Helping Haiti's Children

By Susan Serrano

They wander amid the rubble. Lost, hungry, scared, emotionally numbed by all they have seen. It’s these images of Haiti’s children—the most fragile citizens of an already impoverished nation plummeted into full-blown crisis by January’s earthquake—that have mobilized well-meaning Americans to want to do something to help.

Rebecca Hackworth, director of social services for Dillon International, a non-profit adoption and humanitarian aid agency affiliated with Buckner International, is currently working in Haiti, helping Dillon’s sister agency, the Foundation for the Children of Haiti, with relief efforts at its orphanages, school and hospital in Port au Prince. She has witnessed firsthand the dangers posed to children. “There are children on the streets who don’t even know their last name. They are vulnerable and easy prey for evil purposes of all kinds.”

It’s a situation that wrenches the heart. The impulse to rescue is strong.

“Immediately following the earthquake in Haiti, the public reaction was that there would be scores of children coming over to America that would need a place to stay,” said Deniese Dillon, Dillon International’s co-founder and executive director. The agency, which offers international adoption opportunities in 10 countries, received thousands of calls and emails from families eager to open their homes to children who lost everything in the earthquake. “They really had good intentions and they were so caught up in the emotion of the moment.”

However, adoption is not an option in the immediate wake of the disaster. Time must be taken to determine if a child is truly orphaned by the earthquake, or temporarily separated from family members in the midst of the chaos. Then there are other alternatives, such as placement with extended family members or domestic adoption within Haiti, to be explored. “Generally speaking, removing children from their birth country should be a last resort,” Dillon said.

[caption id="attachment_2246" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="Rebecca Hackworth, director of social services for Dillon International, visited Haiti a few weeks after the earthquake and said, "there are children on the streets who don't even know their last name. They are vulnerable and easy prey ... ""][/caption]

When international adoption does become a possibility, it is a decision families should reach after careful analysis, never on an emotional impulse, Hackworth added. “Many people are moved by the disaster and think helping one child is a manageable thing to do. They have not always thought through their desire to be parents or the length and intensity of the international adoption process,” she said.

“International adoption includes background checks, home studies, verification of financial resources, meeting health and age criteria, the support of friends and extended family and the ability to take a lengthy initial leave from work to help the child attach to his new family. If you are adopting trans-racially, it also requires a willingness to make that child’s ethnic heritage something that is incorporated into your family traditions and earnestly celebrated,” Hackworth explained. “Helping a child deal with the many losses they have experienced is not an easy task. I doubt you will get a ‘thank you’ note from the child for your assistance, and they should not feel the need to provide one.”

There are other ways families can share their love with Haiti’s children, she added. “If you want to rescue someone, choosing a child sponsorship program that will enable their physical and educational needs to be met is an excellent alternative to help.”

Families longing to reach out to Haiti’s children right now are urged to offer prayer support and to donate to reputable relief organizations that have well-established plans for meeting the needs of Haiti’s children, said Dillon, whose agency has provided humanitarian relief in the country for 20 years.

Together, Dillon and Buckner International have a long-term commitment to build a brighter future with the people of Haiti.

[caption id="attachment_2247" align="alignright" width="200" caption=""There’s an impulse for people to want to jump on a plane and do something but that is not always the best thing. If you want to help now, you need to empower agencies that are already established and working in Haiti to do the work unless you have skills that are needed today," said Randy Daniels, vice president of global operations for Buckner. "][/caption]

“Buckner's direction and purpose in Haiti is to help Haitian families rebuild their ability to care for their own children with the guidance and reinforcement of people from that country,” said Randy Daniels, Buckner’s vice president for global operations. “There’s an impulse for people to want to jump on a plane and do something but that is not always the best thing. If you want to help now, you need to empower agencies that are already established and working in Haiti to do the work unless you have skills that are needed today.”

With the long-range needs to be addressed in Haiti, occasions to help will abound for months to come, Dillon added. “If you are experiencing a true connection and calling to Haiti, there will be many opportunities to help. The needs will not go away any time soon.”

And for families whose hearts truly ache to add an orphaned child to their family, there are other international adoption programs open to new applicants today, said Dillon, adding that although the tragedy in Haiti inspires a sense of urgency, other countries also engage in a daily struggle to meet the needs of their children. “Every child that is in our care has had an earthquake or tsunami-type heartbreak in their lives. And long after the focus shifts from Haiti, the work of making a better life for homeless children everywhere will go on.”

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