Worst Laid Plans: Baptist Missionaries And Helping Kids In HaitiS

When ten members of the Central Valley Baptist Church made their decision to "rescue orphans" in Haiti and take them to the Dominican Republic, their decision wasn't just stupid - it actually put the children in more danger.

The LA Times spoke to the pastors at the church and received comments in support of the group:

At Central Valley Baptist Church here, officials strongly dispute the suggestion that members of their congregation were engaged in human trafficking. "It doesn't match the character of any of the people on this trip," Pastor Clint Henry said Tuesday. "When our people get to tell their story, I think it's going to make a difference."

But as more details surface, the situation looks worse and worse.

1. The missionaries went to a country they had no knowledge of and attempted to work inside and outside of the system at the same time.

New information from CNN shows that while Laura Silsby and the other would-be rescuers could not be bothered to get proper documentation to transport the children over the border, they were totally fine with meeting some guy in a car who said he was a police officer:

While the Americans have admitted that they had no documents to take the kids out of the country, three interpreters who worked for them told CNN the group met twice with a man, thought to be a Haitian policeman, who offered to help.

The first encounter took place on January 26. He told team leader Laura Silsby that they couldn't gather up Haitian children as they were doing, but then offered his help, according to an interpreter's account.

"They met a police guy and he told them that he could help and he was helping them with some paper," said Steve Adrien, one of three interpreters employed by the group. "We did not meet him in a police station, but in the street in a car."

That didn't set off any warning bells? Yes, there could be some difficulties locating police officers due to structural damage and a diminished of the police force, but seriously - if people impersonate officers of the law to commit crimes in the United States, clearly, this could also happen in Haiti. The group apparently did not have faith in the Haitian government, but did have faith to allow a stranger to lead them to the Dominican Republic.

2. Their plans were ill-conceived - at every level.

Before they even left the US, the Central Valley missionaries were already encountering problems. According to the New York Times, their non profit organization- started in service of the children the group attempted to save - never got off the ground:

An empty house in an unfinished subdivision in Meridian, Idaho, is listed on the nonprofit incorporation papers filed in Idaho for the organization. The address was listed in November on papers Laura Silsby filed to establish New Life as a nonprofit. Two days after the papers were filed, records show, Ms. Silsby sold the house at a substantial loss.

Signs in front of the house on Tuesday offered it for sale as a foreclosed property.

In addition to the shaky beginnings, it is unclear if the promised orphanage in Haiti would have ever come to fruition. The NYT notes that it was difficult to trace the group's activities in the Dominican Republic. While the missionaries claimed they were in the process of buying land and building a facility, an official only recalls a stalled discussion. With no base in the United States, and no clear location in the Dominican Republic, where were the children supposed to stay?

The children were also found without passports - one wonders if they had any identification on them at all. What would have happened if some of the children somehow got separated?

3. Why does "help" never include working with groups already on the ground?

The ten missionaries, in their zeal to help, failed to consider that partnering with other organizations and trying to understand the problem would have been a smarter strategy than the bungled rescue mission. Thank heaven for SOS Children's Villages, an international non-governmental organization devoted to children's rights and the placement of children for long term care when biological families are unable to provide. In addition to their extensive work on Haiti, SOS Children's Villages was the site where the 33 children recovered from the missionaries were taken. According to SOS volunteers, the children were "distressed, hungry, and thirsty." SOS detailed their process for taking care of these children, how to identify SOS volunteers. The differences are stark: the children were immediately given drinks and registered, while the youngest were immediately examined by Red Cross workers.

In a statement discussing the push to come and help children through adoption in the wake of the earthquake, SOS Children's Villages advises:

In the coming weeks and months the SOS Children's Villages Emergency Programme will provide temporary care for children separated from their families. The primary aim is to trace families and the reintegration of children with their parents, extended family, or family friends who are willing and able to care for the child. The validity of relationships and the confirmation of the willingness of the child and family member to be reunited must be verified for every child.

For children with no family at all or with an extended family that is not able to care for the children, the best possible solution for the individual child will be found. Special attention will be given to keeping siblings together. Decisions regarding adoption or any other form of permanent care solution should definitely not be made as an immediate response to the emergency.

SOS Children's Villages acknowledges adoption as an appropriate care solution for children who have lost their parents and have no extended family who are willing and able to care for them. However, it is the conviction of SOS Children's Villages that children should grow up learning their native language within their own culture and faith. Only in circumstances where adequate local possibilities have been exhausted, proper legal channels have been followed, and the fundamental principles of international adoption, as established by the Hague Adoption Convention have been met, should international adoption be considered.

While it is certainly noble to want to provide a home for the displaced children in this tragedy, the reality is that many of these children have family and extended family on the island or in the global Haitian community that may be willing and able to provide love and shelter. And with the SOS Children's Village's mission to locate relatives and ensure both the child and the adult would like to be reunited, the NGO appears to have a concrete grasp of all the issues at play in a crisis situation, not just a vague desire to "help."

4. They took advantage of desperate parents

While the Idaho group was busy collecting children to deposit into an uncertain future in the Dominican Republic, Haitian mothers who could not afford to provide their children with necessities were swallowing hard and trying to do the best by their kids. The New York Times shares some of the heartbreaking stories - and the desperation of the parents to provide their children with more opportunities than they had.

Several parents denied accusations that they had been given money for their children, or that they wanted their children to be put up for adoption.

They trusted the Americans, they said, because they arrived with the recommendation of a Baptist minister, Philippe Murphy, who runs an orphanage in the area. A woman who answered the door at Mr. Murphy's house said he had gone to Miami. But she also said that he did not know anything about the Americans.

It also appears that some members of the group knew that these children were not orphans. Some parents reported speaking directly to the missionaries who "promised they would be able to visit their children in the Dominican Republic, and that the children would be free to come home for visits."

Ultimately, while the Baptist missionaries may have felt they were just doing their best to help, there is a reason for the phrase "more harm than good."

Idaho church defends members jailed in Haiti [LA Times]
Interpreters: Detained Americans thought they met with Haitian police [CNN]
Parents Tell of Children They Entrusted to Detained Americans [NY Times]
Haiti: SOS Children's Villages takes care of those 33 children who possibly became victims of child trafficking [SOS Children's Villages]
Haiti Statement Adoption (PDF) [SOS Children's Villages]

Earlier: Charity Gone Wrong: Missionaries Under Fire For Taking Haitian Children