Monley's Parents Are Dead, But Is He Really an Orphan?

This is the first in a series of two blogs from Dr. Jane Aronson's mission trip to Haiti to investigate the plight of orphaned and vulnerable children from June 28-July 2, 2011.

My recollection of Monley, a 6-year-old Haitian boy, is that he was trapped under rubble and curled up inside a metal stand for nine days after the Haiti earthquake on January 12, 2010. I saw the metal stand this past week while I was recently in Haiti, and it is currently being used in his Uncle Gary's home as a TV stand. Both of his parents were killed by the weight of their apartment building, which was made of faulty reinforced concrete, just like 200,000 other citizens of Port-au-Prince that fateful day in January. CNN producer Charlie Moore introduced me to Monley and he and his family are dear to me... We have so much to learn from them.

Monley's two brothers, Christopher, 11 years old, and Moises, 14 yeasr old, were outside of the home at the time the quake struck, and were not hurt physically, but they were emotionally traumatized by the death of their parents and others around them.

They are all now living with Uncle Gary (Monley's father's brother), in Port-au-Prince in a UN OPS built home, which houses eight family members in Delmas 34, a large community in the Haitian capital. The three boys reside with Grandfather Antoine, Uncle Gary and his wife Kazmitha and their two daughters, Ashley and Woolensha. Their financial support comes from Antoine's wife, a 72-year-old grandmother who lives in Miami, Florida. The grandfather was formerly in the military and cannot leave Haiti (I don't know why). None of the adults are currently employed.

The fact that Monley and his brothers ended up with Uncle Gary would be more probable in other countries where finding family is natural and expected after a disaster, but in Haiti, there is a de facto placement of children without parents in orphanages. Finding family after a quake is not automatic for children separated from their parents from what I can see. It is obviously best that kids find family whether primary or extended; in other words, it is always best for "orphaned" children to be within a family setting, whether related or unrelated. After the quake in Haiti, reunifying families was facilitated by many aid organizations including Unicef's Child Protection unit which worked diligently with Institut du Bien Etre Social et de Recherches (IBESR is the Social Welfare Department of Haiti), Save the Children, International Red Cross, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, CARE, Plan and many others. Child friendly spaces, water, food, temporary shelter and emergency tracking strategies to find the family members of "unattended minors" after the quake were all part of the disaster response process.

I don't have an easy answer about why the effort to unify, protect, and conserve family is so confusing in Haiti; it is a peculiar country in so many ways. Why is there "restavek" (child slavery)? Why are there orphanages all over Haiti? Why are birth mothers dissuaded from visiting their babies after leaving them in a "crèche" (orphanage)? Why are birth mothers allegedly paid to not visit and reclaim their relinquished children? Do Haitians not love and cherish their children? The answer I know to be emphatically true is that "Haitians do love and value their children!"