Children Belong With Parents: A Lesson I Unfortunately Had To Learn (Part 1)
In life we all make mistakes. Mistakes made by careless error. Mistakes made by a lack of understanding. Mistakes made by bad choices. Mistakes made simply because we are human. And although mistakes often lead to unfavorable consequences, the hope is that by the grace of God we will learn some sort of lesson and walk away a better and wiser person.
I made a lot of mistakes while living in Haiti. A lot. Especially during my first few years. I had a lot of good intentions, don’t get me wrong. But good intentions without wisdom is often not enough, especially when the lives of others are in your hands.
Some of the mistakes I made were so small they have long been forgotten. Others were so huge they still haunt me today. Like the day I took two girls from their mother.
I was a newbie in Haiti. A young twenty-something in denial about her savior complex. I was out to save the world, one “orphan” at a time. The orphanage I worked for had 50+ kids at the time, and still there were open beds. Beds I thought were my duty to fill.
Kids were brought weekly to the front gate. Fathers with babies born out of an affair, mothers posing to be aunts, grandparents with too many grandkids placed in their care. It was the job of one of our staff members, whose office sat next to the gate, to weed out the stories and bring the necessary ones to me for potential admittance.
My first year, I listened to story after story with great naivety. I often put my emotions first, put numbers first, put my American ideas of what it meant to raise a child well first. I, like many Haitians, saw the orphanage as a place of opportunity. A place for kids to come and receive a better education, three meals a day, access to American support, and the potential for a “better” future. So when a young mother brought me her two oldest daughters and asked me to give them the “better life” as she saw it, I opened my arms out wide.
I can still picture her. Still remember exactly where we were sitting in my house. She had four young children, all under the age of five, all clinging to a different limb. She looked tired, weak. She lacked a job and a husband. Her one room apartment was too small and she no longer knew how to feed all the mouths in her care. So she asked us to take her two oldest, sisters with bloated bellies and orange-ish hair.
Looking at the girls, my heart broke. It was obvious they were both malnourished. But that is where my eyes stopped. Had I taken the time to look further, I would have also seen how attached the girls were to their mom, and how scared they were of me. I would have noticed the tears streaming down the mother’s eyes when she walked out of the compound without her daughters. I would have seen that by taking the girls to have a “better life”, I was also breaking apart a loving family simply due to a lack of money.
It only took a few days to find sponsors for the sisters. Only a few posts on Facebook with their tattered dresses and mosquito bitten skin and I had more than enough volunteers willing to send monthly funding for them to live at the orphanage. As orphans. Monthly funding which could have, instead, helped the mother start a small business and pay rent on a larger apartment. Funding which could have empowered a woman, kept a family intact, and prevented two girls from growing up within the confines of an institution without a mom.
The longer I lived in Haiti the more I grew, and the more God opened my eyes to see the full truth on orphanages, the children who grow up in them, and the families in which they came from. Especially as I became a mother myself, and began to understand the bond between a mother and child, the more I found myself wrestling with the truth: God made families, not orphanages. So why was I helping children leave their parents when I clearly had access to the resources to help them remain together (if possible) instead?
Fast forward to Emmaus House. By the time we started in 2013 I had a few years experience under my belt. I had survived mistake after mistake and now had an unquenchable thirst for learning how to do orphan care the right way…which included never taking a child away from a loving and caring mother again.
Writing that last line seems so obvious now. Seems absurd that it was lesson I had to learn in the first place. Seems so unnatural that I would have ever believed otherwise. But I did. And considering a rough 80% of all children in Haitian orphanages have at least one living parent, this seems to be an ongoing lesson that still needs to be learned by all of us who fund and support them.
The youth we serve at Emmaus House are all “legally” adults. They are no longer children. They come to us by their own choice. Stay by their own choice. Sometimes even leave by their own choice. Even still, we believe the youth we support belong, first and foremost, to their families, when loving and safe families are available. Even as young adults.
With this belief at heart, we recently decided to extend the walls (literally) of our program for both a new student and a current residential student, whose stories Tanya will share in Part 2 of this blog this coming Wednesday. As we continue to grow, Emmaus House is attempting to find innovative ways to encourage the growth of youth in Haiti, while also supporting families to stay together. This is an exciting new venture for us, one that will require a lot of prayer and oversight, but one we are confident God is calling us to take whenever possible.
So please head back to our blog this Wednesday to learn more and please continue to keep all the youth of Haiti in your prayers.