Orphan care felt like standing by a stream, watching babies float down in the rush of the water. We just kept grabbing babies out of the water. But, the best way to do it is to figure out how the babies got into the water in the first place. Who’s tossing the babies in?
- Ethiopian Pastor
The air in Haiti is seemingly always thick with humidity, but it’s thicker here in this section of Port-au-Prince, where the houses are stacked on top of each other. A street–well, more like a pathway–snakes its way through the maze of houses and apartments, where residents stand in their doorways watching the spectacle of a tall white man making his way through the three-foot-wide street.
She giggles nervously as the three men walk towards her on the street, and Kevin smiles back at her. In an almost forceful manner she places a wide-eyed baby boy into Kevin’s arms, who somewhat reluctantly envelopes the toddler into a hug.
One of the men accompanying Kevin, Pastor David*, reaches for a camera to take a picture of the sweet moment. Though it feels strange to be handed a child without any exchange of dialogue, Kevin continues smiling. He turns to look at the baby’s mother, and only sees the back of her head. A faint whimper is barely audible.
Then–in a split second–she rushes off down the street, her feet rhythmically thudding against the clay ground.
The smile vanishes from Kevin’s face as he asks the pastor, “Did she just give me her baby?”
Pastor David nods solemnly before he takes off running after her, with Joseph*, Kevin, and a startled baby boy in toe.
This isn’t the first time a loving mother would hand Kevin, a seasoned international traveler, a baby. It certainly won’t be the last either.
Estimates show that up to 80% of the children living in orphanages in Haiti have one living parent. Before we take the easy route, demonizing parents for “abandoning” their children, we have to realize that we cannot fathom their lives.
When Kevin catches up with the mother, her face is a complicated mixture of emotions. Kevin can sense that she is overwhelmed by the prospect of continuing to care for the baby, but there is a small spark of relief on her face, too. She doesn’t want to give up her baby boy. She feels like she has no other options.
“We don’t know what their shoes feel like on their feet,” Kevin says. What must it feel like to find hope for the baby you love in the eyes of a stranger? What must it be like to hand over your child in a last-ditch effort to keep the child from starving to death? How must it feel to count the heads at the table, only to realize the food can’t possibly stretch enough to feed everyone?
How might the statistics change if we choose to partner with vulnerable families when children are at risk for abandonment rather than after they’ve already been abandoned?
Home Based Care not only serves caregivers and families that have welcomed orphaned children into their homes, but the program also identifies at-risk families and vulnerable children. Churches in Haiti are interrupting the orphan cycle by coming alongside mothers and fathers that want to care for their children, but often see orphanages as the only means to provide.
By supporting these families, World Orphans and Haitian churches are ensuring that children are being cared for physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually within a family unit. It’s not worthwhile to condemn mothers for attempting to hand over their babies to complete strangers. It’s time to ask why they feel as though that’s their only option. It’s not enough to keep trying to rescue babies from orphanages. It’s time to start asking how they ended up there in the first place.