Guest Post: Sherry Cluver – Life After the Earthquake

14 07 2010

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.


Sherry Cluver: Guest Blog Post

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.

More, Right, Enough: Thoughts on the six-month remembrance of the Haiti earthquake

12 07 2010

Today marks six-months since the 35-second quake that shook Haiti, killed 300,000, and left millions without a home -traumatizing a nation. The death and destruction of January 12th was unprecedented and still to this day continues to remain indescribable.

Billions were donated. Thousands of search and rescue workers volunteered their time and energy. Millions became glued to their TVs, computers and newspapers. Countless prayers were offered. Governments from around the globe offered help. Even Nepal, one of the poorest countries in the world, sent a search and rescue team. Although a worldwide response, the suffering remained with the Haitian people alone.

Our response at Joint Council was also unprecedented. Until January 12th, we had little experience dealing with the effects of natural disasters. There wasn’t time to learn, just act.  And somehow we figured it out. Late nights and 20-hour days. Phone call after phone call. Meeting after meeting. Tear after tear. Through all of it, there were times when we got it right…and times we didn’t.

1,100 children removed from harms way and into a permanent family – got that one right.  45,000 children and families receiving services – got that one right too.  One teenage girl on the streets of Port au Prince, surrounded by gangs, moved to the safety of the U.S. Embassy – thank God for that one. Yes, we are proud of what we did and of what we continue to do.   And we are very proud of our partner organizations who have continued to help us reach over 46,000 children and families.

But whatever pride I had evaporated the instant our plane landed in Haiti on January 24th.  I walked onto the tarmac and there I saw real heroes. I saw the The U.S. Army who brought food, water and medicine and delivered it to many of our orphanages. I saw doctors and nurses who performed round-the-clock surgeries with few professional instruments.

I saw what once was Port au Prince and its people, now living in the street – literally in the street – they surrounded themselves with stone as to avoid being hit by a car or truck. I saw damaged orphanages and held children too traumatized to enter any type of building – even a safe one.

Then I saw Haitians helping Haitians. Haitian men, most had lost their own home, but were now digging friends out of the rubble. Haitian women, most having lost all they had, were now comforting the injured and caring for their neighbor’s children.  And young Haitian children, scared and alone, were now carrying water buckets for miles, trying desperately not to spill a drop. It was then that I realized the true heroes of this tragedy were the Haitian people.

Remember the pride I mentioned earlier, well it still is long gone. Because whatever we did, it was not enough. And whatever we are doing, it is still not enough. Families are living in squalid tent cities. Children are existing without a mother, father or anyone to truly care for them. And Restavek children are still being enslaved.

The rubble has yet to be removed from the roads. Promised housing has yet to be built. The pre-quake poverty is growing every day. Efficient aid is stymied by the bureaucracy of world governments. Effective assistance is impeded by the territoriality that is the U.N. and NGO community.

Billions have been raised, but suffering continues.

So my pride in what we did and what we are doing has transformed through a continual circle of stages. Despair into anger. Anger into dedication. Dedication into action. Action into pride and back to despair, starting the circle once again.

The one element that has not altered is our commitment: our commitment to the children of Haiti. Our commitment to do more. And our commitment to challenge governments, the U.N., UNICEF, NGOs, our partners and ourselves, to do more – to do it right – to do enough. To end the suffering.

And so during this week of remembrance, we will be announcing our plans for more. I hope that you will stand with us this week and in the weeks to come. And I hope that we will all stand with our brothers and sisters in Haiti, do more, do it right and end this needless suffering.

Tom DiFilipo   Tom Tom Tom Tom Tom Tom Support The Children of Haiti
Joint Council   Tom Tom Tom Tom Tom Tom To Please  Donate Today!

Sonje Lan Timoun – A Remembrance of Haiti’s Most Vulnerable

11 07 2010

Beginning on Monday, Joint Council will conduct a remembrance of the January 12th earthquake.  For five days we will honor those who perished in the January 12 earthquake, those who continue to struggle and all who work hand-in-hand with Haitians to create a better tomorrow for Haitian children.

Port au Prince - January 24, 2010

Here are some of our ‘must see’ for this week.  We hope that you will join us by sharing your thoughts and comments on our blog, Facebook and Twitter…and that we all remember the children of Haiti.

Monday on NPR – Did you know that we have a Global Awareness Campaign?  We do and part of the campaign is working with the media.  Tomorrow, Monday, July 12th, Joint Council’s Tom DiFilipo will do just that when he is a guest on FORUM, a radio broadcast by KQED (an affilate of National Public Radio) on Monday, July 12th at 1:00 pm EST.  Tom and three other guests will discuss the state of intercountry adoption and the crisis in Haiti. The show can be heard live, online at at 1:00 pm EST.

Haitian Guest Blogger: Darlene Williams – Darlene is a Haitian teenager who went from the danger of the streets of Haiti to a loving family in the U.S.

Lan Timoun: A Six-Month Report on the Triumphs, Challenges and Failures of Providing Services to Children in Haiti

Humanitarian Parole & The Haitian Twelve:  Two seperate reports updating the status of Haitian children who entered the U.S. under Humanitarian Parole and the twelve Haitian children who, after six-months, remain in an institution in Pennsylvania.

Joint Council Haiti- This week we will formally announce the creation of the Joint Council of Haiti.  What is the Joint Council of Haiti?   It is our effort to help those who help children.  In Haiti, many NGOs, non-profits, churches and faith-based organizations work diligently for children, but they do it alone.  Joint Council Haiti will bring them together to share resources, knowledge and programs.  In short, we will do what we do best – help them help children.

Moving Past Humanitarian Parole: A Webinar on Finalizing Haitian Adoption and Gaining U.S. Citizenship for Adopted Children

Tom DiFilipo          Tom                    Tom Support The Children of Haiti
Joint Council        Tom                            Tom Please  Donate Today!

Haiti: Pictures, Descriptions and Comments

13 06 2010

We created a Haiti page on our blog which has pictures from our time in Haiti including descriptions and comments for each pic.  We think they are more than just pictures – we think they tell a piece of the story in Haiti and a little about what Joint Council is and does.

You can access the page here or by clicking on Haiti: Reasons To Care, Reasons To Hope at the top of our blog homepage.

Haiti: Seven Reasons To Care, To Hope…and To Act

13 06 2010

Having worked in Haiti for nine years and having been there immediately after the quake and again last week, we know that there are many reasons to care about the children of Haiti.  And we know that there are many reasons to have hope.   Here are just seven reasons to care, to hope…and to act.

Angelina is a 24-year-old young woman who has lived her entire life in an orphange. Angelina said she cannot leave the orphanage because she has no family or friends and no skills to find a job.

A Haitian adoptee, Roslyn returned to Haiti in 2007 to work for the Restavek Foundation. She now helps child slaves by getting them into school and treating them with dignity. Learn more at

Read the rest of this entry »

Seeing Miracles in Haiti

9 06 2010
We have now been in Haiti for five days.  The miracles in Haiti since our last trip, two weeks after the earthquake, are quite remarkable.  It’s amazing to see the spirit of Haitians, their will to fight, to survive.  Despite the destruction, despite the pain, despite the rains that have come nearly every day for weeks and threaten to slowly destroy the tarp shelters they have built in the last five months.

Over the last five days, we’ve joined our colleagues in Haiti to advocate at the IBESR (the governmental body which governs children’s issues in Haiti), the U.S. Embassy, UNICEF, and other child welfare organizations in Haiti.  Although these meetings are important and have been very productive, it’s the children who remind me exactly why Joint Council’s advocacy is so important.  It’s the children who have shown me everything there is to know about strength and endurance.  It’s seeing the smile of remembrance on Rene’s face when we entered the orphanage he calls home.  It’s the hope and love in his eyes.  It’s the two-year-old at another orphanage, who stuck up her arms begging to be held, loved, and nurtured, and who, after 15 minutes, fell asleep in my arms.  It’s these children who receive little, yet are able to give unending love.

It’s these children, and the families who are struggling now more than ever to stay together, that Joint Council returns to Haiti to advocate for, support, and give strength to.  We are here to fight for their right to safety, permanency, and love.  Please join us in this fight by donating to support Joint Council’s efforts in Haiti.

Rebecca Harris, Director of Programs and Services

To make a donation to support Joint Council’s work Haiti, click here.

Update from Haiti: Sampson Lives Today

9 06 2010

We had an impromptu conversation with a colleague from a large child protection agency today.  A question was posed that appears to be causing some debate amongst the myriad of NGOs serving children here in Haiti.

Before we get to the question, here is some background.  Marjorie and Jean have five children with a sixth on the way.  When baby Sampson is born, Marjorie and Jean decide that they cannot properly care for their newborn, relinquish their parental rights and place the child in an orphanage.

After a few months, a social worker brings the Samspon back to the parents in an attempt to reunite the family.  But Marjorie and Jean are firm in their decision and tell the social worker they cannot care for Sampson.  They want him to be adopted.

More months go by and the social worker tries to get Sampson’s aunt to care for him.  But she too says she cannot care for Sampson.

Sampson has now been living in an orphanage with 48 other children for 14 months.

The question being debated is – what does the social worker do with Sampson?  Does he remain in the orphanage

Harry - a young man living in a Haitian orphanage

while more attempts are made to reunite him with his parents?  Is he declared ‘unadoptable’ because he has living parents?  Should he be placed for adoption?  Should his parents have any say in what happens to Sampson?

Too often these questions – and their answers – form immovable policies which overlook a very important issue: What would be the best for Sampson?  As we said in yesterday’s blog, Sampson is not a statistic, a category or a case – he is a person with rights, with needs and with immense potential.

Reports such as Harvard University’s Bucharest Early Intervention Study which demonstrates the horrific and lifelong effects of institutionalization should not be ignored when decisions for Sampson are made.  Every child has a right to live with their birth family and within their local culture.  And every child has the right to be free of an institution where their IQ, weight, height, general health and brain mass all deteriorate on a daily basis.   The Bucharest Study shows that Sampson will loose one IQ point for every month he lives in an institution.  After three years of waiting, Sampson’s IQ could easily be below 85.  This too must be considered in deciding what is best for Sampson.

The ideal society would be one in which no child is abandoned or relinquished – for any reason including poverty.  A society where governments and civil society have programs to support families and to immediately reunite families separated for any reason –economics, social mores or earthquakes.   We are and must continue to work towards making that ideal a reality.  But while we are moving towards that day, we cannot ignore the reality of Sampson.  We cannot sacrifice him on the alter of an ideal tomorrow.  Sampson does not live in an ideal tomorrow – he lives in the reality of today.

We’d like to know your thoughts.  And we’ll post some more of ours tomorrow.

Tom DiFilipo

Update from Haiti: For Another Day

8 06 2010

Update from Haiti:  For Another Day

By our third day in Haiti, we had met with organizations and individuals throughout Port au Prince.  Here’s just a few – Haitian Roots, New Life Children’s Home, volunteers from the University of Utah, a local LDS Church, the Ministry of Social Welfare, the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.  There is a lot going in Haiti.

Actually there is so much going on that our report could run into 10 pages or more.  It could easily be filled with statistics, policy recommendations and program assessments.  But the reality is that Haiti is not a bunch of statistics, it is 9 million individual human beings.  Too often we talk about serving populations, of policies that will serve children or of laws that will protect them.  But the reality is not ‘populations’, ‘policies’ or ‘programs’. – it is one person caring about another.  It’s about Roberto, a single father loving his newborn son; Karla, a Haitian volunteer, carrying an amputee on her back while volunteering at the make-shift hospital; and Shannon, a child welfare professional, caressing the hand of a child with cerebral palsy.

That comprehensive report, it’s for another day.

Roberto – Prior to the quake, Roberto worked at the Kinom Hotel in Petionville.  With business being slow at the hotel, Roberto lost his job.  Around the same time, his son Thomas was born and a few weeks later his wife left the family.

We first met Roberto at the LDS Church early on Sunday morning.  Roberto cradled his son in his left arm while giving

Roberto and Thomas

shade from the blazing sun with an umbrella carefully held in his right hand.  Roberto’s gorgeous smile belies his struggle.  With no job, no wife and no plan other than to get through the day, no one could blame Roberto if he placed his child into an orphanage.

But for Roberto, and for so many others, there are the unsung heroes, the untold stories of Haitian’s helping Haitian’s.  Roberto’s church community rallied around him, providing him with spiritual support, with food and clothing and perhaps most importantly, with the strength to love his son, care for him and keep his family together.

Shannon – Haitian Roots had its origins in adoption, in finding families for children.  Now it is a dynamic organization who through partnerships with the University of Utah and Common Grounds, is building a multi-faceted community center that not only meets proper building codes but will provide job training, child care, medical clinic and education.  There overriding goal is to ensure that families stay together, children are not abandoned and the children without a family find one.

Shannon is one of the leaders of Haitian Roots.  We spent some time with her while visiting New Life orphanage, which

Sampson at New Life Children's Home

cares for children with severe disabilities.  As we moved through the compound we came upon Sampson who struggled to communicate to us from his curled position in his wheelchair.  I have seen many orphanages, many children and many who care for them.  But watching Shannon was something I had never done.

The love she has for each child, not for children, but for the child in front of her, was for a lack of proper description, simply amazing.  Her love was seen in her eyes, was heard in her voice and was felt in her touch.  Shannon’s not about serving populations of kids, she’s about caring for the singular unique child that she held in her hands.  At that moment, it was all about Sampson.

Linda, Pious and Paul – Sometimes Haiti is about one person helping another.  And sometimes it is about one person helping thousands – one at a time.

Linda, Pious and Paul work for the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.  In one ninety-day period, they and their American and Haitian colleagues, executed the largest evacuation since World War II.  And they helped 1,100 children find a family (eleven times a normal ninety-day period).

Struggling to ensure the safety of their own families, fighting off fatigue and PTSD, Linda, Pious and Paul served each person not with callous bureaucracy but with tears, with empathy, with caring and yes, with love.  They served thousands, but did it one person at a time.

Today – Today we move on to another exhausting day.  More meetings, more policy, more programs.  But today, like our first three, we will try to bring comfort, service and leadership – and we will try, just like Roberto, Shannon, Linda, Pious and Paul, to do it one person at a time.

Tom DiFilipo

From the Field – Rebecca’s Thoughts, Day 2 in Haiti

7 06 2010

Soon after returning to Washington D.C. after the Haiti trip in January I wrote a piece for another organization’s publication.  In it I said that there were too many stories in Haiti to give justice to the reality down here.  But it is in the individual Haitian that we can best understand the tragedy, the needs and how best to respond.  Here are just a few from the people we met yesterday…

William’s our driver, before the quake he was a tennis instructor at the hotel we are staying.  He has five children, the two oldest live in the U.S., the other three live with him at the hotel, on the tennis court where he once taught, with the rest of the staff who have lost their homes in the quake.  When I asked William what his children do while he works he says, “ahhh…nothing.”

Henry is the bishop at a church in Petonville.  After the quake he had 600 people living in the small parking lot at the church.  He carefully helps provide what he can to everyone, the 600 people who lived at the church, the members of his congregation, his family, and the children who are sponsored by the organization he runs.  Everyone.  All 600 people have moved off the parking lot, Henry’s church provided them with tents to live where their homes once stood.  He’s angry about the lack of progress since the quake.  Yesterday afternoon, determined to show us the lack of progress, he takes us to his mother-in-laws home.  All of the exterior walls fell during the quake, remarkably the roof still stands, thanks to two interior walls.  Henry, trying to do everything he can, got his mother-in-law to take in one of the children orphaned by the quake.

Roberto worked at a hotel in Port-au-Prince prior to the quake.  Since the quake he was laid off, the hotel doesn’t have as many guests so they don’t need him.  He’s a single father of a three month old boy (obviously born after the quake), his wife left him and his son days after the birth of their first child.  He’s the most loving father’s I’ve met in my life.

John and Mimi are siblings, nine and four respectively.  They lost both their parents in the quake and they were separated, unaware that the other was living.  John has been living at an orphanage since the quake.  His sister was receiving medial treatment by another organization.  They were reunited for the first time since the quake two days ago.  Workers who were in the room when they were united say that they cried, and cried.

From the Field – Rebecca’s Thoughts, Day 1 in Haiti

6 06 2010

I was dramatically affected by Joint Council’s previous trip to Haiti two weeks after the earthquake. Months after returning to the U.S. Joint Council hosted our Annual Conference and the affect was still on the top of my skin. During the Conference Tom and I spoke of our time in Haiti, of what we had seen. We cried…on stage…in front of 300 people…more than once. To say that I had a little post-traumatic stress would be an understatement. As the months went by, I felt like the only way to get past the pain and hurt was to continue to work…and to return to Haiti. I needed to see the change. I needed to see that Haiti had risen. I have yet to see my unrealistic, idealistic dream – that Haiti had risen.

Much about flying into Haiti has changed – the view before was military ships, rubble and destruction that one could see from miles above. Today it’s a sea of blinding blue tarps used as roofs that foreshadow the landscape of destruction. The airport has changed too, immigration and baggage claim, which were nonexistent two weeks after the quake, have been relocated into an airplane hanger. Driving through Port-au-Prince the streets have changed, the cars that were once destroyed, covered in rubble, have now been stripped of every useful piece for use in other cars. While for a moment it appears that Port-au-Prince has moved on, grown-past the earthquake, you turn a corner and bam it hits you – another four-story building down to a few feet high. It hits inside like an aftershock.

And there is no break from it. The Villa Creole (where we are staying), which, I’m told, was a beautiful resort prior to the earthquake still maintains its beauty. However, when you look a little deeper you notice – half the hotel destroyed into rubble, part of the lobby gone (a plywood wall blocks most of the rubble from guests view), and the staff sleeping in tents on the tennis court because they have no home.

What breaks my heart more is that what we’ve seen in the first day is the good, the lucky. Yes, the hotel staff are sleeping in tents on the tennis court but they, unlike those living in the tent cities surrounding nearly every intersection, can use a restroom at the hotel. And they have jobs. Many of the few in Haiti who had jobs prior to the earthquake have yet to return to them, due to the destruction of the business. I guess what all this comes down to is that Haiti has just begun to rise. There is still so much to be done and we’ve just started. I hope I can be even a small part of that.

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