July 10, 2015
As CEO of Worldwide Orphans, I was in Haiti from June 20-26 working with a group of four 17 year old boys who were doing a service project with the children we serve in Kenscoff. It was a great week, but on the day before I left, I went to visit a little girl, just over two years old, in an orphanage in Haiti who is waiting for her final adoption by an American family. She has been waiting for over two years and she has all the telltale signs of infant (anaclitic) depression and some other significant medical issues which are urgent at this point.
She has strabismus or "lazy eye." What happens with lazy eye is that the vision is not normal and the brain is annoyed with double vision, so it suppresses vision in the eye that can't straighten out. Finally, over a few years, blindness in that eye can occur, and there is nothing that can be done.
When the child is an infant, we can patch the normal eye, forcing the weaker eye to strengthen, and in some cases, surgery can be performed to fix the lazy eye. It is a happy ending in modern countries where ophthalmologists can intervene early on. This baby was also premature and she may have some damage to her retinas (retinopathy of prematurity). That complicates this story because if this issue is not treated she may have damage to the vision in both eyes. There are no ophthalmologists for children in Haiti or in most developing nations and tens of thousands of children lose vision from strabismus and retinopathy of prematurity; they are then beggars in the street; they never get an education. These children are trafficked, as are most children with different abilities. Worldwide Orphans works very hard to focus on kids with handicaps of all kinds to prevent them from losing their abilities to function normally in society. We love kids with special needs in 4 of our 5 countries and we provide services for them to help them be happy and successful in their communities.
What will become of this sweet, now very depressed toddler who is waiting to be adopted for at least two years? Her papers are sitting on a desk. All the i's are dotted and the t's crossed. We can't imagine why there is no final action for this lovely and sweet child who needs medical care to save her vision and the love of her parents who have waited patiently for over two years for this adoption to be final.
Her adoption case is like thousands around the world. Children who have been legally abandoned and whose papers are in order, but the process gets stalled and goes on and on. The child becomes despondent, develops attachment disorder, and medical issues get more challenging to fix. There will be more needed for a child like this as the clock ticks. If she had an adoption that was finalized way back, she would be happy already at home with her family learning to speak and learning to love. She does not even speak now and she is a two year old. Two year olds, when loved and stimulated, speak 200 words and have at least two word sentences. They are lively and full of curiosity and enthusiasm. They hug and kiss their family members and charm us all day long. We tell stories about their achievements as if they are the only child in the world. They are precious to their families and everything they do is revered and considered unique.
This little girl is alone in a very crowded orphanage where there is no one who treasures her and where she is simply a little brown body, eating and pooping and peeing. She is "speed fed" at each meal, until she almost chokes and she has little to do unless Worldwide Orphans' toy library volunteers arrive and do some programming in the orphanage. Our programming took two years to formalize because of the usual suspicions that orphanage owners have about outsiders trying to help kids.
I am usually very upbeat as I start my long days of work. I awakened today with many things on my mind. Much of what is on my mind has to do with moving the programs of Worldwide Orphans along a faster conveyor belt...I dream of scaling psycho-social support through our "toy libraries" globally for millions of kids without parent care.
I received an email from the parent of this sweet little one who has been on my mind since I met her two years ago. I always try and visit her when I am in Haiti. I feel badly today because she has been abandoned by all of us. She is one of many children at risk, vulnerable and left behind. She has an assigned family who have visited her diligently and invested their hearts and souls in her.
It is so very tragic to tell this story once again. I will work harder today for this precious girl, but I want you all to know that my work is not enough. There must be gargantuan efforts to not allow children to be left in orphanages to sustain mental and physical abuse and neglect.
Dr. Jane Aronson
CEO & President, Worldwide Orphans