Hobbling in the aftermath

After quake, children’s home struggles to regain footing

All photos by Adam Malooly

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PORT-AU-PRINCE – Boxes fly off the truck as four men pass them, one to the next, through Eveline Louis Jacques’ front door.

The guys laugh and joke with each other as the boxes stack up in Eveline’s living room.  They have reason to smile. These 88 boxes of mix-and-serve food packs are the biggest gift that Eveline and her Notre Dame Children’s Home have received in months.

Today’s delivery of food – packed by Rockford, Ill.-based Kids Around the World — was organized by ReachGlobal staff member Jennifer Blevins. The Minneapolis-based agency’s relationship with Eveline began shortly after the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake that killed 220,000 people across Haiti. ReachGlobal learned about Eveline’s situation through a Facebook post and began funneling some aid to her then.

UNICEF estimates that in 2012, Haiti had 430,000 children orphaned by all causes. That doesn’t include the thousands of children abandoned by parents who can’t afford to feed them.

While ReachGlobal’s main goal is to help establish healthy, multiplying, indigenous churches, maintaining the relationship they began with Eveline four years ago is a way to help meet one of the country’s glaring needs.

“When we think about helping the least of these and just loving people the way Jesus loved people, how can you not?” Blevins says.

Hurting since the quake

Eveline, a Haitian, started Notre Dame as an independent ministry to impoverished children in 2002, while she was working at Sogebank, one of Haiti’s largest commercial banks. Before that, she worked at UNICEF for four years, specifically on cases involving children “in difficulty,” she says. That was the job that planted the idea of taking care of children full-time.

So she opened Notre Dame with her savings and immediately took in 13 children. That grew to 30 in the following month. Through an agreement with IBESR, Haiti’s child welfare agency, she began arranging adoptions for friends in the United States. With savings and her portion of the fees paid by adopting parents, she took in more and more children and was even able to pay the $18-per-month fee for many of them to go to school.

One of those kids is 18-year-old Carlo Louis Jean, an orphan who survived the earthquake and has lived at Notre Dame for the past 10 years. He says he thanks God for Eveline and has aspirations of becoming a lawyer.

“Because of what God did for me, I would like to help other people,” Carlo says.

Paying tuition for Carlo was the stuff of better financial times. Friends say that Eveline looks noticeably thinner these days – evidence of the difficulty she’s had caring for 40 children with little or no income. She has volunteers helping daily with the kids; and as she makes her way slowly past the compounds neat, one-story dormitory buildings, she keeps the hugs going around.

“The kids are important for me,” says Eveline, 65. “And feeding them well is my choice. I did not want to see the kids dying without food, hungry – no. I prefer the joy in those kids. That is why I’m trying to keep them alive.”

When the aid train stops

When international aid started pouring into Haiti right after the quake, Notre Dame received some financial help, particularly from the French government. The resulting relationship allowed Eveline to place many children from Notre Dame into French homes and use the resulting fees to care for the ones who remained – and the new ones who kept arriving.

Since then, donations have slowed to virtually nothing. Eveline’s situation took a sharper turn recently when Haiti began requiring homes like hers to register under consortiums in an effort to more tightly regulate the country’s adoption system. Eveline hasn’t had the money to file the proper paperwork, so she hasn’t been legally authorized to adopt out any more children since summer of last year.

Today, Notre Dame subsists on sporadic donations and often only can feed kids still living there little more than rice. That’s one of the key reasons ReachGlobal went to the trouble of organizing today’s delivery of food packs.

“She [Eveline] had quite a bit of attention right after the earthquake,” says Blevins, who helps run ReachGlobal’s Haiti headquarters in Gressier, about 10 miles west of Port-au-Prince. “Then time went by and the world kind of forgot about her. And now she doesn’t have the resources to continue giving those kids the care she wants to give. She clearly has a heart for the children, so if ReachGlobal can in different ways, small and big and just relationally, come alongside her and support her, that’s a great thing.”

Right now, Eveline’s house is in good shape, but the kitchen and cafeteria that she’s hoping to build is just a concrete block shell. In addition to everyday expenses, Eveline says her big desire is the $30,000 needed to finish the cafeteria. Despite having no immediate prospects for donations and no regular income, Eveline refuses to complain.

“Sometimes you can have some hard moments, but it’s good for you, because that helps you,” she says. “You cannot be well every day. You have to fight! And when you fight, you will succeed. I’m telling you.”

What you can do

To help with the needs at Notre Dame Children’s Home, contact Eveline Louis Jacques through Facebook.

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