Villagers assert they sent their children with Baptists
Americans vowed no adoptions, but better life, they say
CALLEBAS, Haiti - Parents in this struggling village above Haiti’s capital said yesterday that they willingly handed their children to American missionaries who showed up in a bus promising to give them a better life - contradicting statements by the Baptist group’s leader that the children came from orphanages and distant relatives.
The 10 Baptists, most from Idaho, were arrested last week trying to take 33 Haitian children into the Dominican Republic without the required documents, according to outraged Haitian officials, who have called them child traffickers.
An investigating magistrate was questioning the five men yesterday after interrogating the women a day earlier. A district attorney will determine whether to file charges, officials said.
The Haitian parents said in an interview that they surrendered their children on Jan. 28, two days after a local orphanage worker, acting on behalf of the Baptists, convened nearly the entire village of about 500 people on a dirt soccer pitch to present the Americans’ offer.
The orphanage worker, Issac Adrien, said he told the villagers their children would be educated at a home in the Dominican Republic so that they might eventually return to take care of their families.
Many parents jumped at the offer. The village school had collapsed and their homes were destroyed in Haiti’s Jan. 12 quake. They had no money to feed the children, they said.
“It’s only because the bus was full that more children didn’t go,’’ said Melanie Augustin, a 58-year-old who gave her 10-year-old daughter, Jovin, to the Americans.
Adrien said he brought the Americans to this mountain village where people scrape by growing carrots, peppers, and onions. He said he met their leader, Laura Silsby of Boise, Idaho, at a school in Port-au-Prince two days earlier.
Silsby said she was looking for homeless children, Adrien said, adding that he went that very day to talk to the parents in Callebas.
In a jailhouse interview Saturday, Silsby told the Associated Press that most of the children had been delivered to the Americans by distant relatives, while some came from orphanages that had collapsed in the quake.
The missionaries’ lawyer, Jorge Puello, said yesterday that the Americans “willingly accepted kids they knew were not orphans because the parents said they would starve otherwise.’’
The parents of four children taken by Silsby said the Americans took down contact information for all the families and assured them that a relative would be able to visit them in the Dominican Republic.
Silsby’s Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho, had begun planning last year to build an orphanage, school, and church in Magante, on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic. Their plan was to work with US adoption agencies to find “loving Christian parents’’ for Haitian and Dominican children. When the quake struck, the church members decided to act immediately.
Adrien said he had no knowledge of the group’s larger plans; villagers said they were told that none of their children would be offered for adoption.
The children, ranging in age from 2 to 12, are now being cared for at the Austrian-run SOS Children’s Village in Port-au-Prince. An official there, Patricia Vargas, said none of the children who were old enough to talk had said they were parentless. “Up until now we have not encountered any who say they are an orphan,’’ she said.
Meanwhile, hunger led to anger in Haiti’s capital yesterday as hundreds of protesters marched through the streets, accusing local officials of demanding bribes for donated food.
Aid workers say that food and other supplies are now flowing into the country three weeks after the quake, but that red tape, fear of ambush, transportation bottlenecks, and corruption are keeping it from many people who need it.
Hungry protesters jogged along a broad avenue in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Petionville waving branches and chanting, “They stole the rice!’’