Article & Photography by Tracy Smith | Owl Staff

Bon Repos, Haiti. As I climb out of the tattered jeep, little faces emerge from all directions and within moments I am greeted with hugs. It doesn’t matter that I am a stranger to these children.

A little boy wearing just a diaper and clothed in dirt stands before me with his arms raised, inviting me to pick him up. I reach down and pull his little frame into my arms. Others are grasping my hands and legs, smiling at me.

I have arrived at Ruuska Village.

Just outside of Port-au-Prince, amid the drab concrete and rubble remains from the 2010 earthquake, Ruuska Village serves as a safe haven for children and unwed mothers. United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) estimates that there are approximately 430,000 orphans in Haiti.

According to Barbara Walker, the founder of Ruuska, mothers arrive at the gate with this one request: “I want you to give my baby life.”

And that is exactly what she does. “I’m going to be adopted and live in Minnesota,” boasts 8-year-old Kevins, in perfect English.

“I witness their final embrace as she covers his face in kisses and hands him to his nanny. Could there be a greater Christmas gift than his homecoming?”

Little James enjoys a bath in a bucket. Precious Gerilyn is carried away by her nanny to get dressed. Five year old Leissa helps to feed baby Marcus. Until their adoptive parents come to take them home, they are family to one another and I am the newest member.

My first trip to Haiti was to help with disaster relief after the earthquake, but this time I’m here to support my friend Nancy Esposito who is in the process of adopting a little boy.

“The hardest part about adopting is coming up with the money required and the uncertainties surrounding the process,” the 46-year-old adoptive mother admits.

Esposito took off a week from her teaching position and traveled from Maryland to visit her 2-year-old son, Bruce. When he was just two months old, his 12-year-old mother brought him to the village because she couldn’t care for him. Like the other children, Bruce now has opportunities beyond these walls.

Adopting from Haiti is no small task. There is a mountain of paper- work involved, including a home study, fingerprints, medical exams, psychological exams, and an I-600A to apply for adoption. Each document needs to be translated into French, then notarized, certified by Haiti and finally authenticated.

A trip to the Haitian Embassy is required to have your documents sealed. This becomes what is known as your dossier and it is then sent to Haiti for approval from IBESR (Department of Family and Children Services). “It’s emotionally painful having to leave Bruce, but I am hopeful that the adoption will be approved and that I’ll be able to return and bring him home by Christmas,” Esposito shares through tears.

I witness their final embrace as she covers his face in kisses and hands him to his nanny. Could there be a greater Christmas gift than his homecoming?

That was in 2014. Two years have now passed, and while many of the children of Ruuska Village have been adopted and are now living with their new families, Bruce is still not home.

The laws and procedures to adopt in Haiti have changed, affecting families that were midway through the process. As a result, more paperwork has been required, resulting in greater expenses. Haiti is the poorest country in the Northern Hemisphere according to the World Food Programme, a humanitarian agency that is fighting hunger. Statistics from WFP verify that two-thirds of Haitians live on less than $2.00 a day.

As a country that has still not fully recovered from the 2010 earthquake, Haiti suffered even more destruction when Hurricane Matthew struck on October 4, 2016. The storm left the country ravaged and more than four million children have been affected, as documented by UNICEF.

While many families want to respond to the ever-growing needs of Haiti by adopting a child or sibling group, the cost often deters them. Most adoptions take between two and three years and the cost is close to $32,000.00. To reduce the expenses, many families create fundraisers, apply for grants, and some even take out a loan.

Nancy Esposito got married in Decem- ber 2015, causing her family to grow from two to five. She and her husband Thom have three children together and now they await the addition of Bruce, who is currently 4-years-old.

“When I see Bruce, I imagine scooping him right up and kissing his cheeks and giving him gifts,” she said. “But he doesn’t remember me so I’m not sure if he’ll run to us and warm up right away or not.”

It’s painful to be apart from her son for so long and the uncertainty can be discouraging. One thing she does know is this: all of the delays and waiting will be worth it when they are finally united as a family.

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