How Are Haiti and Bulgaria the Same?
A traditional Roma "bride market" in Bulgaria. Photo by BGNES
By Dr. Jane Aronson, Pediatrician and CEO, Worldwide Orphans Foundation
This morning a sweet young girl came into the World Wide Oprhans (WWO) office in Kenscoff, Haiti and stated that she needed to give her child up and put him in an orphanage. Jacqueline, a trained WWO youth worker, and Melissa, our program manager, talked with her for about an hour.
Christelle is 19 years old and lives with her grandmother in Kenscoff, a mountainous community of 30,000 people, nine miles south of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Her father left when she was very young to be with another woman. Her mother, who got pregnant at 14 years of age, abandoned Christelle when she was only 8 years old. Christelle stayed in school up to the eighth grade.
At 16 years old, she became pregnant and had her first and only child, a boy named Erickson, who will be 3 years old on January 1, 2013. The father of the child has not taken any responsibility to help with Erickson.
Plan of Action
At the end of the meeting with Christelle we:
Planned another meeting with her for Monday, December 3, at 12:30 p.m. We will invite her to become a volunteer with WWO, where she will learn new parenting and life skills, earn a small income, and get to be connected one-to-one with her child (through the Toy Library) to facilitate a healthy bond between mother and child.
I have just returned from Sofia, Bulgaria where I had a whirlwind series of meetings to learn more about WWO programs, and to meet with the Corporate Social Responsibility team from a corporation, Dundee Precious Metals, in Chelopech outside of Sofia, Bulgaria. One of my meetings was also with UNICEF, who WWO will be partnering with in Shoumen using a mobile Toy Library as part of a comprehensive community outreach program to improve parenting skills, prevent orphaning and to bring play to Roma (gypsy) children who have been abandoned and/or relinquished to orphanages.
During my meeting with UNICEF, I was given two incredibly powerful scholarly articles describing the social structure of Roma culture for young women. Statistical analysis of very young women's lives are dominated by early marriage and multiple pregnancies with rampant child abandonment.
It is all the same around the world. Christelle's story of abandonment in Haiti, and the early pregnancies of her mother and herself, are dominant themes in the world. The extreme poverty in Roma ghettos in Bulgaria leads to the same social chaos we see in Haiti.
Child abandonment is about poverty and the desperation that ensues. Young women are not educated and able to make their own decisions. They are abused and used by men who are also uneducated, depressed, angry and powerless.
I think that we have arrived at the heart of where we can do the most to help make change in the world. It is organic and full of the ugly truth about human nature, but this work is pure and the only way to make the sweeping changes needed to right the balance and pave the way, for at-risk children who deserve to grow up learning intimacy, respect and feeling the love of a permanent family. All of the resources in a community must be part of a coordinated effort to create and improve economic strength, and provide education for all to rebuild community by community so that families can be once again be reunified, intact and the bulwarks of society.
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