Thursday, April 15, 2010

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand Visits Orphanage During Trip to Haiti...

Official Congressional Trip to Assess Earthquake's Impact on Child Welfare

Visit Included Meetings With Haiti’s President and First Lady, Discussion With Local Child Welfare Agency, And Tour Of Port-Au-Prince Orphanage

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s visited a Port-Au-Prince orphanage during an official Congressional Delegation trip to Haiti last week with Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC). The group assessed the impact on child welfare from the earthquake that devastated the country earlier this year. Senator Gillibrand now plans to work with her Senate colleagues on new legislation to help bolster Haiti's child welfare system. In addition to visiting the orphanage, the group also met with Haitian government officials and NGO leaders to discuss ways in which Haiti’s children can be assisted.

Photographs of Senator Gillibrand’s visit to the orphanage are available here.

This trip was an important opportunity for me to see firsthand how the hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children are faring,” said Senator Gillibrand. “As a mother of two young children, I was heartbroken to see so many young children in Haiti suffering. I pledged to the Haitian President and First Lady that America would stand with the people of Haiti as they recovered. My focus now is on continuing our aid efforts and on crafting legislation that would help to significantly improve life for Haiti's children.”

On Monday, Senator Gillibrand met with President René Préval, First Lady Elisabeth Delatour Préval and other governmental officials to discuss the challenges Haiti is facing. Senator Gillibrand also toured the Rose Mina Orphanage to see firsthand how the earthquake has impacted Haiti’s youth.

Senator Gillibrand plans to work with Haitian leaders as they increase access to education for all of Haiti’s children, improve conditions in Haiti’s orphanages, with the ultimate goal of keeping families together. In the Senate, she plans to work with her colleagues to increase support for public education, register all children, and improve the adoption process to ensure that children may be reunited with families, and when that is not possible, may be adopted by qualified families.

Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, was devastated by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake on January 12. The powerful earthquake destroyed schools, hospitals, and much of Port-Au-Prince’s infrastructure, leading to the loss of over 230,000 lives and displacing over 1.3 million people from their homes. Many of those affected are young children who have been separated from their families.

Haiti has a very young population. Prior to the earthquake it was estimated that 65 percent of the population was under the age of 25, and 40 percent was under the age of 14. It was also estimated that over 300,000 children were unaccompanied by their parents, with about 50,000 living in orphanages. Only 20 percent of Haiti’s school children attended public schools. With the earthquake’s recent devastation, the number of vulnerable children in Port-Au-Prince has risen drastically.

Prior to the Earthquake, many children were sent to unregulated orphanages, not because they did not have parents, but because their families were too poor to give them shelter, food and education. Thus about 80 percent of the children in "orphanages" had families. Only a small number of orphanages were regulated by IBESR, Haiti’s children’s welfare agency. Since the humanitarian parole of almost 1,000 orphans who joined families in the U.S., due to the devastation caused by the earthquake, the already slow adoption process has been virtually stopped.