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HAITI UPDATE: Unlicensed Orphanage Fire in Fermathe could have been prevented



By Valerie Dirksen

I have written several articles detailing the unbelievable conditions of orphans and abandoned children in Haiti. The reality is, my efforts have not led to any substantial change despite it being a $100 million plus dollar “business” in Haiti.  Oftentimes, I have thought, “what will it take to get the reform necessary to put an end to children suffering?” Last Thursday night, a fire at a large orphanage in the mountains above Port au Prince, in the community of Fermathe, has hopefully finally gotten the authorities, and international attention.

It took the fire trucks more than 90 minutes to arrive.  When they arrived, they found the building, with only one exit door, fully engulfed.  $20 billion in aid, petro caribe money missing, and the $1.50 per money transfer that was supposed to be used for schools did not seem to help prevent the situation.  Where did this money go?  As the popular movement in Haiti says, # Kote Kob PetroCaribe A? This is truly something that defies description.

Initially, the reports were that 13 children had died in a fire.  Then the report was changed to 15.  In fact, there were 20 who were affected by the fire in the orphanage.  Two of the children were melted into the mattresses, 13 infants survived the fire, but after being taken to the Baptiste Mission close by, they died as the clinic did not have oxygen tanks they needed to treat their smoke inhalation. Two burn victims were taken to the Bernard Mev Hospital by Luckner Fond Rose, Haitian Timoun Foundation, Haiti Country Director, as there was no ambulance. 

This was an orphanage that was unlicensed since 2013, and the 66 children were living in extreme squalid conditions.  It has been reported that the fire was ignited by candles that the children had lit in their rooms because the generator and inverter were not working.  With no concern for safety, the children were sent to the market to buy candles earlier. This shows the lack of concern for the children given the high instances of kidnapping.

The two story building was in deplorable condition with children sleeping in cramped, dirty bunk beds and filth.  The bathrooms did not even have toilet seats!  The children were treated like animals, with our pets here in the US receiving better care.  

There were only three adults present at the time of the fire.  Advocates tried to speak to the American Director, Andrew Perrera, who replied “no comment.” Perrera was previously employed at the Wings of Hope orphanage that was close by, before being relocated to Jacmel. It is believed he was affiliated with the Haitian Timoun Foundation, and visited the homes as a missionary before staying to work in Haiti.  The Haitian Timoun Foundation is a NGO that is based in Colorado and recently relocated another office to Ohio.  The Haitian Timoun Foundation is one of several fundraising arms for the multiple accused pedophile, Michael Geilenfeld.  You may recall, IBESR closed down the St. Joseph Home for Boys in January 2014 to minors after receiving so many complaints of sexual, physical and emotional abuse at the home. Like the Orphanage that burned down, Geilenfeld ran an unlicensed orphanage since 1985. Despite having an active Haitian arrest warrant for rape, sexual agression and abuse of title, along with a Red Interpol arrest warrant, Geilenfeld walks freely in the US.  The DR arrested him last April on the Red Interpol arrest warrant and returned him to the US because the DR and Haiti do not have an extradition agreement.  Didn’t the Haitians get Clifford Brandt extradited?  So it seems like it is possible, unless you are a child abuser.  Is this the Haiti the founding fathers dreamed about in 1804 when they were fighting for freedom?  I doubt it.  This is a disgrace, and shameful.  There are so many in high places covering this up.

This includes members of the Haitian Diaspora, who should be fighting for the children of Haiti.  

The Pennsylvania based NGO, Church of Bible Understanding, founded by the late millionaire evangelical “cult” leader Stewart Trail generates nearly $7 million per year to operate it’s unlicensed orphanages.  It also has two airplanes to bring mission trips to the country.  No background checks are done on visitors to the orphanages that usually double as guest houses to supplement income to cover expenses.  Some of these come as sex tourists, while disguising their intentions as missionaries.  This practice of opening orphanages up as guest houses is common in Haiti.

It has been reported that Trail’s church was accused of enticing 17 youth out of a shelter in New York with promises of “salvation” in 1983.  A New York State court stopped them from transporting youth under the age of 18 without parental permission.  This sounds like trafficking, and yet he went to Haiti to run an orphanage?  It seems like they have all started a club in Haiti to do their nasty deeds, to the detriment of innocent children who are orphaned or abandoned.  These children are told to just, “smile and make it believable” if the “blanc” shows up.  

We need immediate action on these crimes of negligence that led to the fire, and those who are responsible need to go to jail!  No American in Haiti should be above the law….ever!  Advocates have learned that Mr. Osner Fevry, the Haitian Attorney representing the orphanage, who is also working with the government of Jovenel Moise, are working closely with the US Embassy to cover up liability.  The US Embassy has known for years about the substandard conditions in Haitian orphanages run by Americans, and turned a blind eye. Perhaps Ambassador Michele Sisson should have been discussed that during her weekly luncheons with Haitian President Jovenel Moise. The Ambassador boasted that she and the president discussed economic development during those meetings.  Clearly, based on economic indicators for Haiti, that has not been the case.  I believe high school students could do a better job with economic development than these burocrats. The orphanage should have insurance that would help cover the cost of the funerals.  Child advocates are looking into this further.  

With the exception of  the IBESR Director Arielle Villadroin’s comments on the tragedy, there has been radio silence from the US  Embassy, the Haitian Minister of Justice Roody Aly or the NGO in Pennsylvania.  Calls made to the NGO’s office from the number on their website went to another business.  IBESR, claims they do not have enough funding to inspect the 750+ orphanages.  They admitted only 35 were licensed.  Last year, in a letter from Senator Marco Rubio, of the Senate Appropriations committee, I was informed the Government of Haiti had been given $24 million to address the human trafficking problem.  USAID gave a $5 million grant to Chemonics.  Todate, this money is not to be found, and nothing has been done.  I am calling on the Director of IBESR to step down from her position immediately, and get someone in that position who has compassion for children, and wants to get to work to fix this broken system.  

Does it not seem strange that all these Americans who had no previous experience with child care, all arrive in Haiti ready to operate orphanages?  Andrew Perera, the American who was at the orphanage fire, was probably making at a minimum $1000 per month, excluding room and board.  That is three times what a policeman or Haitian medical doctor earns.  Is it really helping Haiti to have an American come and operate an orphanage and take a well paying job from a Haitian?  This is a huge problem, that needs to be addressed immediately before we write about another catastrophe

ICRAS applauds President Trumps Presidential Decrees on Human Trafficking.  This is good to raise awareness about the problem.

But what good is another presidential decree or another law if it is not enforced, and creates more “mercenary” aid workers?  That is the last thing that will solve this problem.  Grace Farm used their grants to build a $5 million dollar building.  $290 million was given to Thorn to distribute software, Ashton Kutcher’s for profit software company developed.  Thorn is working with Rotary to raise awareness.  No one is talking about the damage done every single day this continues.  I have literally been screaming about this since I found out about it in May 2011.  I have traveled to speak to anyone who would listen, because to me, every child matters.  We can and must do better.  A nicely choreographed signing ceremony of the latest Executive Order, turned my stomach.  While everyone was doing selfies, children in these orphanages are being neglected and abused.  There must be an immediate call to action for these children. This did not happen overnight, and it will not be fixed overnight. Please contact me if you would like to help this cause.