Helping in Haiti

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Orphans a major concern

By Lisa King

Shelby Countians have joined the rest of the state, as well as the entire country, in rallying to do what they can to help Haitian orphans.

Several church groups as well as other organizations have journeyed to Haiti after the country was devastated by a recent earthquake.

Mary Lou Madigan of Shelbyville said she was astonished and alarmed when her daughter, Lucy Madigan Armistead, called her to tell her she was in Haiti and had been there for a week.

"She had called me several times that week and left me messages, saying, 'Hi, I love you, but I'm really busy so don't try to call me back,'" Madigan said.

She said that after she got over the shock, she realized that her daughter was only following her heart, as well as her job.

"I understood her motives in not telling me she was there," she said. "She didn't want to worry me. I admire her so much. She's so giving."


Adoption assistance

Armistead, a Shelby County native who lives in Owensboro, went to Haiti with her organization, Kentucky Adoption Services, to expedite the adoptions of some Haitian children to Kentucky families.

Before the quake hit, KAS had been working with three different Haitian orphanages to bring children to Kentucky families. Armistead and her group journeyed to Port-au-Prince several days after the quake on a military transport with the goal of bringing those children out of the danger and squalor in which they were living.

"We brought 12 kids back with us, two that were our kids which we needed to locate, and the rest of them were out of orphanages that we support and who were in the adoption process," she said.

The two children whose adoption cases were being processed by KAS were both under 2 years old, as were the rest, except for two boys ages 13 and 16. One of the KAS children went to a Louisville family, and the other to a family in Springfield, Mo.

Armistead, who is mother to seven children, two of whom she and her husband, Dale, adopted from Guatemala, says it broke her heart to have to leave behind a 3-year-old little girl.

"We took out her two best friends from the orphanage, and we had to leave her there," she said. "She's a precious, perfect, wonderful engaging child, and we were all very attached to her and completely heart-broken about the situation."

The little girl had to stay behind because she did not have anyone who wanted to adopt her, Armistead said.

That child is one of an estimated 20,000 who were orphaned by the quake, Armistead said.

The trouble is that a lot of orphans could be taken from the country through channels not entirely legal, she said.

"There are rumors that some children who were not in the adoption situation have come in [to the United States]," she said. "We hope that has not happened."

But Armistead admitted that she would not be surprised if rumors are true that some children have been abducted from the country only to serve the vile lusts of child predators.

"I have not seen it myself, but do I believe it's happening? Yes, one hundred percent," she said.

Armistead said that 900 Haiti children were in the adoption process before the quake shattered the country, and both the Haitian and the U.S. governments are doing all they can to cut through the red tape to expedite those adoptions.

"About 500 have already been brought over, and we are working on bringing the rest to allow those children to come and at least find a temporary safe haven, even if it's just an agency or foster care situation because the orphanages are not safe right now," she said. "The circumstances that they live under, in disease and poverty, it's a different environment than any of us can possibly imagine."


Emotional experience

Mary Jo Barbour of Shelbyville returned home recently from Haiti from what she describes as a humbling experience.

Barbour journeyed to Haiti with God's Littlest Angels, a nonprofit Christian ministry headquartered in Colorado, which has ministered to Haitian children since 1994.

Barbour said the week she spent there after the quake was one of the most difficult and rewarding weeks of her life.

"It was both physically and emotionally draining," she said. "It makes even the most difficult and trying times I experience at home and in my life seem so trivial. I saw people with no homes, only the clothes on their backs living on the streets or in the park areas, taking baths, naked on the street in broad daylight, standing in a long line just to get a bottle of water to drink or a bag of rice to eat," she said.

Barbour described shelters built from sticks woven together with a sheet or other material on the top to serve as a roof.

"In the midst of all of this, the people were singing, praising to God, thankful for their lives, because basically that is all they have left," she said. "The Haitian nannies had such sad eyes, everyone of them had lost family members and/or their homes. Some had found their children and had brought them back to the orphanage to live with them. I praise God that He allowed me to be a part of their lives for a brief period of time, and He brought me home safely."


Local efforts

Several other organizations throughout the county have also been involved in Haitian relief efforts, both with orphans and the general populace.

Cathy Mitchell of Beechridge Baptist Church, whose members journeyed to Haiti in 2003, said the church took up a collection of $2,000 recently to add to $2,400 that about seven or eight families from the community contributed.

Also, Jerry Cheatham of Bagdad returned home from Haiti on Saturday as part of Missions International, a Texas-based organizations that contributes towards building churches, homes, clinics, orphanages and bible schools in third-world countries.

"Jerry went there [to Haiti] to make sure the orphanages that Missions International supports were able to get food," Mitchell said.

Cheatham was not available for comment.

Bob Perkins, director of security for the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, who is a member of Simpsonville Baptist Church, said that teams from all over the state have joined the Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief. One team included Coy Webb, pastor of Clay Village Baptist Church, who returned from Haiti a week ago.

“Everything went very well,” Webb said. “Our assessment contacts were very good. We currently have 10 team members there, and we hope to send more when the airport becomes more functional.”

Perkins, along with another Simpsonville Baptist Church member, Randal Childers, are with another Seminary team that is currently on standby.

For more information about Haitian relief efforts, visit www.greatcommissionkentucky.com or www.kentuckyadoptionservices.org.