Saturday, March 21, 2015

Life plans.

I had this thought in my head that once my kids started to get older, things would start getting easier. In some ways, that's true.  I don't have to deal with diapers anymore, except for our few bed-wetters, and they can handle their own diapers these days.  Even Schneider almost always bathes himself.  (But I still try to get in there to do a good scrub down once or twice a week.)  The kids know their morning routine and get going independently.  There are older kids always wanting to earn a couple gourdes by picking up random jobs and extra chores.  In many ways, things are easier.

But as the majority of our kids enter the teen years (and beyond for a few of them), the kinds of busy that Nick and I find ourselves is changing.  Instead of wiping butts and getting kids dressed, we are really thinking about the future.  Nick likes to say that we are not raising children, we are raising adults.  It has weighed heavy on us the responsibility that Nick and I have to our kids in their growing up years.  This means working to keep communication lines open, to present our kids with life lessons in relevant ways, and dealing with a ridiculous level of hormones.

These thoughts have helped us start to identify "life plans" for each of our kids.  We have been and are in the process of thinking through a set of goals and plans for our individual kids.  What does that mean?  Well, it means that we recognize that each of our children is unique.  They have a unique story, unique gifts, and a unique set of circumstances that brought them to the point where they are now.  The combination of all of these attributes presents certain realities,  For example, we know that a few of our children will not have the capacity to finish high school.  It's not that they are unintelligent, life has just not afforded them the opportunity for this to be an option.  We know that for some of our kids, their childhood years were marked by trauma and a lack of opportunity for basic education.  They have come up with obstacles that were outside of their control, and that changed the trajectory of their life, too.  As these kids have aged, we've come to realize that success (for some of our kids) can mean something different than finishing school.  

Culturally, this plays out in the statistics.  In Haiti, only about 67% of children attend primary school.  Only about 20% attend high school.  And only about 1% receive a university education.  So, obviously, this has spilled over into the unemployment rate (at least 40%) and the poverty rate (about 80%). (source: CIA World Factbook)

So when we think about 12 children entrusted to our care who will eventually be adults, we understand that this is an uphill battle.  Now, please don't get me wrong.  I realize that my 3 American kids, and Schneider soon, too, will have a whole other set of opportunities because they are (or will be) Americans.  This means that they will be able to enjoy the privilege of a (pretty much guaranteed) minimum wage job should they live in the States when they are past the age of 16.  I recognize the inequity in this.  It's not something any of us can change, so just for the sake of argument, let's just say that we have 8 individuals to prepare here in Haiti when we're talking of the future.

Of those 8, there are probably 3 who are unlikely to finish high school.  Perhaps 4.  (But the 4th is not due to ability but advanced age and the possibility that he will not wish to continue his education.) \ Of those 4, 2 of them are going to be fine.  They are naturally go-getters, they are hard workers, they can follow instructions.  I would feel confident recommending them to anyone as an employee.  The other 2-- not so much.  I honestly do not know what to do with 2 of them. I am not sure where life will lead them.  Orphaned at a young age and forced to live on the streets has caused in them a fracture that 5+ years of consistency, provision, and love has hardly begun to touch.

And so we've found ourselves in this moment with one of our older boys, where we have needed to see more effort and responsibility on his part.  We've provided him with the skills and opportunities he has needed to begin to be self-sufficient.  Not willing to just drop a kid when they turn 18 which is the norm for "orphan"ages around here, we've fought for this kid for years.   Believe me when I tell you this is a huge problem in Haiti-- What do we do with the 300,000 kids who have been in orphanages when they become adults?   How do they enter society when all they have ever had has been given to them at regular intervals?  We see this struggle every day.  Nick currently has an on-going dialog with 5 kids from an orphanage we used to work with who regularly ask him for money, letters for visas to try to go to the States, jobs, etc., because they do not know what they are supposed to do now that they are grown.  Orphanages in Haiti are failing kids in so many ways.  But that is a story for another day.

All of this is to say, that this week Nick and I had to make a hard call with one of our older boys (legally an adult) this week who needs to learn the value of work.  I could go through an extensive list of the gentle, educational ways we've tried to do this.  But that would be pointless, because so far, all of them have failed.  So, my desire to rattle off what we've done up until this point would just be image management.  This week we sent him out into the countryside for a period of (at least) 6 weeks.  We know that the life he will be living there with some family friends will not be easy.  Participation in hard work and contributing to the needs of the family will be necessary.  Honestly, I do not know how he will do. But we feel very strongly that this young man needs to accept more responsibility if he wishes to continue receiving financial support from us.  (Side note 1: THIS IS HARD!)  (Side note 2:  I know that parents in the States are going through the same thing with their kids, too. Or their 30-year-olds.)

Will you please pray for our son?  Would you pray that he will grow to see work not as a punishment but as a part of life where he can find satisfaction? Please pray that he would understand that we still love him and are committed to him, and that it is out of love we're pushing him in this area.  And pray that he would learn the lessons he needs to learn quickly and completely, so that he does not have to repeat them.  Finally, PLEASE pray that he doesn't do anything stupid.  I have all these "what-if" fears.  Thank you!

The longer I live the more I learn that we're all just doing the best we can.  Thanks for all the ways you come alongside of us so that together we can raise adults who will have a net-positive impact on their community.  Indeed it does take a village.

Monday, March 2, 2015

On a Moto: Episode 28, Meta Moto

Meanwhile, in Haiti...

PS- this is my new fave.

Photo credit: Christina Victoria Cadet

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Thinking about restavek- a repost of 3 posts all in one.

A few weeks ago Nick went to a meeting about foster care in Haiti, which, of course, always brings up the issue of restavek.  Some people consider restavek child slavery.  Nick and I don't always think that's the case.  It's sort of a continuum that has foster care on one side and slavery on the other.  And each individual case is somewhere on that spectrum.  You can read more on restavek either by googling it, or checking out the website of Jean R Cadet Restavek Organization.  Because Cadet actually grew up as a restavek, I trust his voice.  His book Restavec: From Haitian Slave Child to Middle-Class American, is heart-breaking, and a story all of us who live in Haiti have heard all to often.

Anyway, I have some thoughts swirling around in my head about restavek that I want to write about, but I want to give you a short(ish) narrative of our experience about a precious little girl who entered into our lives for a very short time about 4 years ago.  Below is the text from three posts I wrote around that time.  But if you want more on the story, I suggest you check out this post from Nick, where he summarized the story over 8 posts.  I don't know why this story (amongst the hundreds of stories we've experienced) has stuck with us so, but it has.  So read on.  It will be good background for tomorrow's post. 


Monday, March 21, 2011


I always wonder if I should share things like this. I've gone back and forth as to whether or not to tell you about this-- but I decided to. I try to be very honest and discuss things that are happening in our lives. This is something happening that's pretty raw...

We have stepped into a situation with a little girl 10 year old girl. She's the textbook definition of arestavek. She's been horribly mistreated. She doesn't get to go to school while the biological children in the family do. She has to clean and cook and do the laundry. When she doesn't do her work well, she's beaten. By definition, (a person who is the property of and wholly subject toanother), she is a slave. And she's beaten like a slave. She has a fresh wound from being whipped on her face (just Friday-- three days ago) that's still pretty swollen and causes her a lot of throbbing pain.

She also has dozens of less fresh wounds and scars all over her body. Her back and arms and butt and legs are strewn with scars from being whipped. She has a place under her arm that's nearly healed but still a bit scabbed over where her "owner" burned her with electrical lines for not doing her work well.

We found out about her through some friends who live downtown. She came to their house on Friday and said she needed help. The friend, knowing I have an orphanage, called us.

We took her to the police station Saturday and they contacted the judge who gave our orphanage temporary custody until we can stand before him (tomorrow). She's gotten cleaned up and looks much better. 90% of the time she's super spunky and tough (even to the point of being a bit mean at times). But then she breaks into these puddles of tears and seems to have a lot of anxiety. She gets very jumpy and nervous when people yell or when a loud noise is made. This morning she woke up with "pain under her heart" and was nearly hyperventilating.

Would you pray that we can get all of the preliminary paperwork figured out today so that we're prepared tomorrow to stand before the judge? Would you pray for peace to reign in her heart? Would you pray for her wounds (both physical and emotional) to begin to heal? Would you pray that SOMEHOW we can find the birth family today? (The neighbors have given us some good leads.) Would you pray that the judge would not allow this family to occupy her anymore?

Children don't have a lot of rights in Haiti. I can't change that. But I can do for one child what I wish I could do for all of them. I am begging God for the favor to stand up for this sweet, broken girl and use my voice to change the trajectory of her life... please pray with me.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Update on the restavek post from two days ago.

We're starting to get a good feel for how this case is going to go in the Haitian justice system. That's the good news and the bad news.

Today was a wildly emotional and ridiculously stressful adventure as we stood before the police and then the justice of the peace along with Marie-Marthe's birthparents to try to figure out next steps for her. The good news there is that the parents (who were not the people abusing her) want to take her back and not terminate parental rights. Now, after knowing that it was these parents' neglect that lead her into the situation, some of you are probably scratching your heads and thinking, "Wait? That's a good thing?" It's hard to look at this situation from a North American mind and not insert your North American values. Don't get me wrong, I know we're talking about human rights issues, but the fact is, the parents weren't the ones abusing her. And while we look at the situation and say, "They must have known," or, "They should have known," that's not really an issue here. The birthparents put their daughter into the hands of her abusers with the hope of a better life for her. Unfortunately, that hope was misplaced and the story has become the textbook example of restavek (child slave.)

There's a lot to the story. Lots of weird twists and turns and angry/sad people. (I took my anger out on the gum I was chewing... I don't think there's ever been a piece of gum ever chewed harder.) I ALMOST cried a tear, but alas, 'twas not to be today. Marie-Marthe on the other hand cried a river of tears.

Here's where we ended up.

The judge granted us 2 more days with Marie-Marthe. After those two days, we will reconvene at the court house where the abuser has been summonsed. During the hearing, our case will be presented that the abuser should be punished. She will have her thing to say. And then that's it. It will be over. The judge will hand down his judgment on whether the abuser deserves punishment. And after the trial, he's already decided that Marie-Marthe will be leaving with her parents. They've invited us to come over to their house to see it and so they can say thank you to us. (I feel gross food coming on...)

So that's settled and that's a good thing. But it's our hope and our prayer that her abuser will be brought to justice and Marie-Marthe won't ever have to see her again. I have no confidence that this will actually happen this way.

But I still can hope.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

We didn't lie to the Nazis

Nick was listening to this message a while ago from Crossroads Church in Cincinnati. The pastor (maybe Brian Wells?) was talking about how Christians so often spend so much time arguing over stupid moral dilemmas. He used the example of this online forum where Christians were actually debating whether it was a sin to hide Jews during the Holocaust. Because yeah, lying is a sin. So if the Nazis come to the door and you're hiding Jews, is it a sin to lie to them? Because we really shouldn't lie. And his point was, we're talking about human lives. If the Nazis come to the door, LIE TO THE NAZIS. Always lie to the Nazis.

Nick and I are rule-followers. We like to obey the rules. So in the case of Marie Marthe, we did everything "by the book" (like we always do.) We didn't pay anyone off (nor have we ever done that contrary to what "anonymous sources" suggest.) When this little girl was brought to us we followed all the rules. We went to the police station and filed a police report. We got permission from the judge to have her in our home. We contacted Haitian Social Services and an organization in Jacmel working on the restavek problem. We took pictures as the judge recommended. We went to court on behalf of Marie Marthe--twice.

But we didn't lie to the Nazis. We didn't do anything unethical. We didn't just hide her away. We didn't pay off the parents, the judge or the abuser to just let us have her. We didn't fight for her to be taken from her parents (because we, as a family and as an organization, ALWAYS try to keep kids with their parents if possible.) We fought clean.

And in the end, this girl that has these marks--

--(amongst dozens of others on nearly all places on her body) went back into the hands of her parents who (BEFORE EVEN LEAVING THE COURTHOUSE) put her back into the hands of her abuser.

I get that we have to follow the laws of this country. I get that we're not only talking about Marie-Marthe's future but the future of our 11 children and the organization we represent.

But I cannot shake this thought-- Why didn't I lie to the Nazis?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

On a Moto: Episode 27, Naptime

Ever been on a long trip and feel like you could use a few zzzzzz's but it's too hot inside your car for a nap?  Perhaps you should consider traveling by moto.

Photo credit- Rhyan Buettner with Espwa Berlancia

On a Moto: Episode 26, Portable classroom.

If only the chairs could have been positioned better, then you could have just found space for 8 more passengers on each moto and it could be a school bus, too!

On a Moto Episode 25: Cool runnings.

In a country that is very hot, this is a good way to keep cool.

Imagine being on the moto behind this guy when both of you are traveling down the road at 30 mph--
Boom.  Air-con.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

When love looks like bunk beds.

On January 18 while Nick and I were out at Church on the Beach, we received a frantic phone call from one of our staff members.  We were told, "You need to come quick, Fritzie is very sick." We raced home, or, I should say, we TRIED to race home, but the start of Karnaval season in Jacmel meant we had to take the long way home, as the most direct route was blocked.  This made our drive about 25 minutes.
When we got there, we discovered that Fritzie, our kind, bright-eyed, super responsible girl was unconscious.  She had been unconscious for at least 30 minutes prior, but before that had experienced a series of seizures.  We called around trying to figure out which hospital to bring her to.  We decided to go with the private hospital in Jacmel, in the hopes that they would have a doctor there.  (Hospitals not having doctors available is a "thing" here.)  So loaded Fritzie up a few minutes later and headed to the hospital.  She was still unconscious.  When we arrived at the hospital, there was not a doctor there.  We went back and forth for some time as to whether or not I could just put her into a hospital bed there while we waited, but they said no.  They would not let her in until they knew a doctor could come.  So, still unconscious, Fritzie waited in the car with one of our staff members, occasionally her body arced in the aftermath of the seizure. Later that evening she woke up, but hasn't been the same since.

Fritzie has been through a whole battery of tests that we didn't even know were available in Haiti.  A CT scan, an MRI, an EEG, and a lot of blood work.  (We owe a big thank you to our church family at Crosspointe who so graciously helped us pay for these expensive tests.) We've been so blessed to not only consult with doctors here in Haiti, but also two in the States who have graciously taken my panic-mom texts and calmed me down.  The thing is, we don't really know what's wrong.

The current theory we are going with is that Fritzie has an inflammation of the brain known as encephalitis.  It explains many of her symptoms-- extreme lethargy, vision changes, headaches, and being very unstable on her feet.  She sleeps at least 18 hours per day and she has been so very quiet. When you talk to her too much, it makes her head hurt.  Often, we see her just sitting staring off into no where. Some days are better than others.

This has meant some changes for our family.  First, Fritzie has moved from the girls house into the "Mangine" house.  She's been sleeping in Nia's bed with our compassionate Nia girl. And the truth is, Nia would share her bed with Fritzie for as long as necessary without every complaining.  She's just that kind of kid.  But we've come to the realization that if this truly is encephalitis, it is likely a long road to recovery ahead... likely at least multiple months.  We put out feelers to see if anyone local had some bunk beds we could borrow or buy on the cheap, because money is just super tight.  Nia's room is teeny, and two beds just won't fit. 

And you guys, the most amazing thing happened.  Not only did our friend, and fellow local Jacmel missionary, Travis, purchase the supplies and build us bunkbeds, our friends the Stevens (other local Haiti missionaries) offered to buy new mattresses for us.  (We didn't end up needing them to buy us mattresses because we found some old ones we had that work great, but that's not the point.)  The point is that these families who stepped up to help us during this illness we're going through in our family were all missionaries here in Haiti.  They live on support and that's not known to be an extravagant lifestyle.  None of us have tons of money lying around, but these friends of ours gave generously so that our needs were met.  My friends Maria, Sarah, and Chanee showed up at the hospital that first night.  They offered to take my American kids and even do their homeschool when I had to go to Port with Fritzie for tests.  Our friend, Sarah, dropped everything and traveled with me (twice) to Port that week, even staying overnight with me twice so that Fritzie could be cared for.  This left Nick free to stay at home with the kids who were very scared.  You guys.  These people are the church.

And then there's our staff.  Y'all.  I can't even think about this too much without getting misty-eyed.  Our staff are so amazing.  They are family.  Felecia spent the night on the concrete floor of the hospital with me that first night when Fritzie got sick.  I tried to get her to go home, but she wouldn't have it.  She also went to Port au Prince with me for 3 days to help out.  I told her to stay back.  She didn't. ;)  The staff and kids have prayed over Fritzie. They read the Bible over her.  Several neighbors have come in to do the same.

Leaving our "home" of North Carolina almost six years ago, we were so scared to leave behind a church family we loved and needed so badly.  I still need those friends and that church family.  But this thing with Fritzie has shown us so very, very clearly that we have "people" here too.  We have great people.  The best people.

And so I am thankful for friends whose love looks like paying for Fritzie's medical bills.  For friends whose love looks like bunk beds.  Whose love looks like childcare, and homeschooling, and just being present with us in the midst of their own crazytown busy lives.  My cup overflows.

We have every reason to believe that eventually Fritzie will make a full recovery. But until then, we're keeping her as close by as possible.  And she will be recovering in style in her new bed.