‘We gave them away’ say parents of ‘kidnapped’ Haitians
“I would like to give up my son again,” says Anchello Cantave, a farmer here, who willingly handed over his five-year-old to US missionaries now facing charges of child abduction in Haiti’s post-quake chaos.
An hour outside of the devastated Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, Callebasse is a poor town set in the mountains, where a massive 7.0-magnitude earthquake on January 12 destroyed 50 homes.
Just two days later, 10 American missionaries from the US state of Idaho arrived in town.
To impoverished parents desperate to give their children a better future, they offered the promise of something more — but they also represented the children as orphans when they tried to take them across the border to the Dominican Republic.
Cantave, 36, is convinced that the Americans had only good intentions.
“It’s better for our children to stay with strangers in a foreign country,” he told AFP.
But Haitian authorities have been less forgiving.
After the group was detained trying to cross in the Dominican Republic with 33 children on January 29, they now faces charges of child abduction and criminal association.
“The Americans took the children with permission from us, the parents,” said Fritzian Valmont, the father of three daughters aged 11, eight and two.
“If they had had a big bus that could have taken more children, even more would have gone,” he added, with all the pride of a parent trying to secure the best future for his daughter.
A few feet away from Cantave and Valmont sat Jean Ricia Geffrand, a widowed mother of five and a grandmother at just 47.
“The Thursday after the quake a man named Issac who is from near here came and asked if we wanted our children to go with them to a school in the Dominican Republican, where they would be better off than here,” she said.
The man is believed to have come from a neighboring town and was working as a translator for the American missionaries.
Next to Geffrand sat Saurentha Muran, 25, who cradled her two-year-old daughter Magdalenne in her arms.
She consulted her husband in trying to decide whether their daughter Ansitho should go with the missionaries.
“We discussed it and I asked (my children)… if they wanted to go to school in the Dominican Republic and they said they wanted to go,” said Muran, who like everyone here adds that they received no money for handing over their children.
“We gave them away, and the only reason we want to take them back now is that we have many problems with the media,” said Valmont, to nods of agreement from others close by.
“If, after the trial, the Americans can come and take the children again, we would agree to it,” added Cantave, who is thinking about visiting his son this week at the SOS Children’s Villages, a charitable organization taking care of the 33 children, to clear up the situation.
The children range in age from between two months to 12 years old. SOS Children’s Villages has confirmed their names.
Muran said she would take Ansitho back if she wants to come, but she fears it wants be for the best. She can barely take care of her two-year-old Magdalenne and is eight months pregnant.
Most of Callebasse’s residents are Baptists, but they say they had no idea what religion the Americans were, they simply hoped they would offer their children a better life.
The 10 Americans belongs to the New Life Children’s Refuge, a Christian religious organization whose Haiti mission statement says they planned to “rescue Haitian orphans abandoned on the streets, makeshift hospitals or from collapsed orphanages.”