Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy…. This is one of those blog posts that has been written in my head countless times before actually making it to published status. I’d start writing only to find my zeal turning to doubt and fear and frustration before returning to joyful anticipation. It’s kind of a long story.
Tim and I have been in Haiti nearly four years (four years?!?!). There have been highs and lows, but at the end of the day, there has never been a time when God has not provided for us. But because of His abundant love for us, He wants to do more than simply provide. I believe that every once in a while, He gives us something just a little extra special. Maybe it’s a day when absolutely everything goes your way or the weather is perfect. Or maybe it’s a day he gives you a new assignment; one that will challenge and overwhelm you.
My assignment? Dessources Cadet.
I wish I could recall the first time I saw this little guy, but I can’t. It was probably on the compound where we live and work since his aunt is one of the mission cooks, and he lives with her. The cooks put in some long days around here, so it’s not uncommon to see family members here, especially kids.
The thing about this particular aunt is, she is mom to Jeff and Christopher. Some of you may recall me writing about Jeff before. He passed away last year. Occasionally, I go back and re-read that blog post, Broken, and it still brings me to tears. It was devastating.
But this aunt is an amazing woman. The broken system that let her and her family down hasn’t beaten her down. And for that reason, she brought 5-year old Dessources to the compound when a visiting Lions Club from Grand Rapids, MI, was here conducting an eye clinic.
The group spent a week here and saw hundreds of patients per day. Some of you may recall seeing the pictures on Facebook. The line to get in was crazy long; likely because there hadn’t been a group of optometrists and ophthalmologist here for many, many years.
[Note: If any of you are in this line of work, there is a great need for visiting vision teams.]
When the group first set up shop, there weren’t enough translators, something that’s kinda sorta important when you’re doing anything medical. I offered to help, and quickly found myself working with the folks waiting to be seen. I would direct them where to sit, and distract them while a team member put drops in their eyes. Periodically, I would explain why the drops were necessary (to dilate the pupils), especially since they burned a bit at first. It was somewhat alarming for me to see so many people obeying a complete stranger, doing what they were told to do without question. I figured they were either scared, or trusting, or desperate. Perhaps a combination of the three.
Several days into the clinic, one of the doctors called me over. He had just examined Dessources, and he needed someone to explain to his aunt what he was proposing. If possible, Dessources could go to the U.S. for surgery to remove the bilateral cataracts he’d had since birth.
The doctor, a pediatric ophthalmologist, explained that he would work with an organization called Healing the Children (HTC) to see if Dessources qualified for the surgery. I had never heard of HTC, but quickly returned to the house to do a little bit of online research.
I was so impressed with what I found online. Rather than rewrite everything on their website, I encourage you to visit it for yourself (www.healingthechildren.org). Really. It’s worth it. Medical professionals donate their time and services, people donate their airline miles to help buy tickets, off duty flight attendants donate their time to travel with the kids, host families house the kids and take care of their needs for however long it takes; all of it is just so well organized (at least it is in the MI-OH chapter).
About five weeks after the group left, I received my first contact from HTC. The doctor had been true to his word and contacted them about Dessources. My initial marching orders included completing a social history record which documented basic demographic information; a description of the child’s home and neighborhood; description of the child’s emotional and psychological behavior; his daily routine; likes and dislikes; eating habits; sleeping patterns; and anything else that might prove helpful. We were also told to start working on obtaining a passport.
Suffice it to say, things in Haiti aren’t efficient and nothing happens very quickly.
Three and a half months later, we got word that the passport was ready. A copy was sent to HLC and we waited for the next step, whenever that might come.
Little did we know that next step would come in just 11 days! We had the approval from the hospital which meant that we could apply for the travel Visa. Once we had that, we needed to obtain government authorization for a minor to travel without his/her parent.
We quickly scheduled an appointment with the U.S. Embassy. The first available appointment was after the scheduled surgery date, so we petitioned for an emergency appointment. Five days later, at 4:00 in the morning, we set off for the US Embassy with a slew of documents in hand. Initially, we told the family that they could go without us. After all, we don’t want to do for people what they can do for themselves. But the afternoon before the appointment, Tim and I couldn’t shake the feeling of “What happens if they don’t need you and you are there? What happens if they do need you and you aren’t there?”
So we went.
Tim and I have never been inside the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince; it’s something we have tried to avoid because there are always soooo many people outside. Our appointment was for 7:30 am, and we’d been told to arrive at 7:00. When we arrived at 7:00, there was already a long line outside – 3-4 people across and 50 yards long.
You see, when the Embassy gives you an appointment, the time of the appointment doesn’t really matter. We didn’t know this before August 9th. Basically, everyone shows up early, and you’re seen in the order you arrive. This would never fly in many parts of the world, but it is a necessity here. I’m a little embarrassed that I didn’t anticipate this and can totally understand why the Embassy does things this way.
Since we’d never been there before, we approached a security area that was farther away from the looooooong line; a handful of people were gathered here. I intended to ask if we needed to stand in line since we had an emergency appointment, but when the guard saw me hold up our confirmation sheet and passport, she waved us forward (along with others who had the documents). We explained why we were there, and she announced that only one parent would be allowed to accompany the child and me.
Say what??? I figured that I would be the one waiting outside while Dessources went in with his parents! Perhaps I looked official carrying our prepared dossier. Of course, I would be disrespecting an entire culture if I didn’t acknowledge that my white skin helped.
The inside was nothing like I expected, except for the security checkpoint. We exited the first building, entered a second one, and joined everyone in line for the first stop – a checkpoint to ensure that we had all of the necessary documents. When the clerk said, “Have you completed the medical checklist?” my heart nearly stopped. I’d never even heard of the medical checklist.
I started telling him what we did have, and he handed me a paper. He didn’t really care, as long as I checked everything off and signed at the bottom. We were then moved to the interview line.
When the interviews began, we were quickly directed to a station. I’d heard about the Visa interviews from many friends who have applied and been rejected. I always pictured the applicant sitting in a chair with 3-4 Embassy officials posing questions before deciding yay or nay. It was nothing like that. It was like being at a Department of Transportation or the bank. The Embassy agent, a young woman on her first tour, posed a slew of questions; some that I answered and some that Dessources’s dad, Edrige, answered.
We were told that everything looked good and we could return for the Visa in two days. Normally, things don’t happen that fast, but they understood the time crunch. It also helped that two other children travelling for surgery had been there the day before. The liaison who accompanied them to the Embassy was told by numerous people that had a “blan” not been there, the Visa would not have been approved. I have no idea if this is true, but throughout our time there, I kept thinking, “I am so glad we came.” I can only imagine what Dessources’s dad was thinking.
Our next planned stop was the agency that authorizes minors to travel without their parents, IBESR. This agency is notorious for being… thorough (difficult)? We planned to go the day after picking up the Visa, but there were a few surprises in store for us.
[In their defense, IBESR wants to make sure that people aren’t taking children out of Haiti for illegal activities.]
The other children who were scheduled to travel visited IBESR before us, and the liaison working with them had incredibly helpful information to share. We learned that we needed to have some kind of proof that medical care had been sought in Haiti. A U.S. doctor visiting Haiti wasn’t going to cut it. Ummmmm….
And then I learned that the mom’s name on Dessources’s birth certificate didn’t match the name on her own birth certificate. And she didn’t have a national ID card. And though she was in agreement with all that was happening with her son (who she seldom saw), her actual signature didn’t really match the signatures on the power of attorney.
Seriously? It explained how I had gotten the notarized documents back so quickly, but I didn’t really think…
Let’s not go there.
In light of this new information, our scheduled trip to IBESR on Friday was pushed to Monday and then to Tuesday and then to Wednesday. We knew that if our documents weren’t perfect, the trip to their office in Port-au-Prince would be a waste of time.
While I worked on obtaining some kind of medical documentation, Mom worked on getting identification, and Dad worked on getting a legal document regarding Mom’s different names. (It’s common for people to be given their mom’s last name at birth. If/when Dad enters the picture, they frequently take the dad’s name. While this would be a big deal elsewhere, it’s fairly normal here.)
We left Borel at 5:00 am for our trip to IBESR. We picked Dessources’s mom up on the side of the road in Port-au-Prince and headed to a coffee shop to verify we had everything. (We also needed to make sure our driver’s needs were met – coffee and food!)
The waiting room was much busier than I expected so we waited. And waited. And waited. When it was finally our turn, I stayed outside while Dessources’ dad went in. I knew his documents were in good order; he could do this! Long story short, the first clerk wanted nothing to do with him because the medical letter wasn’t signed. I explained that it had been emailed and I could show him the message. After all, we just recently learned that this document was necessary.
He opted to pass us off to a colleague. She didn’t seem too concerned that the letter wasn’t signed, but she told us that the two doctor letters – one from a Haitian doctor and one from the American doctor – needed to be in French. As Edrige and I discussed where we might be able to get the letters translated, I heard the woman sigh heavily and say, “I’ll try to assemble the dossier.” In that moment, we knew. If the dossier was assembled, we were good to go.
We could pick up the authorization on Friday.
I know this is long, but let me review the timeline so you can follow what happened here:
- We got the passport on July 18.
- We received final approval and the documents necessary to apply for the Visa on July 29.
- Our Embassy appointment was August 9.
- We picked up the Visa on August 11.
- We went to IBESR on August 17.
- We picked up the authorization to travel on August 19.
- We left for the hotel on August 20.
- Dessources flew out on August 21.
Tim and I are still in shock that it all came together!
As I type, Dessources and the two other children are with their host families in Grand Rapids, MI. I’ve already heard from the host parents, and things are going well so far. There are a bunch of pictures online – the link is pasted below for anyone who wants to follow the picture story. For those of you who say, “I could never send my child off to another country without me,” I suspect you would be surprised what you would do if it was the only option for help.
I don’t share this story because I want glory or credit; that is so not my heart. I share it because it’s so wonderful to see people from all walks of life coming together to make something beautiful happen. Working with this family, this team, and this organization has been an amazing experience, and I’m thankful to have been a part of it. Additionally, I’d like to extend my thanks to:
- Kim Sorrelle at Rays of Hope for choosing to bring the Lions Club of Grand Rapids to Borel.
- Dr. Droste for calling me over that fateful day and asking me if I could help translate and serve as the in-country point of contact.
- Helen Salan at Healing the Children for explaining the process, answering all of my questions, and having confidence in our team here.
- Dr. Aimee Tow for going before us at the Embassy and IBESR and sharing helpful information.
- Edrige and Marie Cadet for doing all that I asked of them.
- The families who contributed financially which allowed us to move quickly on the Visa and put the family up at a hotel in Port-au-Prince before flying out. (I think they would be embarrassed if I called them out, but they know who they are.)
- Al and Donna for opening your home to Dessources and loving on him. A shout out to daughter Kim for keeping us updated and sharing pictures of what is happening in MI.
- Our church family for praying us through the multiple trips to Port-au-Prince and the process of securing the Visa and IBESR authorization.
- The Board of Directors of Water Project for Haiti for their unconditional support, including allowing Tim and me to dictate our schedules as we see fit. Sometimes, our work isn’t about water filters at all.
- Tim, for never complaining about the back and forth trips to Port-au-Prince and my obsession with having the documents in good order.
- Our family, especially our children, for not making us feel guilty about choosing to live apart from them. We don’t know how long we will be here, but we know we are doing what God has called us to do for now. Your support means more than you could ever know.
Please continue to pray for these children and their families. They still face surgeries, recovery periods, and travel back to Haiti when all is said and done.
I feel so thankful and privileged to have been assigned by God to work on this little project. And I am grateful beyond words for everyone who worked and continues to work to make something like this possible.
God’s love IS abundant. I’ve seen it in the doctors and nurses, flight attendants, frequent flier miles donors, host families, staff, and volunteers.
I know it is abundant, because I get to do this job.
Follow the picture story online at: