Racing To Gather Haiti's Lost Children The 10 Americans arrested in Haiti for attempting to take 33 orphans out of the earthquake-ravaged nation have stepped into the middle of rising fears that the disaster's most vulnerable victims could fall prey to human traffickers. Meanwhile, aid agencies are rushing to find thousands of children made homeless by the earthquake.
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Racing To Gather Haiti's Lost Children

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Racing To Gather Haiti's Lost Children

Racing To Gather Haiti's Lost Children

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

Ten Americans have been arrested in Haiti as they attempted to take 33 orphaned children out of the earthquake-ravaged nation. Members of two Baptist churches from Idaho said they were on a preapproved rescue mission to take the children from a severely damaged orphanage in Haiti to the Dominican Republic. But Haitians officials have suspended all international adoptions amid fears of child trafficking and detained the church members along the border Friday night.

Sean Lankford of Meridian, Idaho, whose wife and daughter were among the church members, said in a telephone interview with NPR that confusion about paperwork needed to take the children out of the country, led to the arrests.

Mr. SEAN LANKFORD: When they got to the border, they were told, hey, you don't have this right documentation. A colonel there at the border said, you know, no big deal, we'll go with - we'll send one of the group - we'll go with one of the group back to Port-au-Prince in the morning, and we'll gain that documentation - help you gain the right documentation and you guys can be on your way. But obviously that's not what happened.

HANSEN: The church members remain in police custody this morning. There has been no comment so far from the U.S. Embassy in Haiti.

Earlier this week, the State Department issued a press release warning of, quote, "great risk and higher vulnerability to human trafficking," close quote, in Haiti where uncounted thousands of children have been separated from their parents.

NPR's Tamara Keith introduces us to some of Haiti's quake orphans.

(Soundbite of children)

TAMARA KEITH: At the Eben Ezer children's village in the countryside east of Port-au-Prince, new children arrive every day - more than 100 since the earthquake.

Ms. BETH FOX (Co-Founder, Global Orphan Project): (Foreign language spoken)

ESAN(ph): Esan.

Ms. FOX: Esan?

ESAN: (unintelligible)

Ms. FOX: It's so nice to meet you.

There's so many I haven't met yet.

KEITH: Beth Fox is co-founder of the Missouri-based Global Orphan Project, which runs this orphanage and 18 others around Haiti. They provide the children with food, education, health care and a Christian upbringing.

A four-year-old named Stanley(ph) clings to her. Both of his parents were killed in the earthquake.

Rogelean Fourgaeste is 15 and glistens with sweat after a game of soccer with some of the other kids.

Mr. ROGELEAN FOURGAESTE: (Through Translator) My dad borrowed $200 from someone and I was out trying to give it back when the earthquake happened. And when I got back to my house, I saw that it collapsed.

KEITH: His parents didn't make it.

Mr. FOURGAESTE: (Through Translator) Since then I've been searching for help because I was wondering what I should do, because my family all died. I was sleeping on the streets crying all the time. I went to the general hospital to find some help.

KEITH: A doctor there reached out to the Global Orphan Project. I asked Rogelean what he would've done if they hadn't found him.

Mr. FOURGAESTE: (Through Translator) If I didn't find those people, maybe I would ask some people to get me into their house so that I could be like their slave or helping them.

KEITH: In Haiti, even before the earthquake, life was hard for many children. UNICEF estimates tens of thousands were in some form of domestic servitude and nearly 400,000 were orphans. Now Rogelean's future is much brighter. He has an older sister who lives and works in Miami and was just able to speak with her on the phone. He said she had assumed he was dead and is now trying to bring him to Miami with her.

The Global Orphan Project is trying to reunite kids with their families as best they can. Ten-year-old Johnny Bushico is on his way to see his mom after the earthquake tore them apart.

Mr. JOHNNY BUSHICO: (Through Translator) I was on the street close to the national bank and a building collapsed on my legs.

KEITH: His mom wasn't there. He ended up at a hospital far from home, only to be moved again to a hospital in the Dominican Republic where he could get better treatment.

Mr. BUSHICO: (Through Translator) I thought that I would die this day, but I did not because of God.

KEITH: As the green pickup truck he's riding in pulls up to Johnny's neighborhood, children run alongside yelling, Johnny. Johnny.

Unidentified Child #1: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Child #2: (Foreign language spoken)

KEITH: A crowd forms around him as we wait for his mom to walk up from their house. Kids and adults alike have this look of amazement, like they can't really believe he's here and he's okay.

His mom, Rosette LaTouche, says she's happy he's finally back.

Ms. ROSETTE LATOUCHE: (Through Translator) I had problems. I couldn't sleep. I was just thinking: Where is he?

KEITH: Beth Fox says she hopes for more happy endings like this one.

Ms. FOX: There's 100 heartbreaking stories. And it's awesome when you have victory, when you're able to reunite a child with his parents. That's the greatest gift of what we get to do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEITH: In the mountains above Port-au-Prince, an orphanage called God's Littlest Angels is nearly empty. In the last week and a half, more than 150 kids from here left on chartered planes for the U.S., Canada and the Netherlands. Those children were already in the adoption process. Since then the Haitian government has put the brakes on international adoptions. They've been looking for people at the airports and borders who might be attempting to move children.

Laurie Bickel helps run the orphanage and gave this interview before the U.S. citizens were arrested.

Ms. LAURIE BICKEL (God's Littlest Angels): We're kind of viewing adoptions as finished at this point, until we hear otherwise. So now our goals are changing into just helping these children.

KEITH: She's expecting the orphanage will be full of kids again soon; this time children whose lives were turned upside down by the quake. Bickel says she's gotten hundreds of emails from prospective parents hoping to adopt a quake orphan.

Ms. BICKEL: They just don't understand. They see this on TV and they say, oh, let us help. We'll take them. We'll take them. And we're, like, no, these are not orphans. These are displaced children. They have families. We just have to find them.

KEITH: There's no official count on how many children there are, like Rogelean and Johnny. It will likely be months or years before it's all sorted out. Some of the displaced children are so young, they can't talk yet or say where they live.

Tamara Keith, NPR News, Port-au-Prince.

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