I was in Haiti last week visiting Worldwide Orphans Foundation's (WWO) program sites, as well as forging a partnership with Fundafield.org, which helps build soccer fields/programs in developing countries. Along with Kyle Weiss, his mother Lisa and sister Kira, our group of travelers included Amy Poehler, our new Ambassador of Arts and WWO Board Member Mary Knobler and her daughter, Grace. Our Puma Guy and recently appointed Junior Board Chairperson, Noah Gonzalez, brought endless soccer treats -- shirts, hats and shoes for all the kids. Photographer Kelly Campbell documented our week.
WWO is doing valuable work with vulnerable children and families in the mountainous community of Kenscoff. We have a toy library and Music-in-Motion activities to teach "play" to children and their mothers who are at risk of abandoning their babies. We have camp for HIV-infected children and we train local youth on early childhood development so that we can make enduring changes in the way people understand the development and behavior of children.
Though the New York Times has recently featured an article and an editorial about corrupt and failed donor dollars after the earthquake, I want to emphasize the change that WWO has brought to the children of Haiti. As the CEO of WWO, we have spent the money we have raised wisely and the impact on the children has been miraculous.
Late Thursday afternoon, our service group headed over to an orphanage where WWO provides psycho-social support programs. There I met Wadley, an approximately 3 year-old boy who has recently came to the orphanage with his mother and infant brother for refuge after domestic violence, neglect and likely abuse. It is probably not unusual for an orphanage to take in such a family for a short respite until they recover from their emotional and physical trauma and find a more permanent setting.
We were all playing with the kids and enjoying getting to know them when Amy mentioned that a little boy named Wadley had been there for a moment, and then had scurried away because he was scared. I was of course eager to find him and walked around the dilapidated building, but he was nowhere to be found.
Once inside the orphanage, we found this very vulnerable boy lying on a bed in a room completely still, staring into space. He made no vocalizations and appeared to be glued to the bed. His eyes were empty and unrevealing of any emotion. I began to talk to him quietly in French and pet him. He was clad in a shirt and poorly fitting pants that smelled of dried urine, but his feet were bare and his arms and face were available for gentle touches. His skin was velvety and warm and my fingers glided over him easily so that I could turn him on his back and examine his body through his clothes swiftly. His belly was soft and his legs and arms were flexible. His radial pulse was 80, which is quite normal for a child his age. My conclusion was that he was well physically and that his source of sadness was deep psychological trauma and depression.
He resumed a fetal position after my quick exam and then I was able to stroke his face gently enough to allow him to relax and gradually close his eyes. He fell asleep and his fear and tension diminished. I left his room and as I walked out of the orphanage, his mother and infant brother passed me in the dark hall. Noah observed one of her eyes to be bruised and distorted and he thought that she had been abused. We had observed her infant son crying a lot earlier in our visit and I held him, but I was unable to console him. I did however notice that his hair had the orange tint of protein malnutrition and that he too looked emotionally traumatized and sad.
Poor Wadley has likely been abused and neglected and has become severely depressed. Without treatment, he may remain this way for months or longer. What does he need? My prescription for his attachment disorder and depression would be a comprehensive therapeutic plan. He needs a one-to-one situation with a caretaker dedicated to him, and he needs to play with other children. His mother needs counseling so we can learn more about what brought them to this orphanage. She needs to be the primary caretaker to the younger infant and Wadley, but she may be so traumatized herself, that she needs the help of trained professionals to show her how to enter Wadley's life again. Her connection to the younger infant makes sense because he is so dependent, but somehow Wadley has been neglected. There may be a boyfriend/father involved who hit the mother and Wadley. He appears so wounded that it is likely that he saw and heard things that were excruciatingly painful and scary. WWO will hopefully help Wadley and his family to get the services they need.
There are thousands of children like Wadley in Haiti and all around the world, including the U.S. He has anaclitic depression and no sense of safety or security. He may even have selective mutism; in the two days we observed him, he hardly spoke. Wadley and children like him should never know psychological trauma. Children should be protected from abuse. But this is not the case in our world. Millions of children are abused and neglected, and WWO is helping them heal and be happy through our programs.