The Answer for Rose

8 11 2010

Rose turns 13 today! All of us here at Joint Council want to wish Rose a Very Happy Birthday!

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

Adoption was The Answer for Rose.  Help other children who don’t yet have an answer by helping one of the many, many wonderful organizations working in Haiti, Haitian Roots.  Six Seeds will donate $2 to Haitian Roots for every comment left after this article! Each comment has to have a unique email address, but if you have more than one address, you can comment more than once.  It’s a simple and easy way to help orphaned children get the education they need!

Be The Answer for Gabe

8 11 2010

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

The One That Got Away

Gabe looks terrific. He’s in excellent health. His long hair is thick and full and dark. He’s wearing new tennis shoes and very expensive looking T-shirt with a foil embossed design. The rest of the design was of a face looking up wearing sunglasses and a swirl of smoke. Gabe himself was smoking when I stepped out into the street to invite him in. He flipped the cigarette stub hidden in his hand into a pocket the moment I appeared. I insisted he pull up the baggy pants which were perched precariously above the danger line before I let him into the house. I can get away with that because I’ve known him for so long. If I hadn’t, I’d probably be afraid of him.

He’s wearing a watch that isn’t a real Rolex, but he shouldn’t be able to afford such a big and brassy knockoff. Or the new Nikes. Or the flat brimmed baseball cap set at such a jaunty angle on that tall afro. He didn’t want to talk long – he was just hoping to pick up a pair of soccer shoes I was supposed to deliver to him, a gift from my son back in the States.

The boys were the best of friends when my son lived here at the orphanage. Gabe was the son of the house manager, and he was here often. When I first met him he was fourteen years old and full of himself. He liked to alternately tease and play with the smallest children in the house. I liked having him come by because I felt having such a normal ‘big brother’ added to the family atmosphere in the house. I knew he was a little bit rough around the edges, but he minded his tongue around the kids and he gave really terrific piggy back rides.

Gabe was trying very hard in school. He wanted to learn English well enough to teach it someday. I managed to get him to call me ‘darling’, a word from his schoolbook, for a whole day before I let him know what he was saying. We all had a good laugh over that, and I called him ‘darling’ to tease him for years afterwards. Gabe always had a fine sense of humor. He was an ordinary kid. Pretty good at soccer, average intelligence, doing alright at school, hanging around with some friends that we all thought questionable and some that we liked a lot. The kind of kid that finishes high school with average grades, gets some sort of a job, and eventually falls into something that works out for him. I could picture him marrying, being a good husband and a very good father. A typical, middle class, perfectly satisfactory American life. Except that this is Haiti.

There is no ordinary job here for Gabe. In a country where the woman, begging for change in the parking lot of the pharmacy, speaks seven languages and tells me she is starving in crisp, correct English, Kreyol, and Spanish,  where there is no construction company ready to take on an ordinary kid because he’s a nice guy and he needs a job. There is no trade school with great deals on student loans and grants and an employment referral program for graduates.

This could have been my son’s story too. He’s just a few years younger than Gabe and had a very strong and well educated mother. No one in my birth son’s family can read or sign his name. But my son is on the honor roll as a high school junior. He’s worrying about which college he should choose. I don’t want to think about what Gabe  must be worrying about.

I have a starfish tattooed on my arm to remind me why I do this work. I’ll spend my whole life walking down this beach, throwing back starfish one by one, but where do you throw a starfish when there is no ocean to catch him? How can you help one lost child in a sea of lost adults, lost chances, lost hope? This one has fallen back in the sand to die in the sun, and there is nothing I can do about it.

We’re doing all we can to help in this struggling land. We have over 150 children safe within the gates. Our women’s literacy, education, and microgrant program will restart in the fall. We’re building our second free school in Jeremie. But none of that will help Gabe. He has already fallen. Forgive me darling.

Be The Answer for Gabe by helping one of the many, many wonderful organizations working in Haiti, Haitian Roots.  Six Seeds will donate $2 to Haitian Roots for every comment left after this article! Each comment has to have a unique email address, but if you have more than one address, you can comment more than once.  It’s a simple and easy way to help orphaned children, like Gabe, get the education they need!

Be The Answer for Jesse

5 11 2010

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

We are Laura and Steve MacDonald.  We chose to build our family thru adoption versus biological methods, as I (Laura) have known I wanted to adopt from the time I was a child.  We began this life-long adventure with the adoptions of our two sons from Guatemala in 2006.  I moved to Guatemala to be with them from the time they were about six weeks old, until the paperwork was completed 6 months later.  They are ABSOLUTELY the loves and joys of our lives, and I often forget that they are adopted, attributing tastes or allergies/etc to either myself or Steve.  We absolutely CANNOT imagine loving or cherishing a child more than we do our boys.

For a reason I still don’t understand, I always felt drawn to Haiti – even prior to our adoptions from Guatemala.  Haiti was always on my heart and mind.  Therefore, when we decided to start another adoption, we went to Haiti.  We were matched to Taina, and went down to meet her shortly after.  We immediately fell in love, but were also tormented by the conditions we saw on that trip. Despite much international travel, and 6 months living in Guatemala, nothing could have prepared us for the utter devastation and poverty that defines Haiti.  As we left Haiti, we inadvertently ended up in a government run children’s hospital with the person driving us to the airport.  We were there a few hours during her meeting and as we rushed towards the door, we almost literally ran into our little Jesse, a small little light in a dark and somewhat hopeless place….a two year old little girl in a bright red dress with a smile that warmed you to your toes, who had been abandoned at the hospital seven months prior.  We looked at each other and were both instantly struck with the knowledge that Jesse was supposed to be our daughter…so we began the process as we left her country that day.

I spent the next several months on the phone, the computer, and on my knees….working and praying for a solution for Jesse.  She needed a relatively routine operation to correct a gastrointestinal issue.  I did everything in my power to get her adoption expedited, and when that seemed absolutely impossible, to get her a medical Visa so we could at least get her medical condition corrected.  The paperwork was insane.  People’s reluctance to help because, for example, they could not fill out the necessary forms because no one knew her real last name, seemed unfathomable.  It is a situation that is SO difficult to explain…those who have adopted, or who are in the process, and whose hearts have left their bodies to touch and be with the children destined to be theirs understand…they understand that when you meet the child who is to be your son or daughter, and then have to turn your back and walk away from that child, a child who oftentimes has already been thru more trauma than most of us have, to wait for paperwork and bureaucracy…your heart breaks, your entire being aches, and you are filled with an intense longing to provide the comfort and security you know your child so needs and deserves.  We left Haiti that day after meeting Jesse, absolutely FULL of sadness for both her and Taina.  Unfortunately, despite all of our efforts, Jesse died just 5 months after we held her in our arms…thousands of miles away from the family that loved her, that longed for her, all alone in a Haitian hospital room, never knowing the comfort and security of the loving arms of her forever family.

We have since been blessed by the addition of both Taina and Yvelore…2 of the most beautiful and amazing little girls one could ever imagine.  Both came to us shortly after the devastating earthquake in Haiti…and our hearts have now expanded to 4 times their original size as these girls join us and our boys on the adventure of our lives.  We still think about Jesse constantly.  We still pray for her, and our hearts still break for her – that she had to die alone, with no one there to hold and comfort her…a senseless death when just a plane ride away, she had the medical care she needed, and a family desperate to help her and head over heels in love with her.

Be The Answer for Jesse by Visiting the National Adoption Month Website to find a local event to attend in your area!

Pius Bannis – Federal Employee of the Year

15 09 2010

When the devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, the nation’s orphans were among the most vulnerable. Pius Bannis, a U.S. immigration officer, stepped into the breach to help hundreds of those Haitian orphans—babies, toddlers and teens—escape the tragedy and find safety in the United States.

In the days and weeks following the catastrophe, U.S. citizens in the process of adopting children in Haiti were desperate to gain custody of the youngsters and bring them to the United States, but were stymied because they had not yet completed all of the paperwork and requirements that can take as long as three years.

Aided by the Obama administration’s decision to authorize use of humanitarian parole to bring certain orphans to the United States, Bannis, a field office director for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), logged 20-hour days, seven days a week to identify and screen eligible cases. He ensured the system was not being exploited by child traffickers or others with bad motives, coordinated with the State Department on evacuation arrangements, and dealt with Haitian authorities.

During the first two weeks after the earthquake, Bannis was the sole American immigration official in Haiti handling the adoption needs. He took it upon himself to set up a make-shift day care in the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, where more than 50 children could be found at any one time, often scared, crying and hungry. He supplied diapers, clean clothes, water and food, and personally drove some of the children to the airport for evacuation flights to the United States.

“What Pius did was the singular most devoted act of public service and humanitarianism that I have seen in all my 30 years in immigration,” said Steve Bucher, deputy associate director of Refugee, Asylum and International Operations at USCIS.

U.S. families adopted 330 Haitian children in all of 2009. Immigration officials said about 1,100 youngsters were allowed to come to the United States through April 2010 as part of the special accelerated program. This enabled their adoptive parents or prospective adoptive parents to remove their children from the devastating conditions of post-earthquake Haiti and bring them to safety. Bannis played a role in each one.

At the same time that Bannis was helping the orphans and their adoptive families, he was providing comfort and support to his Haitian staff who suffered devastating losses—assisting one colleague who lost her home and all seven members of her family, another who lost a brother, and a third who lost her parents and desperately needed medical treatment for family members with life-threatening injuries.

Bannis’ motivation to help the Haitian orphans ran deep, stemming from his humanitarian work in African refugee camps in the early 1990s. He was especially devastated to see the suffering of innocent, helpless children in those camps, and that feeling stayed with him. He said he always takes care of the kids first, and the terrible Haitian earthquake clearly was a time for him to act.

“It was a human reaction to a human tragedy. So many children were dead or dying, and so many were in the process of being adopted. We were all so concerned. My automatic reaction was to take care of them,” Bannis said.

Each family assisted by Bannis has their own story to tell. Thank you letters and e-mails to Bannis, along with photos of the children, have poured into the U.S. Embassy in Haiti and USCIS headquarters.

The family of an adopted girl wrote that “you have dedicated your heart and soul to this matter to ensure that the children have joined their adoptive parents in the United States. What you provided to the children, to Haiti, and to us parents, are immeasurable.”

Another parent wrote, “I want to say thank you for all that you did to help three amazing little boys come from Haiti to the United States to receive surgical care and to have a chance at life! We are so very grateful.”

The severe earthquake and its after-effects resulted in an estimated 220,000 deaths, with many hundreds of thousands left homeless and injured. Of the 117 official government-approved Haitian orphanages, many were left in poor condition or were destroyed in the earthquake.

Originally from the island of Dominica, Bannis is a naturalized American citizen and has worked for the federal government for about 15 years. He went to Haiti in 2008 because he wanted to give back to the children of the Caribbean.

Bannis said he is curious about the hundreds of children who left Haiti and wonders how they are healing and making out in their new lives in the United States. Yet he knows that it is important not to dwell on the situation of one particular child, but rather to focus on the next little one who may need help for a better life.

Joint Council’s Tom DiFilipo and Rebecca Harris will be Tweeting and updating Joint Council’s Facebook status live from Sammie awards while Mr. Bannis receives his award.  For a video about Mr. Bannis and the Federal Employee of the Year Award, go to

Please note: the above was taken from

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!

Hear It Live: Joint Council on NPR This Coming Monday

9 07 2010

Joint Council’s Tom DiFilipo will be a guest on FORUM, a radio broadcast by KQED (an affiliate of National Public Radio) on Monday, July 12th at 1:00 pm EST. Other guests include two Joint Council Member Organizations; Janet Shirley of Bay Area Adoption Services, and Dr. Marguerite Wright of Oakland Children’s Hospital along with E.J. Graff of The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism.

The focus of this FORUM broadcast is the state of intercountry adoption and the crisis in Haiti. The show can be heard live, online at at 1:00 pm EST.

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 »

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