MHO director establishes the Union of Haitian Orphanages for Action to help orphanage directors share resources and use existing networks to distribute food and medical aide from large NGO’s. The orphanage union seeks to organize schools and medical clinics and help it’s members find outside support for operating expenses.
Haiti Visit April May 2010 Summary
Michael D. Rath – Haiti Orphan Rescue Program
This is my personal summary of my April-May visit to Haiti, which lead to the restoration of Melissa’s Hope Orphanage and perhaps as important, the establishment of Union des Orphelinos Haitian en Action (Union of Haitian Orphanages for Action) one of the first organizations formed to expressly to voice the needs of the impoverished Haitian Orphanage System.
I arrived in Haiti on April 19 and returned to the U.S. on May 11. For a week I was accompanied by Mike Mahon, my partner in forming Haiti Orphan Rescue Program (HORP.)
During the first week we managed the refurbishment of Melissa’s Hope Orphanage (formerly Holy Angels) in Bon Repos, a suburb of Port Au Prince. MHO houses 20 children, many of them severely disabled. We, with our Haitian crew, were successful in restoring power, water, and establishing proper drainage around the building so that it would no longer flood with each rainfall. We also restored plumbing including sinks and flush toilets, installed mosquito screens over windows, painted both interior and exterior surfaces, and landscaped so the children would have room to play. We also installed wireless internet for the benefit of the caretakers and the children. Our next goal is to install solar panels so the orphanage has reliable power. We lived at the orphanage while we worked.
Following the completion of the renovation and Mike’s departure I had more time to closely observe the workings of the orphanage and the surrounding neighborhood. The Director of the MHO is Jean Pascal Baine, a Haitian who lived for several decades in the U.S. Pascal’s excellent English is something he uses to fullest advantage in connecting with aid organizations. In this way he serves not only the MHO children, but also the neighborhood. MHO feeds not only the orphanage children but also an serves an additional 30 neighborhood children 3 meals each day. MHO also sponsors medical clinics that are available to the neighborhood. MHO has a basic education program to teach the children English and French and some math. Because of Pascal, MHO has evolved from orphanage to an aid distribution center that benefits the entire neighborhood. I wondered if other orphanages could make the same leap?
Part of HORP’s purpose in Haiti was to choose our next project. To do that I would need to find other orphanages with appropriate needs. I visited Orphanage L’enfant Jesus, a very successful orphanage in the countryside outside of Port Au Prince. Gina Duncan, who runs this orphanage, has done an outstanding job in generating aid for her children and community. Compared to many orphanages in Haiti, this one would be considered paradise.
I wanted to visit more orphanages in the local neighborhoods. With the help of Pascal’s friend Frero, we managed to find a few hidden right in our Bon Repos backyard. Approximately a quarter mile from MHO was a church-run orphanage that had been severely disabled by the earthquake. All the children and adults were living in a large open sided wooden structure as their concrete block housing had been condemned. They had no power, plumbing, proper sewage and their water was tainted. They did however have a very nice new play yard funded by their church with swing-sets and jungle gym installed pre-earthquake. We visited several other orphanages in the very near vicinity. Haiti is a country of high stone and masonry walls and gates surrounding every property. Because of the walls and gates and little signage, it is hard to know what lives and breathes behind those walls. Each orphanage we visited was just another steel gate and wall. They are so well hidden it is no wonder that aid has not found them.
It was then I began wondering how we might try to bring the orphanages out from behind the walls. We sent Frero into the neighborhoods with an invitation for local orphanage directors to attend a meeting at MHO. We invited 10 orphanages and all attended. During the first three hour meeting the directors filled out assessment forms, talked at length, and then decided they should bond together as an organization. With little debate they decided to call their organization Union des Orphelinos Haitian en Action (UOHA.) The next week 20 orphanages attended the weekly meeting. There are now approximately 30 orphanages participating in the first 3 weeks. Each orphanage has been assessed for need and none are getting essential aid. Not enough food, water, clothing. No power, some are feeding only 3 meals a week. And yet, we know aid is available. The UN vehicles are everywhere. Unfortunately, some orphanage directors are afraid of the UN and other aid organizations. Miscommunication has led to a feeling that the very organizations there to assist them might actually close them down because they are not registered nor do all their children have birth certificates. Of course, registration and birth certificates cost lawyers and money that many of the orphanages can’t afford. And where would the children go? To live on the streets?
Clearly, based on the attendance and reaction of the orphanage directors of UOHA, the aid system in Haiti is broken. The formation of UOHA may be a critical step and model toward fixing this problem. UOHA might well serve as an aid distribution point to all of its orphanages. When an aid organization serves UOHA, it reaches hundreds and thousands of children who have until now been out of the “aid loop.”
There is no organization serving the orphanages in Haiti in the way UOHA can and will.
Our belief at Haiti Orphan Rescue Program is that every child deserves basic care and opportunity. We are builders, managers, organizers, and aid givers. We can see how an organization like UOHA can help us and other aid organizations be exponentially more effective. If UOHA reaches its potential it will also form the basis for large job programs in the agricultural, textile, technology, construction, and service industries. A UOHA with a thousand members representing 100,000 children could combine with an agricultural collective to feed children using Haitian rice grown with Haitian labor and soil. A properly funded UOHA can become a model organization that will convince Haitians that through unity they do have the power to transform their society.