Haiti orphan finds way home

By Guy Adams

The last time Ibola Samedi had hugged her 12-year-old daughter Lovely was after school on January 12.

A few minutes later, the earth began to shake. In seconds, Samedi saw her house, in the Delmas district of Port-au-Prince, collapse.

Terrified, she grabbed her daughter Stephanie, 10, and sons Levinson and Dickensley, 4 and 1, and ran to nearby wasteland.

Half an hour later, Samedi returned to the pile of concrete and twisted metal that lay on the site of her former dwelling. Digging with her bare hands, she found the body of Widler, her 7-year-old son, beneath the rubble.

Lovely, the fifth of her children, was unaccounted for. Until last week, that is.

On July 4, Samedi was telephoned by Etienne Guerline, a local case-worker with the International Rescue Committee, an aid agency trying to reunite children believed to have been orphaned in the earthquake with their friends or families. "Do you know a girl called Lovely?" Guerline asked.

"Yes," replied Samedi, who in late January had moved to Les Cayes, in southwest Haiti, to rebuild her shattered life. "She was my eldest daughter, but now she is dead."

Guerline took a deep breath. "Maybe you are mistaken."

By Thursday, Lovely was back in the arms of the mother she had not seen for six months.

"I just hugged her and started to cry out, 'My baby! My baby!'," Samedi recalls. "We both cried and held each other for a long time. It was truly a miracle."

The story of how this family came to be reunited illustrates the painstaking nature of the work required to rebuild Haiti. It also underlines how, even after six months, overseas adoption should not be considered the only source of hope for Haiti's orphans.

A policeman had discovered Lovely, a day after the earthquake, on the streets of Port-au-Prince several kilometres from her home.

She was traumatised and in a state of shock, unable to say anything except her first name, so he took her to the Refuge des Orphelins, an orphanage in nearby Martissant. Last month Guerline visited that home and added Lovely's name to a database which the IRC has created to ease the process of reconnecting missing children with their parents. She returned six times, probing for information that might allow her to track down any old connections.

"We did not have much to go on, because Lovely did not remember even her own surname, let alone her phone number or address," Guerline said. "But she eventually told us some details."

Encouraged, Guerline showed photographs of Lovely to locals. After several fruitless hours, a man fixing a car flipped through the pictures, shaking his head, before stopping at one. "I know that girl!"

Samedi was eventually taken to Lovely's orphanage, after convincing the IRC that she was the child's mother. "I am so grateful for what Etienne did," she says.

The IRC has 2511 children on its database, of which 424 have so far been reunited with parents.


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