Bethany creates in-country foster program to benefit Haiti’s children

Country still hasn’t recovered from earthquake six years ago.

January 22, 2016
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Six years ago this month, Haiti became ground zero to one of the deadliest natural disasters of the 21st century.

When the 7.0-magnitude earthquake rocked the small Caribbean country, killing at least 160,000 people, the world watched in horror as survivors in the already impoverished country pulled their lives together out of the rubble.

Although news reports tried to describe the extent of the devastation, sometimes the best way to get people to care is to put them on the ground and let them experience the situation first-hand.

Now, a division of global nonprofit Bethany Christian Services is working to create empathy and support for Haiti’s plight, which is far from over. Bethany recently announced the launch of a new social services program in Haiti through its Bethany Global.

In this in-country foster care program, Bethany will work side-by-side with the Haitian government, as well as Haitian partners, to serve Haiti’s vulnerable children by working with churches in Port-Au-Prince — Haiti’s capital city and one of the area’s hit hardest by the earthquake.

Bethany hopes to recruit Haitian families to undergo “a rigorous foster care training program” to help 60 children by this summer.

“On the first day of training, we hoped for 50 people to participate and received 85,” said Vijonet Demero, country director for Bethany Haiti. “On the second day, we received 120. On the third day, we had over 200 people show up and had to turn some away.”

In the spring of 2014, Bethany Global launched an initiative called Operation Exodus, which focused on serving vulnerable families living in Port-Au-Prince’s neighboring tent cities. This project will assist in the goal to help families through economic and psychosocial support.

“There are over 150 million orphans and vulnerable children worldwide. Outside of family support, children are more susceptible to many dangers, including trafficking. Family-based care is proven to work, and Bethany equips families to be the answer for these children,” said Jennifer Gradnigo, director of public relations for Bethany Christian Services.

“Our model is especially important in Haiti because the restavek system is still in place.”

A restavek is a Haitian child “sent by his or her parents to work for a host household as a domestic servant because the parents lack the resources to support the child. The expectation is that the child will receive food and housing, and sometimes an education, in exchange for doing housework,” according to the nonprofit Healing Haiti’s website.

“However, many restaveks live in poverty and are at grave risk for physical, emotional and sexual abuse. The restavek system is tolerated in Haitian culture but not considered to be preferable. The practice meets formal international definitions of modern day slavery and child trafficking, and affects an estimated 300,000 Haitian children.”

About 10 percent of Haiti’s children are restaveks, according to Healing Haiti’s website.

“The concept of foster care and adoption outside of kinship was virtually unknown in Haiti,” said Kristi Gleason, senior director of Bethany Global. “We are working within cultural norms to train staff and families in the best practices we employ in the U.S.”

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