Haitian Families First is remembering the anniversary of the powerful earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010, killing over 200,000 Haitians. Millions were left homeless, and thousands more died in the cholera epidemic that followed. While the recovery is unfinished, the earthquake also shed light on the challenges that Haitian families negotiate every day.
Haitian Families First co-founders Jamie and Ali McMutrie know that many Haitians’ biggest challenge is the decision to institutionalize a child. Poverty is so deep that many Haitians must give up a child in order to care for the others. Jamie and Ali saw many institutionalized children separated from their families by the earthquake and sent to adoptive families. They founded Haitian Families First to help Haitians overcome the social and financial barriers to family unity.
“In Haiti, parents facing tough times usually don’t have a safety net,” said Ali McMutrie. “Their only option is to give up their kids.” Major events like the earthquake, and minor ones like treatable illness, are enough to pull families apart. Approximately 30,000 vulnerable children are institutionalized, but 80% of them have a parent. Institutionalized children face an increased risk of becoming criminals, unemployed, homeless, trafficked, sexually exploited, and committing suicide.
Haitian Families First knows that families see few options but many obstacles when they institutionalize a child. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. Over 40% of Haitians are unemployed, and over half of adults are illiterate. Haitian Families First runs three programs that ease the burden on families. The Nutrition Program provides formula and prenatal vitamins. The Health and Wellness program helps pay medical costs and gain access to medical facilities. The Education program pays for children’s school tuition and provides tutoring.
“When the earthquake hit four years ago, our priority was getting children to safety,” said Jamie McMutrie. Back then, the sisters worked at an institution that was severely damaged in the earthquake, and with nowhere else to put the children, Jamie and Ali aggressively advocated for US federal, state and local governments to expedite the adoptions of those children already in process. “Now, our goal is putting Haitian families first so that they can overcome similar challenges together.”
Jamie and Ali moved to Haiti in 2002 and 2006, respectively, to help care for children in orphanages and find homes for them overseas. Following the earthquake, the sisters founded Haitian Families First to help struggling families stay together, recognizing that families often make the heartbreaking decision to surrender their children to orphanages because dire poverty makes it impossible to care for them. The non-profit organization helps Haitian children receive nutrition, including formula for babies, and access education and life-sustaining medical care. Haitian Families First helps parents find employment to better provide for their families, and offers a safe house shelter during extended periods of need. According to the McMutries, helping families stay together is not only beneficial for the children and their families, but also strengthens the communities.
For more information about Haitian Families First, or to donate or sponsor a program, visit haitianfamiliesfirst.org. Haitian Families First is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.