be able to find the perfect dress if he did ask me.  My mom and I spent hours and hours dress shopping, trying on dress after dress.  At the time, shopping, a boy and the dance seemed like a big deal to me.  As I stood there in my mom’s arms thinking of all these sweet children who don’t even have a home, I realized how much that dance didn’t matter.  Inside the house I could hear my sister playing ring-around-the-rosie with the kids.  I could hear them all laughing.  Just a simple game had brought them so much joy.

How could they have so little and be so happy?  There are many who have so much but are still unhappy.  How could they live in these conditions and still smile?  How could an airplane ride to a small, foreign country be so life-changing?  How could small, dark-eyed children with an infectious smile alter my whole life?  What is important and meaningful to me?

That trip to Haiti changed my life!  It changed the way I view the world, and for that I am forever grateful.

When I returned to my high school, one of my friends ran up to me and said, “Can you believe Sam bought the same jacket as me?”  My friend didn’t know, nor could she understand what I had just experienced.  Before my trip, I might have really felt her pain, but I had been through a life-changing experience and realized how silly some of my concerns had been before the trip.  Going to Haiti made me realize how much I have to be grateful for and how there are so many people suffering in this world who need others to help them to have a better life.  I am grateful that my mom has taught me that we all can make a difference in this world.  I loved going to Haiti.  I loved working at the orphanage and I cannot wait to go back, even with the sickness and the sadness I am ready to go back and make even a little difference in the life of a child.

The children of Haiti are still waiting for Their Answer.  Give the Haitian children who came to the U.S. on Humanitarian Parole a voice.  Here’s what to do:  Contact via phone and/or email your Representative and respectfully request their support of the Help Haiti Act.  For detailed information regarding the legislation, please read below.  To find your Representative, please click here. 2) Once you have contacted your representative, please let us know by e-mailing betheanswer@jointcouncil.org

HELP Haiti Act (H.R.5283)

The HELP Haiti Act was introduced by Representative Fortenberry in response to the needs of 1,200 children who entered the U.S. through Humanitarian Parole after the earthquake in Haiti on January 12, 2010.

Using Humanitarian Parole to unite children with their adoptive families was a true act of humanitarianism.  Unfortunately, a barrier still exists which causes significant and undue delays in providing American citizenship to these children.  This is especially critical for older children who continue to ‘age out’

This bill grants no special considerations to the children but rather places them on the same path to citizenship enjoyed by all other internationally adopted children.

The Answer for Delmace

21 11 2010

To learn more about Joint Council’s National Adoption Month Advocacy Campaign-Click Here

He has been my son for as long as I have known him (almost 3 years)…  I knew from the first time I laid eyes on him that he and I were supposed to be together – I didn’t think it was possible at that point, but, in my heart, I always felt that there was something that connected us…  There was a reason for us to meet.

His name is Delmace.  He is 4 and a half years old.  He was born in Haiti.  He doesn’t remember his birth parents – they abandoned him when he was 10 months old.  He was sick – suffering from TB and Malaria, and he was malnourished…  But, he was lucky.  His parents brought him to a hospital, waited to see that he would be cared for – and then, never returned.

In addition Delmace is also physically disabled, unable to walk.  In a country where caring for a healthy child, one who can walk and run, often pushes families to their limits, the prospect of caring for a child who might never walk, would never attend school, would never hold a job, and would be viewed as a constant burden, must have been overwhelming.

He spent 7 months in that hospital – getting healthy, and waiting for his family to return.  But they never did.  He doesn’t really remember his time there.  I am fortunate to have a few photos of him then – taken by a volunteer who helped care for him.  He likes to look at himself as a baby, but he has no connection to that place.

The first home he remembers, his first family, the home where he lived for 2 and a half years before he finally came home to me, is a wonderful organization for children with disabilities in Fermathe. Although  I am his Mama –  this is his other family (and mine too).  He stills calls the other children there his brothers and sisters, the caretakers he was so fond of are like loving aunts and uncles to him.  He was loved and nurtured and valued there.  I am grateful everyday for the people who looked out for him.  But he still needed his own Mama.  And he needed all the opportunities that would never exist for him in Haiti because of his disability.  I needed my son.

So, I asked if it was possible.  They said “yes”, and we started the process.  Then the earthquake happened, and I feared the worst.  Even after I got word that he was OK, I worried constantly.  Finally, after the longest 3 weeks of my life, Delmace came home.  And now, I cannot imagine my life without him.

Home for Delmace is now the “green house in Boston” (as he calls it) – or “kay Mama Cathy and Delmace” (as he called it when he first arrived).  It is not far from Fenway Park, where he loves to watch the Red Sox play baseball as much as I do.  He is my son through and through.  He loves pizza,  tacos and ice cream.  He loves books, music and snuggling on the couch.  He is a typical little boy who loves anything with wheels, and loves to go fast.  He is thriving in the public school system in Boston, where, even though he has a wheelchair, he is just “one of the kids”.  He has a strong desire to be independent and to do things on his own, and he never lets his disability stop him from trying anything.  Delmace plays soccer and baseball and basketball.  He participates in dance class, and does drumming and yoga.  He rides bikes and scooters with the other kids in the neighborhood.  He loves to roll in piles of freshly raked leaves, and even though it’s hard, he climbs to the top of the jungle gym.  He is happy and confident and loving.  And he is loved.

He is  caring and compassionate.  And has not forgotten his first family…  Haiti is a topic of daily conversation in our house.  He talks about his friends there all the time, and wonders why they can’t have the same opportunities that he has.  He is looking forward to the day he can go back to visit Haiti, and is already saving and collecting gifts to bring to his friends.

He will make a difference in the world.

He is truly the light of my life, and I am proud and honored to be his Mama.

Delamce had An Answer, Be The Answer for another child by submitting a photo to our 2010-2011 photo contest! Information can be found here!

The Answer for Gladami, Rachel, and Ruben

19 11 2010

To learn more about Joint Council’s National Adoption Month Advocacy Campaign-Click Here

“I’m afraid of rats,” five-year-old Ruben said, explaining why he didn’t want to sleep next to the wall. “There are no rats in this house.” Gladimi, his 7 year-old brother, reassured him. “The rats were in the other house. The one that shook.” They insisted on sharing a bed, but fought as to who would sleep against the wall. “That house was ugly. This house is pretty,” Gladimi added with a smile. Thus began the first of many conversations about “the house that shook.” Gladimi went: “A rat bit my toe. It bled. It hurt. I cried.” Ruben, not to be outdone, chimed in: “A rat bit my toe. I didn’t cry!” I could believe it; he’s an uncommonly tough kid, especially compared to his cry-on-a-dime older brother. But still the thought of rats made him climb into my lap and hug me tight. Gladimi then launched into a description of the terrible earthquake that devastated Haiti earlier in the year. Speaking Haitian Creole, I could only understand snatches of it, he was scared; people were screaming; they ran out of the house; the house shook and broke; they ran fast, fast.

Their eight-year-old sister Rachel was filled with indignation as she remembered that day: “I was in the kitchen. The house shook. I fell down. I fell on the stove; it hurt!” She clutched her right shoulder –and now I knew how she got that large crescent-shaped scar. She seemed more angry than scared at the memory. Gladimi went on: “then I went on a plane. Mommy and Daddy went on the plane, too. Then I came here!” To which Ruben added: “I went on a plane, too!” And then he hugged me so tight it hurt, and I felt his tiny body shaking. From the time we began the process to adopt three children from Haiti four years before, I never once had second-thoughts, but holding Ruben’s tiny, shaking body in that moment confirmed, beyond any doubt, that we had done the right thing.

We certainly had no idea what we were getting ourselves into when we started the process, which is just as well.  Three years after accepting the referral of a sibling set of three, the process was still dragging at a snail’s pace within the inscrutable bowels of Haitian bureaucracy. We were beginning to wonder if would ever get our kids. Then a 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti.

It was four days before we got word that our kids were alive and well. But they were far from safe- dealing with aftershocks, food & water shortages, mobs & rioting, rotting corpses, disease and rumble. Utter relief came with the news that Humanitarian Paroles would be issued for all kids in the process of adoption.

The three weeks between January 12th, the day the earthquake hit, and February 8th, the day we picked up our kids, were the most intense, excruciating three weeks of my life. One minute we thought our kids would soon be on their way; the next we would be informed of some seemingly insurmountable obstacle. Sleepless nights, mountains of paperwork, endless running around, and prayer finally paid off and we got the call that our kids had their paroles and would be on the next plane out.

However, a massive snow storm was descending on Northern Virginia, shutting down all airports. We were assured our kids would be well cared for till we arrived in Miami to collect them, but how would they feel? When the airport still hadn’t reopened after three days, we took matters into our own hands.  We rented a car and drove nineteen hours to Miami. We pulled into Miami at three am, managed a few hours sleep and then greeted our kids with hugs and kisses as they, oblivious, ate their cereal and watched cartoons.

Six weeks after they arrived, it was Gladimi’s birthday. We told him he was now seven. Rachel protested: Gladimi wasn’t seven. She was seven, so Gladimi couldn’t be seven! We told her she was eight, but she didn’t believe us. It dawned on me: her birthday was January 13th, the day after the earthquake. They hadn’t celebrated it, so she had no idea she had turned eight. So I explained, “Do you remember that day, back in your old house, when the ground shook and all the buildings fell down? That was your birthday.” Rachel gave me a blank look, but Gladimi’s eyes went wide, and he said in a breathless whisper, “Yes! I remember!”

Because of the language barrier, I can’t ask them all the questions I’d like to. Do they remember their biological parents? Do they remember being left at the orphanage? How did they feel? After eight months in America, they have fully integrated into their new family (we have five biological children). They are happy, healthy, well-adjusted children. They go to school, speak English, play with friends, ride bikes, laugh, joke and tease, and come to me for hugs and kisses. I am left in awe at the resilience of children. I hope that some day they’ll be able to tell me about their other life; but only if they can keep the details, while leaving the pain behind.

– Gabrielle LeBlanc, from Herndon, VA, married to Matthew Carnogursky, mother of Lizzy 18, Nick 17, Marie 15, Tommy 12, Katie 11, Rachel 8, Gladimi 7, Ruben 5.

 Gladami, Rachel, and Ruben had an Answer. Be The Answer for another child. Check out our Be The Answer Toolkit and plan on hosting a party. The Be The Answer Toolkit can be found here!

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