Sweat poured off me as I hauled my luggage from the humid, un-air-conditioned airport terminal. I had waited for this trip all year in excitement.
Haiti for two months. Who was I kidding?
After hearing from previous visitors that the place held a horrific stench, I now fully understood. Right after the odor hit me, the people did. Haitians from every direction pulled on my luggage, yelling in their broken English. I was warned to resist their help, but how?
One man finally tugged my luggage out of my hands. Following him in a panic to the curb, I searched for the Land Rover assigned to pick me up. Relief overcame me as I recognized two men from the compound in which I would be staying. They flipped a goude — about five cents in U.S. currency — to the man with my luggage and led me to the safety of the truck.
Never miss a local story.
Finally out of the crowd, I could see a bigger picture of my new home. Smoke-infested air covered the sky, trash engulfing most of the sidewalks. Haitian women sat on the roadside selling eggs and spices in front of homes consisting of four bamboo sticks and a tarp.
I laughed at myself for thinking the news prepared me. CNN could never convey the sights and smells I was now experiencing. I was startled when a small hand started banging on my window. Holding a washcloth, a young boy, probably eight years old jumped up and down trying to clean what he could reach. His shirt, more than double his size, was drenched in sweat from struggling under a brutal sun, where air temperature then measured 110 degrees. I watched as his bare feet, covered in sores and scabs, hit the hard pavement over and over.
What was this child doing on the streets of Port-au-Prince alone?
I studied him as he cleaned every crevice of our windows. I could not wait to see his smile after my driver gave him his reward. Instead we pulled off, and left him in the street with nothing but his wash rag. I opened my mouth to complain at the driver when reality set in. I noticed children everywhere in the streets, some smaller than the boy I just saw. All held rags in no better condition than their clothing.
Prior to the earthquake, there were an estimated 380,000 orphans in Haiti. That number has more than doubled. Working in a Haitian orphanage for two months made these figures more than numbers to me.
I fell in love with 14 beautiful children, all of whom went to school, played, ate and slept in one concrete room the size of an average American living-room. Three children often shared one cot, if they even had one. The poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, Haiti can not provide for these children. These tiny victims need homes, homes that love and provide for them.
After the devastation in January, families all across America and other developed countries longed to give Haitian children a better life, yet it seemed such a practical solution was beyond reach. The United Nation's Children Fund (UNICEF) made international adoptions nearly impossible. Following the lead of UNICEF, the Haitian government is now doing the same.
UNICEF claims children are better off in their natural environment.
Local adoptions may be desirable, but how many families in impoverished and devastated Haiti can adequately provide for a new child?
Most of Haiti is without food, clean water and education. It is a place where sewage runs into the streets and death is a part of everyday life.
This is the environment UNICEF claims Haitian children need. Haiti could not take care of the 380,000 orphans before, and it cannot take care of the many thousands more.
A willingness to adopt should be supported, not discouraged by the difficult process UNICEF has created. International adoption not only benefits adopting families and orphans, but Haiti as a whole. Some among these adopted children may return to their homeland educated and with the skills Haiti so desperately needs. Although the change may be difficult for the children for a short time, the transition from Haiti to America is well worth it.
My family is currently attempting to adopt. I have two younger brothers (ages 7 and 5) jumping at the thought of a new brother. My parents love each other and their children. Our house has an extra bedroom, plenty of food and is located in a safe neighborhood full of other children and with a good school nearby. My Haitian brother would sleep in a comfortable bed, instead of on a concrete floor in a 100-degree room, with mosquitos feasting on him.
I have seen the starving, bloated-belly children of Haiti wandering the streets with no protection. How many potential daughters, sons, brothers and sisters are roaming Haiti hungry, forever orphans?
UNICEF is attempting to protect these orphans but accomplishing the opposite. Writing and calling your local congressman can encourage our government to put pressure on UNICEF. Public pressure is vital for this issue of fundamental humanity.
Until things change, my house will have an empty bedroom with uneaten food in the refrigerator.