Column and photos by Samantha Oester

It’s Saturday, our last day seeing patients in Haiti. Tomorrow we begin the long journey home. We piled on the bus again with all of our supplies, along with VOSH, now used to our morning routine. Our destination today was EBAC, an orphanage in Morne Rouge managed by Kathy Gouker and Alice Wise, Penns. natives who have been in Haiti for about 30 years. We set up a mini clinic in a pavilion near the orphanage’s school, including eye and medical exams. The orphanage currently serves about 100 children, increasing their capacity by 25 percent to care for children orphaned by the Jan. 12 earthquake.

Nurse Paige Chamlis take the blood pressure of a young girlat the EBAC orphanage in Morne Rouge.

Nurse Paige Chamlis take the blood pressure of a young girlat the EBAC orphanage in Morne Rouge.

First we saw the orphans, most of whom spoke English learned at the school, where Gouker and Wise also serve as teachers. Well-mannered and ever-so loving, the children of all ages were excited to be cared for. They continued surrounding the pavilion, curious about us and craving our attention, as we opened our services to the general public. Familiar with EBAC and visiting doctors, everyone was very respectful and calm as they waited to be seen in Morne Rouge. It’s apparent Gouker and Wise have made quite an impression on the community in their several years there. “People know us, and know we’re help to help,” Wise explained. “We don’t have too many issues.” For several hours, we treated people under tiny watchful eyes. Near the end of the day, a young boy approached me. “My name is Reginald,” he said. “Will you take my picture and show it people where you live. Maybe they will write to me.” I took his photo and he wrote his name on a tiny strip of paper, very proud of his cursive. “I can write in English and curly English,” he said.

When asked how many children are adopted from EBAC each year, Gouker replied that in the many years she’s been there, there have been zero adoptions. “Being an orphan in Haiti is very different from the U.S.,” she explained. “Adoptions out of any orphanage in Haiti are extremely rare. Children go to an orphanage expecting that to be their forever home. They would be thrilled, and it would be a miracle, to get a home. But they know the reality of it, and they don’t expect it.”

Dr. Maklin Eugene, a Haitian physician who has been workingwith us throughout the week, consults with a young patient at EBAC.

Dr. Maklin Eugene, a Haitian physician who has been workingwith us throughout the week, consults with a young patient at EBAC.

According to Gouker, it is very difficult for people outside of Haiti to adopt Haitian children, especially in the U.S. But, on the rare occasion, it has been done. “It takes a very long time, and there’s a lot of red tape,” she said. “I’ve heard of people trying to go through the adoption process for years, only for some small thing to cause it to not be approved. It’s very discouraging.” As we packed up to go, we got pulled this way and that by children wanting to share their lives with us. “Even the littlest attention from people who they think are caring and loving means so much to them,” Gouker said. “They hold onto those memories. They just want to love and be loved.”

Unable to refuse, we were directed to the schoolhouse, as more and more youngsters added to the crowd, placing their hands in mine, hanging onto my pants and wrapping their arms around my waist. “I love you, and you are my friend,” I heard a little girl say to Paige Chamlis. They showed us the classrooms, and their “offices,” tiny desks side by side where each child keeps a small corkboard and schoolwork. “Those little desks are the only place in the entire world they can call their own,” Wise said. A few corkboards contained holiday cards and letters from doctors who had visited the orphanage before. “They are my family,” Ann, a young teenager said. “I have my orphanage family, and my American family. Maybe someday, I can see them again.”

Nurse Kristen Rumcik measures a little girl at EBAC.

Nurse Kristen Rumcik measures a little girl at EBAC.

A 17-year old named Eve stopped us to hear her sing. Known at the orphanage as the “Haitian Beyonce,” she had the most beautiful voice I’ve ever heard from a completely untrained background. “In the U.S., she’d be on American Idol. Here, she’s an orphan,” Chamlis said. “Yeah, it breaks your heart,” Kristen Rumcik replied. As we walked to the bus, I was handed several tiny strips of paper with names. “Reginald said you would find someone in America to write to him,” a young girl said. “Can you find someone for us to?” I told them that I was sure people would love to write and send photos. “It’s so happy when we get a letter,” she said.

Nurse Practitioner Jennifer Schmidt treats a young boy at EBAC.

Nurse Practitioner Jennifer Schmidt treats a young boy at EBAC.

Back at our hotel in Cap Haitien, Mont Joli, a celebration was waiting. As a way to thank us for the work we, and the other medical teams staying there, had done that week, some of the staff and other people we’d met had a party for Jennifer Schmidt’s birthday. “There’s so much to be sad about, but there’s also things we have to be thankful for,” said Ralph, an interpreter from Cap Haitien who had been helping us all week. “Sometimes we need to take a break from the tragedy and celebrate what we have.” Cakes and wine were brought out and shared with everyone at the hotel. (Several other medical teams from the United States, working in various areas, had arrived at the Mont Joli throughout the week.) People, of all races and walks of life, danced and drank, as I slipped away. I called my husband, and he talked to me while I cried myself to sleep.

*Note: The EBAC orphanage accepts orphan sponsorships. To sponsor an orphan, helping to better their care and gaining a friend for life, go to http://www.heartsforthehungry.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=44&Itemid=62.

Reginald, an orphan at EBAC in Morne Rouge, poses for a photo.

Reginald, an orphan at EBAC in Morne Rouge, poses for a photo.

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