Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Orphanage Experiences-Part Two: Similarities

Comparing the orphanages is really not about saying one is better than the other. There really isn't one way to do things and running an orphanage is no exception. But for the sake of those who might be interested, I would like to share a bit about their differences and similarities. Both orphanages are operated from Christian perspectives. Both orphanages employ Haitian staff to care for children and to cook. Both orphanages have a range of children from birth to teens. Both are meeting needs in Haiti that arise from severe poverty, lack of educational opportunities and lack of appropriate medical care. Both dramatically improve the living conditions of the children whom they serve.

Many people in Haiti live in one room huts built from corregated metal and palm fronds. Others live in one or two room cinder block houses. Over ten family members may live in a house like this which does not have electricity or running water. If the family is lucky, they have a well nearby to supply them with fresh drinking water. If not, they carry water in recycled plastic jugs either from a well or from the river. When I say a well, I mean the old fashioned pumps that you pull the handle up and down to make water come from a spout. And when I say a river, I mean a dirty, muddy river that people do laundry in, take baths in, and water their animals from. We have seen all of these occurring almost simultaneously at the river. Sleeping in a small house is tricky and a family may or may not have a mattress to sleep on. I have read that large families often sleep in shifts. Lack of food is a huge problem in Haiti and is a major reason why many families place their children for adoption. Many in Haiti do not eat three times a day; often food is provided once a day. This depends on the family's income as does the content of the meal. Poor families may eat biscuits made by combining dirt with lard and letting it harden in the sun. They may eat only rice or beans. Other families may have animals like chickens or goats that they can butcher occasionally. Some families grow corn or peanuts. We personally saw two farmers planting crops, one using a donkey and a plow and the other using a team of cattle and a plot. And there are fruit trees like pineapple, mango and coconut which families can harvest fruit from. Through the orphanages, Haitian children are given three meals a day plus snacks. They sleep in real beds with real mattresses. They have access to fresh drinking water and indoor plumbing.

These orphanages also provide children with an education. I believe I read that the illiteracy rate in Haiti is close to 50%. That is unfathomable to me as I live in a country where 90-100% of our population is literate. There are schools in Haiti but my understanding is that most of them are not free. Plus children can be seen as valuable contributors to a family's economy so a family may feel it is more benefical for a child to work than to go to school. Both orphanages provide schooling to the school aged children. Both are teaching the children basic English skills. FHG recently switched curriculum and I can see a huge improvement in the English skills of the kids from when I was there last summer to now.

Medical care in Haiti, for the poor, is beyond substandard. It is, in some places, non existent. If I remember correctly, there is one doctor in Haiti for every 10, 000 people. Craziness. Children and moms die in childbirth. Often. Children die from diarrea. Often. Children and grown ups die from tuberculous. Often. People suffer from malaria and other parasite born illnesses.. Often. Couple these medical concerns with lack of access, a superstitious culture that acredits illness and death to curses, lack of basic medical knowledge, and reduced women's rights and you end up with a mess. Both orphanages ensure that the kids do not suffer from malnutrition, that their basic medical needs are met, and that more complex medical needs are tended to and monitored. Melinda, at HCH, is a nurse so she has medical knowledge and is able to personally care for many needs. FHG has a pedatrician who comes in once a week, if I remember correctly.

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