How Not to Help in Haiti: Don’t Try to Steal Their Children

In the weeks following the January 12 Haitian earthquake, the intertubes have been clogged with news-stories, blog posts (also tweets and whatever else exists as virtual debris) about rescue and reconstruction efforts in the country. The development blogosphere, too, has been fairly engaged with:
thoughts on Haiti’s poverty and criticism of lazy efforts to make sense of the same
– guides to Haitian culture and society
– arguments for and against turning Haiti into a charter city
– and a successful campaign to grant it TPS status (a form of temporary humanitarian immigration that gives Haitian nationals in the US temporary work authorization)

All these posts were enlightening, thought-provoking, yada yada. Amongst them all, I really liked Alanna Shaikh’s post on the Aid Watch blog on why Haitians don’t need old shoes (not just because the sizes don’t match) and old stuff in general.

Well, she should have added another tip to her list of don’ts: Don’t try to steal their children!

“Breaking news” from the island (that probably has been or will be blown out of proportion States-side) says that 10 Americans, affiliated with a Baptist church in Idaho, were arrested at the Dominican border “as they tried to take 33 Haitian children,” whose ages ranged from 2 months to 12 years, out of the country “without the right documents.”

The details are at best sad and at worst infuriating: When the children were taken to an orphanage in Port-au-Prince, “at least 10 told aid workers that they had surviving parents and knew their contact details.”

“One girl was crying, and saying, ‘I am not an orphan. I still have my parents.’ And she thought she was going on a summer camp or a boarding school or something like that,” said George Willeit, a spokesman for SOS Children’s Village.

What is mind-boggling is not just that what these do-gooders tried to do was illegal but also willfully so. See, for example, the response of the leader of the group to a Haitian American human-rights activist who tried to warn them their plan was illegal: “We have been sent by the Lord to rescue these children, and if it’s in the Lord’s plan we will be successful.”

One of the arrested “church volunteers,” as she was being treated for extreme dehydration or some kind of flu, managed to utter the last defense of those who are willing do wrong while trying to do good: “I’m praying that we’ll be able to take these kids out, that we’ll be able to provide a safe and loving home for these kids who have nothing … and that all charges will be dropped and they will see our hearts.”

Oh, the road to (development) hell is indeed paved with such good intentions!

“What if these were your children?” asks the aptly named Good Intentions Are Not Enough blog.


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