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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

haiti earthquake

Kathleen Foster

New York

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Haiti A Year Later: Economic Orphans

January 12, 2011 - 3:39 PM | by: Kathleen Foster

Thousands of children roamed the streets searching for their parents in the days and weeks after Haiti’s earthquake.

Many of them were picked up and dropped off at orphanages. But that doesn’t mean they’re available for adoption.

Open Hands Home for Children in Bon Repos, Haiti

“The idea is to find their own parents, and if we cannot find their own parents then maybe we will find adopted parents for them,” says Madame Raymonde Paul of Open Hands Home for Children in Bon Repos, Haiti.

All but a couple of the children who live at Open Hands lost their homes… one year ago today.

“Some were buried under their house,” Madame Raymonde says pointing out 4-year-old Ashley who spent three days buried alive, alongside the body of his dead mother. “Sometimes he still asks for her.”

Ashley spent 3 days buried in rubble alongside his mother's body

Ashley’s father survived. Madame Raymonde tracked him down. His father visits, but says he can’t afford to take care of him.

“It is seen as an option for parents or for family members to drop kids off at these facilities for hope for a better life,” explains Alex Kramer, Ophaned and Vulnerable Children Officer for International Medical Corps,
“You could call them economic orphans meaning their parents or family members can’t take care of them financially.”

Alex Kramer with Kids at one of the International Medical Corps' homes for children

380,000 children are living in residential facilities across Haiti. But Kramer says only 15% of them are true orphans, meaning both their mother and father are deceased.

At Madame Raymonde’s only a handful of her 42 children are true orphans, and eligible for adoption. But with no birth certificate, adopting them won’t be easy.

“Some of them, we have no papers for them, we don’t even know their names,”  Madome Raymonde gives those children a nickname.

This girl is a true orphan. No one knows her real name.

Madame Raymonde believes the best place for a child is home with family, but with Haiti’s unemployment rate higher than 70 percent, Madame Raymonde is prepared to keep those kids as long as necessary.

“The parents will never be able to make it though. You have to be able to take care of those kids. It takes a lot.”

Organizations like The Road To Hope (www.theroadtohope.org) believe the parents can and should keep their kids, whenever possible.  The Denver-based non-profit is helping to teach Haitian parents skills, like how to farm, so they can work, make money, and feed their families. “The Road To Hope strongly believes in freeing children from the trauma of abandonment,” says Rich Harris, the organization’s founder.

Despite having two adopted Haitian children of his own, who survived the earthquake, Harris believes Haitian children should remain with their families for the sake of the country. “The future of Haiti is best served by its kids growing up in their own country and leading Haiti to a rebirth.”