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Dispatch from Haiti

The images flashed on TV are incapable of conveying the utter devastation.

Before we left for Haiti, I like everyone else, had seen the images of death and destruction on CNN. I saw the footage. I heard the words. And, having been to Haiti eight times, I imagined what it would be like.

Then our plane landed in Port-au-Prince.

I immediately saw that the images on CNN are incapable of conveying the reality. The pictures you see on TV fill only the dimensions of the screen. In Port-au-Prince, the destruction surrounds you. You touch the people sitting in the street, and smell the stench resulting from a lack of sanitation for 10,000 children and families in a makeshift camp. You see a child in front of you, and feel the eyes of 91 other orphans begging you for a comforting hug.

The evening news reports cannot convey through images, nor I, through these words, the destruction, the death, and the despair. Nothing can, except standing with the families and the children of Haiti.

The day before we left Haiti, our Joint Council team took a moment to celebrate when the Haitian Prime Minister approved travel for a small group of children in the adoption process. As a result, the number of children living with their adoptive families would soon grow to over 600, and will eventually top 1,000.

That day, like all the others since the earthquake, was filled with a wide range of emotions, from self-doubt and frustration to triumph and determination. We visited eight orphanages and three hospitals. Perhaps more important, we collected information on more than 130 orphanages. That information is now being used to provide shelter, nutrition, and water to Haiti’s most vulnerable children.

A food delivery at one orphanage prompted children, too anxious to wait, to eat food off the concrete floor.

“How much water do you have left,” we asked one orphanage director. “Oh, we ran out this morning,” was his nonchalant reply.

Healing Words
Adoption Learning Partners presented a free webinar, “Layers of Trauma for Haiti's Orphans.”

Download a recorded copy at adoption

“How often do the children’s parents visit?” we asked at another orphanage. “Most don’t have parents,” replied the director. “Only a few visit, maybe once every two years.”

We talked to young children who shared just a bit of their life stories. We met Rene, who wants to be a carpenter, and Renaud, who dreams of being a professional soccer player. And we met a young boy named Jean, who had been a “restavek” (a child sold into slavery—yes, you read correctly—slavery).

We learned of Marina, an older girl, who had also been a restavek. She’d endured punishments, such as kneeling on a grating board while she was beaten with electrical wire. She left yesterday, on humanitarian parole, and will soon be with her adoptive parents. And we met Joseph, who is unable to walk because of cerebral palsy. He, too, will soon join a family.

But we know that, after the thousand or so are united with families, there might be no more Marinas or Josephs to celebrate.

Why? If we don’t step up relief efforts and keep the children alive, they won’t need to be adopted. Unless we change the reunification process, which traditionally takes three, five, or six years, not only will the newly-orphaned be imprisoned in institutional or other “family like” settings, so, too, will those who were orphaned before the quake. And if we don’t conduct ourselves with informed ethics, we don’t deserve the honor of serving children.

Most know Joint Council’s service to children as being related to adoption. But over the past three years, we have expanded our mission to impact the lives of children through the preservation of families, in-country adoption, and protection from abuse. Beginning the day after the quake, our team, with the support of many others, has brought shelter, nutrition, medical care, and hope for families to the children of Haiti.

On this trip to Haiti and on that day, with the children, we saw why we do what we do, remembered why we came, and why we will return. 

Tom Difilipo is president and CEO of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services. Read JCICS’s blog about Haiti, and learn how to donate to the relief effort, at

Photo Courtesy of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services

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