We went to visit them, one by one, whenever the opportunity presented itself. Mostly on the weekends when the kids did not have school. I could write an entire book on each reaction. The depth, the confusion, the inability to conceal big emotions. It was all so beautiful but also so many other things, mostly sad. There were twelve of them when we first came. Twelve precious ones in a variety of ages- four to eighteen. We instantly saw their value, their worth. Each one full of personality bubbling out, oozing for validation.
When we actually arrived to Haiti there were only eleven. Eleven not twelve. For the purposes of this journal we will change some names. Stevens was gone back to his mom for reasons we will not discuss yet. But for reasons that should not be an issue to a four year old.
I remember being so caught off guard that a child in an orphanage could go back to their parents. I did not realize children in an orphanage had parents and if they did, I had assumed they were unfit to parent... so why would we put Stevens back in an unsafe situation?
The truth of "poverty orphan" was completely lost on me until a full three months into living in Haiti.
An orphan is defined as a child without parents- you can also have lost one parent and still be defined as an orphan.
"An estimated eight million children worldwide live in orphanages or residential institutions and 80% of those children have parents or family members still alive." -https://www.wearelumos.org/resources/children-orphanages-hidden-global-problem/
Eight million children worldwide are being forced to grow up in an institution without their family, even though EIGHTY PERCENT have families they could be growing up with instead.
When we moved to Haiti to work with an orphanage we figured we would become parents to twelve children who had none. Our hearts were honest in wanting to be parents, the effort was noble and from a place of so desperately wanting children of our own. The truth was only three of those children did not have parents (but still had family). In fact, they had siblings who were being raised by extended family.
Think back to a time you watched the movie Annie, or any other movie with a hero that is an orphan. The ideas of an orphanage are absurd for the year 2020. However, we have no problem going to visit one in another country. Often times this orphanage tourism fuels a growing problem of children being separated from their families and made into poverty orphans. "Stevens" went back to his mom because he had one, he had a completely capable MOM. Unfortunately, he returned to his mom with new behaviors, I can almost guarantee, he picked up in the orphanage.
You see, all of these kids were taken from family because they were promised a better chance. They were promised hope and a future without want. They were promised provision of physical needs. At this point impoverished families happily allow their children to go without knowing all the facts because poverty creates a desperation that I hope you never know.
The reactions though, the ones like when we visited "Brian" to his loving mother and he could not bring himself to approach her. He was so excited to see his brothers and was just telling us how much he missed his mom but the anger and confusion of the situation was too much for him.
Or when we visited "Silas" to his mom. He was so excited to hug her and she was so unsure. She introduced him to his newest baby brother at our visit. A beautiful little baby brought so much weight and many tears to our usually stone-faced Silas.
There was the time we took little "Sarah" to visit her grandma and she remembered the exact path through the village to get to her house. She was practically dragging me because she was pulling so hard at my hand telling me how wonderful her lovely little grandma was. When we finally arrived to the house where grandma was raising her other two or three siblings, "Sarah" instantly fell shy and could barely speak. She spent a lot of her time hiding behind me, but she had the biggest smile on her face the entire time.
"Kevin's" dad did not even know where he was or that he was alive for eight years. The reunion was as precious as they come. The time together was brief but both "Kevin" and dad were elated to see each other. So much emotion packed into moments and then just as much while we drove away with his boy back to the orphanage in hopes that dad would come find him.
"Timmy's" parents were both alive and he did not have any siblings. His dad had moved to another country to send some money home while mom was still there. He was timid and so was mom. I know she missed him, I could see it in her eyes. He had outgrown the memories of her at this point because he was so young.
There are seven more stories like these.
But the one that has impacted me the most is the Joy-Bearer.
Joy was aging out (well had been aged out but because of falsified information she was listed as a nanny at the orphanage, this happens a lot with orphanages here because they are not registered with the government and at times the systems in place to protect them fail.)
She came to us seeking help with what to do next- she did not have parents and she did not know her siblings well. One time when we visited her family she sobbed so hard she could not breathe because she had a realization she did not know this family well. She cried because her sisters never visited her, because her sense of identity was solely in an institution where she was a number, not someone who belonged. Joy had mentioned to us on multiple occasions a desire to end her own life. You see, spending any amount of time as a product of a business instead of being loved and nurtured as a though you belong takes a toll on your life and on your brain. We were not made to live outside of a family's love.
FAMILY IS MORE THAN JUST PHYSICAL NEEDS BEING MET.
And it is time for us to recognize the importance of keeping families together, it is time for us to support children being FAMILY STRONG.
This is what being family strong looks like, this is what we are fighting for:
Joy left the orphanage and chose to live with a sister she had over a few other options we had given her! We partnered with Joy in her efforts to stay with her family by paying for this year of school so she can continue her education and see it through to completion. In sharing her worth and value, in loving her right where she was at she has become an entirely new and confident person. The bonds of family are so innate within us and we were more than blessed to watch Joy choose her family over the lies that she did not belong. This is FAMILY STRONG.
Kristen & Alex Bradshaw