'Their need was great before ¬ó it is desperate now'

Posted 1/21/10

The orphanage is run by Father Jean Bien-aime, who has become a close friend. Many children came to the House of the Children of the Lack when their mothers, unable to feed them, bring them to Father Bien-aime's doorstep. The adopted Haitian-born …

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'Their need was great before ¬ó it is desperate now'


{gallery}01_19_10/haiti{/gallery}Children in this Port-au-Prince, Haiti, orphanage had much more to smile about when this photo was taken a year ago. The orphanage, the House of the Children of the Lack, was leveled when a magnitude-7 earthquake shook Haiti last week. Three couples with roots in Powell have adopted daughters from the orphanage in recent years and have established a foundation, Wish for Haiti, to benefit the children still there. Courtesy photoIt's more than 2,500 miles from Powell to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, but the tragic earthquake that struck Haiti last week rocked three families with strong ties to Powell.Leslie and Jim Christensen, Nick and Tracy Metzler and Doug and Gina Woodson have, during the last several years, all adopted girls from an orphanage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The adopted girls' former orphanage in Haiti, the House of the Children of the Lack, was completely destroyed in the earthquake.

The orphanage is run by Father Jean Bien-aime, who has become a close friend. Many children came to the House of the Children of the Lack when their mothers, unable to feed them, bring them to Father Bien-aime's doorstep. The adopted Haitian-born girls, Sofi, Fena and Linda, were welcomed to their American homes by new brothers and sisters in each household. (See info box detailing the families and their ties to Powell.)

News of Disaster

“I was in the middle of giving piano lessons (when news of the quake came),” Leslie said by phone Thursday from her home outside Denver. “A friend texted me: ‘It's catastrophic. Something terrible, terrible has happened in Haiti.' Jim checked the TV, and we learned what was happening.

“First we felt uncertainty, then loss and heartache. And finally, tears, realizing just how desperate the situation was — how likely that many of the girls (still in the orphanage) were lost.”

Later that evening, Leslie's phone rang as she was driving her daughter Kennedi to study.

“I just knew it was Father (Bien-aime) calling,” she said.

The first words she heard from him were, “Sister Les, Sister Les, we're all OK.”

“I had to pull over so I could stop shaking,” Leslie said. “This is how you come to have a great belief in something other than what we have here.”

Father Bien-aime told her that he and the 27 orphans in his care all had survived; only two girls had minor injuries. But the orphanage was a total loss. Father Bien-aime had taken the children to his cousin's home nearby, and they planned to stay in his yard for the time being.

But Bien-aime and his charges are far from comfortable. Faced with no shelter, no food and water, no medical care and no protection from people and animals, the situation is dire.

According to Leslie, “Now they're on the ground. They're outside, the bugs are swarming them. The dogs are wild and dangerous, and they're everywhere.”

Most Haitian homes have 12-foot walls around their yards, topped with 18-inches of barbed wire, to protect the occupants from intruders.

“The walls have toppled. They provided security from other people, looting, prisoners. We worry about the physical safety of the girls. Father has some young men who act as body-guards, but ... ” Leslie's voice trailed off.

The Beginning

It all began around 2005 when Doug and Gina Woodson began the journey of adopting a child from Haiti. Doug, a dentist, had a patient who connected them with Bien-aime, and they started down the path that has become part of their — and their extended families' — everyday life.

Due to the relatively new rules allowing foreign adoptions in Haiti, the process for Doug and Gina was a long one. It took them nearly two years to get Sofi back to their home in Oklahoma City, where her adopted sister McCall waited.

During that time, other family members traveled to Haiti to offer support and learn about the culture. When Jim and Leslie first journeyed to the island nation, they already knew they eventually would adopt Linda, who would join their daughter Kennedi and son Cole at home in Castle Rock, Colo. On that trip, they would meet Linda in person for the first time.

Sister Tracy and her daughter Brooke traveled to Haiti in October 2006 to provide emotional support for Gina, who was still waiting to take Sofi home. Upon their return, the rest of Tracy's family — husband Nick, daughter Christa and son Jackson — decided that they, too, would adopt a Haitian child. In April 2009, Fena joined their family at home in Steamboat Springs, Colo.

“Father has done such a wonderful job with these kids,” said Leslie. “They don't have many attachment and bonding issues, and you can't believe how they learn. When they say the Haitian are strong, you just can't believe it. We would just fall apart (if we experienced) what they have.”

A Foundation of Hope

According to Leslie, “You fall in love with Haiti in a very different way. And Father is a great man, one that inspires us all to be better.”

Soon after the trio of Sofi, Linda and Fena came to the U.S., their adoptive mothers, all sisters, set up a foundation to provide financial and educational support to the House of the Children of the Lack.

Through the foundation, Wish for Haiti, Father Bien-aime's orphans soon moved from their cramped 900-square foot home to a bigger orphanage. The new building, according to Leslie, seemed like the Taj Mahal to them. The children especially enjoyed the balcony where they could get fresh air.

Then, when Tracy arrived on one trip to find the children sleeping on the tile floor each night, the foundation purchased bunk beds for them.

“They sleep two or three to a bed,” Leslie said, but it's better than the hard, cold floor.

The foundation purchased a refrigerator and meat for the orphanage last summer, and other donors arranged for Culligan to deliver $125 worth of water to the children every month.

With the very basic needs of the children met, the foundation embarked on bigger plans. Wish for Haiti began, with Father Bien-aime, the process of building a new orphanage in the mountains outside Port-au-Prince. According to the Wish for Haiti Web site, a group from the foundation scouted for land in December.

The day before the quake hit, it appeared the group's vision of a larger facility to house 100 children, a school, a medical clinic, a guesthouse for visiting volunteers and a demonstration farm was on track to become a reality.

Then, disaster struck.

Rebuilding a Dream

With the orphanage's building now destroyed, “all the small improvements are gone now,” Leslie said. “They have nothing.”

Sofi, Linda and Fena — safe in the U.S. — are aware of the crises in Haiti.

According to Leslie, the older girls, 12-year-old Fena “greatly understands it. (Haiti) is her home, those are her people. She loves her new family ... but she misses her birth mother and the other girls. Linda (8) has a guarded affection for the girls in Haiti and for Father — she's suspicious at all times, but she definitely knows what's happening.”

The foundation's primary goal in the immediacy is to figure out how to get water to the children — not a simple task.

According to Leslie, “It's a nightmare to navigate (Haiti) when things are good, so my primary concern was telling them (Water Missions International) how to find Father — it's in the middle of nowhere. I'll tell you, the kids are dehydrated every day (under normal circumstances.)”

Tracy and Nick wrote in a letter to family and friends, “When the situation stabilizes, we will move forward on our plans to buy property and build. We have a vision for the orphans in Haiti ... (and we will) do everything in our power to show them there is love and hope for them.”

The Wish for Haiti Web site says that, as of press time, Bien-aime and another friend of the orphanage were able to get a small amount of water to the children. Bien-aime was also able to get medical care for one of the injured in his care. According to the Web site, Bien-aime is concerned about the psychological effects of the earthquake and ensuing devastation on the children.

Small Steps

Wish for Haiti is accepting donations to help the House of the Children of the Lack. One hundred percent of the donated funds go to the 27 orphans at the orphanage.

As Nick and Tracy wrote in their letter to family and friends, “Their need was great before — it is desperate now.”

(Editor's Note: This is the first in a series about the recent catastrophic Haitian earthquake and its effect on three families originally from Powell. Their adopted daughters' former orphanage in Haiti, the House of the Children of the Lack, was completely destroyed in the earthquake.)


Couples Leslie and Jim Christensen, Nick and Tracy Metzler and Doug and Gina Woodson have each adopted a daughter from a Haitian orphanage in recent years. The three women are the daughters of Powell residents Bob and Marlene Gallagher. Jimmy Christensen is the son of Stan and Florence Christensen also of Powell, and Nick Metzler's parents, Wes and Colleen Metzler, also are long-time Powell residents.

Leslie and Jimmy Christensen Family

Cole (17), Kennedi (14)

and Haitian-born Linda (8)

Tracy and Nick Metzler Family

Brooke (14), Haitian-born Fena (12),

Christa (11) and Jackson (7)

Gina and Doug Woodson Family

McCall (8) and Haitian-born Sofi (4)

How to Help

For more information, and the most current status of the children, visit www.wishforhaiti.org.

Checks can be made payable to “Kata Loukan” and mailed to Wish for Haiti, c/o Leslie Christensen, 6312 Holy Cross Lane, Castle Rock, CO 80108