Beth Klein Boulder Attorney and the “Haiti 80”
With the January 12 devastating earthquake in Haiti, the call went out for mental health professionals who could volunteer their time to help transport Haitian orphans to their adoptive parents waiting in the U.S. One of Kempe’s newest Board members, Beth Klein, literally worked around the clock to secure a charter flight for the orphans to be safely transported to the U.S. She kept volunteers updated with the constantly changing crisis.
In crisis work, people are trained to be ready to leave at a moments notice. This bit of wisdom proved to be true as I found myself making last minute travel arrangements. The Child Protection Team’s administrative assistant, Linda Jensen, quickly packed a bag with crayons, paper, markers and stickers for the children; The Kempe Foundation generously covered my expenses and provided their unwavering support.
In Miami, our spontaneous crisis “team” met for the first time at the Miami International Airport. The team included Renee Branson a therapist and crisis worker from Colorado; Allison Stone, a vibrant young attorney from Miami; and Ben Escobar, a seasoned international aid worker; and me. We arrived with a true sense of gratitude for the opportunity to help the children and their newly adoptive parents.
The 81 Haitian children, dubbed the “Haiti 80” by the media, all came from a well-respected orphanage, God’s Littlest Angel (GLA). Due to owner Dixie Bickel’s exceptional organization, she had the ability to take the children’s paperwork to the embassy to have them processed to leave the country.
The adoptive parents were from throughout the U.S. Many had been to Haiti several times as they had waited up to two-and-a-half-years for their children. Our team met with the couples to answer questions, provide information and discuss any concerns they might have. We had ample time to get to know each other as we waited 24 hours for the children. The ights were difficult and delayed. Once in Miami, one agent had to process 81 children through customs. Arriving at 1 a.m. they initially entered the United States eight hours later.
Exhausted, hungry and close to dehydration, many children looked stunned while others were ill. One child was rushed to a local hospital for emergency brain surgery for a life threatening infection. All wanted to be held and fed. The adult volunteers worked quickly, feeding and diapering children. The older children began to play and sing. The parents had to wait a little longer with more paperwork. One by one, the children were united with their new parents. True excitement and joy permeated the room with sounds
of laughter and tears. Some families adopted siblings; many were first time parents while others had their older biological children with them.
The parents were incredibly loving, devoted and patient. One little boy who had his adoptive father and uncle waiting for him was known to be frightened of having men hold him. After spending time soothing and cradling the little boy with his new father, maintaining constant eye contact with him, we were able to transition the child to his patient, expectant father.
The parents understand their children may need to regress to an earlier stage of development in order to recapture missed developmental milestones. They know their child may have a tendency to want to eat more than they may physically need.
They know that even before the earthquake, their child lived in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. For these children, their parents’ will and determination has already made a difference in their young lives. A month after being with their adoptive parents, two siblings, 4- and 2-years-old, living in Colorado are already thriving. Their biological, single, 40-year- old mother in Haiti gave up all of her 5 children because she could not feed them. The 4-year-old has gained 3 pounds in 4 weeks. The 2-year-old is learning English with ease. Both children dislike the cold and snow. Yet, they are happy to be loved and nurtured. They are very affectionate, enjoy playing and calling out “mama” and “papa,” knowing their new parents will respond.
These families come from communities where they feel supported. In the future, if they need additional support and guidance, The Kempe Center will be there with its dedicated staff and wealth of expertise. Kempe will provide the most professional and compassionate care available for all children and their families.
Michele’s Channel 7 interview is available on the Kempe in the News page at kempe.org.