ROCHESTER, New York — As the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, roughly 80% of Haiti’s population lives on less than $2 per day. With such astronomical poverty levels, along with rampant gang violence, political instability, minimal access to healthcare and more, children in Haiti suffer the consequences.
In 2012, Miranda Bammert-Zahn adopted two girls in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. After learning that the orphanage that had cared for her daughters, Maison des Anges (MdA) was in danger of closing its doors, she co-founded the Switzerland-based foundation “Förderverein Maison des Anges” to “avert the closure [of MdA]and to ensure that the children of the home could grow up in safety.” Now, it fundraises year-round to provide care, food, medical attention and schooling for the children in Haiti housed there. Miranda recalled, “One day, our girls will ask us what happened to the orphanage. To say we didn’t do anything was not okay.”
Miranda, co-founder Victoria Hanssen, and Carline Bazin, Director of the Laddo International School in Port-au-Prince, spoke with The Borgen Project to discuss the importance of their work.
When Haiti ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child in 2014, it interrupted the adoption procedures and they ultimately came to a halt. Adoptions primarily financed MdA, along with most children’s homes in Haiti. Without this, the home was in danger of closing and leaving the 120 children housed there on the street, Miranda explained.
She learned of this while revisiting MdA, and spoke with her long-time friend and nurse, Victoria, about what they could do to help. Victoria Hansson, one of the co-founders, confessed, “In the beginning, we were not sure. We thought somebody should do something, but we were not sure that it should be us. But…we decided that we had too much heart for these children, and had to do something…we never thought we would be where we are today.”
Now, Miranda runs the foundation alongside her husband, Markus Bammert. Victoria handles all matters concerning health; in 2017 she flew to Port-au-Prince to provide support to the orphanage during a tuberculosis outbreak.
Carline Bazin met Miranda and Victoria in 2014 and they soon discovered their shared vision for supporting children in Haiti. Raised in a single-parent family in the Grand Ravine district, Carline saw firsthand the numerous problems that children in Haiti experience on a daily basis. Schipperts, a Swiss missionary family sponsored her and she studied education and earned a Master’s degree in social psychology. In 2018, she founded Laddo International School with backing from the MdA foundation. As the director, Carline oversees the operations of the institution.
What Obstacles Do Haitian Children Face Today?
Political unrest, gang violence and overwhelming poverty in Haiti are constant sources of instability. Carline recounted frequent armed struggles, thievery, violence and sexual assault, highlighting that the crime rate is at its peak, with authorities either ineffective or non-existent. “All of these things affect children tremendously. They have no right to leisure. Children should be heedless of the vicissitudes of life. But in Haiti, they are afraid of tomorrow. Haitian children are deprived of their childhood,” she explained.
Schools had to close, unable to guarantee the safety of their students. Nevertheless, Laddo School has remained open, as children in Haiti often get their only meal of the day at school. Carline remarked that recently, more schools have opened, but children attend in their daily clothes rather than their uniforms. While usually mandatory, wearing uniforms has made students targets for gangs.
Though school attendance is compulsory in Haiti, the State runs less than 20% of schools, leaving over 80% to private institutions that require tuition, MdA reported on its website. Miranda lamented, “A school year costs between $50-$100 per month. A lot of poor families earn about $100 per month and with that, they have to buy food, so there’s no money left for education.” In primary schools, the average enrollment rate is 57%, dropping to just 20% in secondary schools.
Miranda, Victoria and Carline agree that education reform can be the catalyst for reshaping the political system, slowing birth rates and minimizing poverty in Haiti.
How Do MdA and Laddo School Help?
Children come to MdA for various reasons. Victoria explained, “we have children who have lost both of their parents, or whose parents abandoned them and we found them naked on the street…but there are also a lot of children that were given to the orphanage by the mother.” Rather than risk her child being sold into sex slavery or face domestic violence, the mother will give them to an orphanage “in the hope that they get adopted into the States or Europe to make a good life possible for her children.”
“The best thing MdA can give to children is that they can live in security, not on the streets…to give them medical help, and allow them to go to school,” Miranda remarked. “If it were not for MdA, many children would have died or had to experience terrible things.”
The MdA foundation has also partnered with other organizations to sponsor mothers. “We have found that when a mother comes in for the first time with her baby and wants to give it up because she doesn’t have the money to raise it if we support this mother, she normally doesn’t have any more children. If we refuse, she may only have prostitution to earn money, which results in more babies…it is always our goal that a child can stay in their biological family if it is possible,” Victoria explained.
Improving the School
The MdA foundation has invested in a school bus, dormitory, classrooms and more for the orphanage, covering about 70% of the total costs. At Laddo School, the foundation covers 98% of costs and was recently able to construct a new classroom building. Furthermore, they have employed a social worker to make home visits and wellness checks for the 200 students.
The Laddo School is unique because its educational objectives cover more than traditional school subjects. Carline’s pupils are taught “how to stay healthy, what to do when they are sick, how to create their own disinfectants, how to clean water” and more. Workshops on carpentry, technology and textiles ensure students learn practical trades for income. Discussing her educational philosophy, Carline said, “with the Schippert family I learned sympathy, generosity and the valuing of man above all else. I want to be able to communicate all of these values to my students.”
In May 2022, gang violence forced MdA to evacuate all children because their security was no longer guaranteed. Now living on a small farm in the countryside, the children are safe. However, the infrastructure is insufficient for the number of inhabitants. Miranda and Victoria described a barn, intended for 10 people, housing over 100 children and staffers. Mattresses on the barn floor serve as bedding, with three children per mattress. The small kitchen doesn’t have the equipment for cooking for a number of people. Electricity is unreliable and bedbugs and diseases plague the group.
The foundation is currently fundraising to build several small houses on the property. These children will stay in the countryside, while employees work in Port-au-Prince to secure the orphanage and eventually reopen for new inhabitants. Victoria added, “we definitely won’t run out of children that are in need.”
The Work That Matters
Miranda admitted that sometimes people will say it’s needless to help, because Haiti is hopeless. “The problems are so big. Why bother? It’s for nothing.” In response, she shared a story:
A man was walking along a beach when he noticed a young boy picking up a starfish and throwing it back into the ocean. He asked the boy what he was doing, saying, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You won’t make a difference.” The boy then bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Turning to the man, he smiled and said, “to that one, it made all the difference.”
Miranda explained that they view their work with this mindset. For each child they can help, it makes a world of difference. Victoria added, “In Haiti, a lot of people talk, but when it comes time to act, they are gone. People have confidence in us because it’s not just hot air. When we say we help, we do help.”
Organizations like Förderverein Maison des Anges prove that anyone can create change. Fighting poverty often seems like an impossible endeavor, but this foundation shows that even the smallest effort is one worth making.
– Carly Ryan Brister
Photo: Courtesy of the Author