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Responding When Helping Hurts

Responding When Helping Hurts

This past Saturday, my boss called me with sobering news: the Haitian orphanage our organization, Adventures in Missions, had been working with was trafficking children.

This is the kind of news that feels like a punch straight to the gut. It hurts, makes you feel powerless. Yet, if you’re going to give your life to compassionate living, it’s an inevitability. Eventually, you’re going to get ripped off, disappointed and even humiliated.

The Story

For the past 15 months, we and five other partnering organizations have been investigating the Son of God Orphanage in Carrefour, Haiti. It began with multiple groups making return short-term visits to the orphanage and noticing children were disappearing.

This weekend, we confirmed our suspicions: the children were being trafficked, and the evidence points back to the orphanage. As part of a police-led operation in July, the director was convicted and imprisoned for trafficking. Haitian investigators have told our team the evidence suggests the children’s organs are being trafficked, as well.

Numerous photos reveal extreme physical abuse and neglect for the children still at the orphanage. Both American and Haitian doctors have documented cases of severe burns and broken bones. As this was brought to our attention, some of our team members had to act.

One aid worker said: “The kids are in terrible condition; the doctor gave them some prescriptions, but we doubt that the medicine will ever be administered to the children. Instead, the medicine will probably be sold.”

On Oct. 10, American volunteers visited the Son of God and removed children with late-stage starvation from the premises, bringing them to local doctors. The doctors said that without such intervention, the children could have died.

After bringing these facts to the attention of government officials, several people received threats from those associated with the current orphanage leadership–documented by the Haitian police.

The Hardest Part of Rejecting Apathy

The situation is dire. Children are disappearing. One little girl weighed in at the doctor at a mere 14 pounds. Soon after, her weight dropped another three pounds. She is 5 years old. And she recently disappeared.

In light of these facts and overwhelmed by the resistance to our attempts to help, I was tempted to despair.

Instead, I wrote a short call-to-action on my blog (along with many others). We asked friends, colleagues and strangers to use social media to raise awareness. In just four days, 8,000 people have signed an online petition, asking CNN to cover the story, putting pressure on the Haitian government to respond.

Several orphan care organizations are ready to take the 75 children that remain at the orphanage. The issue is working through the corruption. Frankly, the thought of what still has to happen is overwhelming. And the unlikelihood of success terrifies me.

But that isn’t the whole story.

Fortunately, light is breaking through the darkness. After long, tireless nights of appeals on blogs and Facebook and Twitter, it looks like something might actually change.

A CNN producer has responded to our appeals, as have several reporters and producers from the AP and other news groups.

These are the breakthroughs we hope for. But they don’t always come. So when circumstances seem dire, we must hold on to the idea that change is possible.

It’s easy to be bitter, to roll our eyes dismissively at feeble American attempts to help the developing world. But this may be the simplest yet hardest way to reject apathy: to have hope.

Whatever you do, wherever you are today, trying to live out compassion in a real and practical way, that’s my prayer for you: Have hope.

Jeff Goins is a writer who lives in Nashville. Visit him at

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