October 22, 2013 – Day 3 – Searching for the truth and the future

October 22, 2013 – Day 3 – Searching for the truth and the future

Today was perhaps the most important day we spent in Haiti, but it’s also the most uninteresting.  We met with IBESR’s (Haiti’s child welfare ministry) and discussed their implementation of the Hague Convention (for those of you who don’t know, it’s an international treaty on how adoptions should occur…which, by the way, Haiti is doing a very good job at) and what we can do to help.  This work is what Joint Council is best at, it’s our area of expertise, however, it’s also terribly uninteresting.  No one wants to hear about two plus hours of government meetings.  So instead I’m going to make a few corrections to a little story I’ve been telling for years…

Tom with reneeFor nearly four years Tom and I have been telling the story of Rene – a sweet, gentle and polite boy who has touched my heart in ways no other child I’ve come across has.  He and his story has been the lead-in to congressional briefings, fundraising talks and many, many blog posts.   Rene has been an example of the stories of thousands of children who live without their parents.  The story we’ve told time and again is based on conversations with him in broken English and Creole, because when we visit him there often isn’t an adult around willing to speak with us.


Briefly, he’s a boy we met at an orphanage after the earthquake in Haiti.    The stiches on his head from an old surgery were infected and Dr Aronson  took out the stiches, likely saving his life.  Given where the stiches were  and what he told us, it seemed he had hydrocephalus.  He had come to the  U.S. for surgery, thus his English.  He wanted to be a translator when he  grew up, and I can see why, with his ability to speak English, Creole and  French with nearly perfect accents.  His parents had left him at the  orphanage at nine months old and had never come to see him again.    Nearly four years later, we’ve managed dig up a more complete story.  One  that is in some ways more heartbreaking that the one we told, and in other  ways gives more hope.  Rene does not have hydrocephalus.  Instead he  has a rare genetic disease which causes lumps to grow under his skin  throughout his body.  He had been to the U.S. for surgery.   He has new lumps forming under his skin all the time, one lump currently makes it so he is unable to lift his right arm in the air. His parents did leave him at the orphanage at nine months old, his father returning a few times.  Once to tell him his mother was dead.  He hasn’t seen his father in years but a little over a year ago, when he was fourteen, his mother, whom he thought was dead, appeared.   Last summer he spent a month living with her – but she has no interest in caring for him.

For nearly four years, Rene and his story have been a heavy weight on my heart and soul.  Regularly I beat myself up for not pushing harder to find a better solution than the orphanage he lives in.  For, like him, accepting his fate of growing up in an orphanage and dying from hydrocephalus (which we now know won’t happen as he doesn’t have it).  In the over three years since I’ve been to Haiti, Tom visited him and I asked a few colleagues to visit as well.  Every time I feared that they would come back saying he wasn’t there – that he had left or been kicked out.  Upon returning this time, I vowed to not only see him but to try to find a better option for him – a future for him.  It had been too long – I was no longer going to accept his fate.

A few days ago while meeting with a wonderful crèche director who has spent the last 20+ years working for the children of Haiti, we asked about his orphanage.  She knew it well, right up the road.  She even knew Rene, having helped the orphanage with the medical visa issued to go to the United States.   She was the one who gave us an accurate account of his health condition.  After we left her office, we went and visited Rene.  I saw in his eyes a slight change since I had seen him three years ago.  He was still the polite, gentle young man I knew but he had lost a little of his hope.   That evening I saw the crèche director again as we held a meeting with 15 or so other crèche directors.  Afterward, I used my trademark gentle Rebecca style begging to ask her to help.  She agreed to do some research and help figure out what a better solution might be for him.  Yesterday the beginning of a plan was hatched – and I have a little bit of a jump in my step, giddy with what the future may hold for him…but too cautious to put it out there yet.  With this I’ll get to the point of this message, I ask you to pray, send good vibes, beg, do whatever it is you do when you want something to really work out.  With hope and a prayer, Rene may have found a path to a better future.    More soon…

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