There is no single day that I don’t wish to go to earthquake-hit Haiti and serve those homeless and helpless orphan children who are living an impoverish life under an open sky with an almost empty stomach and seeking emotional aid from strangers as they strive to overcome the dilemma of living alone. Haiti is now crowded with international aid agencies, emergency hospitals, doctors, nurses and a world of people who are volunteering their valuable time to reach out to those who are left with nothing but a shocking memory of the past. This past is almost a month old, but recovering from it seems like a life-long process for those who are greatly affected by the devastating earthquake. They now get startled by a leaf spiraling down from a tree. These victims of nature, especially the orphan children need to be nurtured with a long-term recovery plan. Only a family and home, can heal the psyche of these Haitian children.
Kudos to this high-tech media age which presents real stories of these vulnerable children and inspire us to behave like a responsible global citizen to rebuild its future on the rubble of its past. But what will happen to these children when the media leaves, when Anderson Cooper leaves? Will Haitian children fade away from our memory?
No questions asked to anyone entering and exiting the country in this chaotic moment when relief efforts are at its peak hour. In other words, it is almost impossible to discern who is truly interested in adopting the orphans and who the child traffickers are. UNICEF reports indicated that children have been missing from hospitals and community centers and it gets worse with the news when the Idaho group was found involved in taking a busload of children out to the Dominican Republic illegally. Groups like UNICEF and Save the Children put a halt in the adoption process to prevent possible smuggling of children out of the country. Even an independent committee like Joint Council of International Children services is formed to create a standard procedure so those who really want to adopt are bound by legal obligation. Probably this is the right time to identify the loopholes of the whole adoption process before it goes out of control threatening the well-being of the innocents.
Before the earthquake, there were about 380,000 children living in orphanages across Haiti, and now the number is close to 600,000. No one is sure as to what will happen to these children. Not all of them will have a home, not everyone will be lucky to receive parental love and motherly care once again. The question of legality, a major concern, to save the children from the hands of traffickers requires most attention, but more important is to find a right match for these children. I am not advocating for adoption biases based on races. What I am saying is that these children are already orphans and unless authority undertakes a detailed understanding of the new adopter’s capacity to take over this innocent’s life there is every possibility for them to become orphans for the second time. It is better to remain in the waiting list for them than to be cheated with love.
Fear of child traffickers and requirements like background checks may take a whole lot of time now than expected. Caught in this waiting dilemma, the authority must not deny these children from opportunities like education. Time heals everything and it will heal the intolerable pains of being orphans too. But refusing their rights of education and economic opportunities would be a grave mistake for the ones who are now responsible to determine the fate of these children. Be it a year or two, or more than that, the international community must not turn their back from these children. Putting bandages or digging graves is not the end of this show. It is like a movement to help these children by developing a long-term recovery plan that will take account of economic, emotional, and educational aspects of each orphan’s well-being. Media might take off, but human spirit must not fade away from Port-au-Prince.
Reefa Mahboob, M.P.A