Christella & Lourdia

Christella & Lourdia

Lourdia

In 2011, Christella approached me, and tears poured down her face, tumbling off of her chin as her body shook uncontrollably. Her hair was short and faded from malnutrition. Her clothes were too large for her, and consisted of a torn t-shirt with a rag she’d tied into a skirt. Her feet were bony and bare.

I asked the fragile 13 year old girl to make her way to the bushes behind the orphanage, just north of Port au Prince, Haiti. Without a question, she nodded and walked into the bushes.

I ventured in the opposite direction, taking a detour around the perimeter of the orphanage before eventually joining Christella behind the bushes.

What happened?” I asked. Christella was shaking and shook her head. She couldn’t put words together. “Show me,” I suggested. “Show me what she did to you.”

Christella rolled her slight fingers into angry fists and brought them to her head, indicating she’d been punched. She made slapping motions across her face. Each gesture ripped through my heart as I imagined the overweight orphanage owner attacking this child. Each time I thought Christella had finished showing me the abuse she’d suffered, she continued with yet another offense. Christella took handfulls of the skin on her stomach and made rough twisting motions. Her body still shook, yet her tears had slowed.

“No one EVER has the right to treat you this way,” I said, taking Christella’s cold hands into mine. I was terrified as this child’s sense of self worth was demolished before my eyes. How will she ever value herself and have hope, if she is simply treated as a punching bag? “What that woman did to you was wrong. No one has the right to ever punch, or hit, or pinch, or hurt you. And you shouldn’t have to live like this. Adults are supposed to protect children, not hurt them. I want to protect you.” Christella nodded.

“Morgan,” Christella said – staring unwaveringly into my eyes “I don’t want to live here.”

Christella was one of 75 children living in an exploitative, for-profit orphanage; and the orphanage owner was her abuser. Christella , her best friend Lourdia, and all girls over 8 years old were treated as slaves and forced to work: they cared for the other children; did all the cooking; and cleaned the orphanage owner’s home. What Christella and Lourdia didn’t know, however, was that I’d already begun collecting evidence and contacting authorities to advocate to shut down this horrifically corrupt orphanage – and to move the children elsewhere.

I nodded. “Ok,” I said, “I will do everything I can to get you out. But it may take some time. I need you to know I won’t give up on you, even if it takes time.”

“I don’t care if it takes 5 years!” She said.

Who knew that 3 years later, I’d find myself on a four hour hike up the beautiful, lush mountainside, 7 hours South of this orphanage… on my way to visit Christella at her parents’ home! In July 2014, that’s exactly what I did.

A few months earlier, local social services (IBESR) had closed the corrupt orphanage in which Christella, Lourdia, and generations of other children – had been exploited and abused!

This took 3 years of advocacy, but it happened. Christella, Lourdia, and the other children remaining in the orphanage were reunited with their families! As I made my way to visit Christella and Lourdia I recalled the moment I promised Christella she wouldn’t be trapped forever. I had not seen her since August 2011. I had not been able to visit or speak with her.

Countless times over the last three years, I’d been devastated by my lack of communication with the children trapped in this orphanage. At times they seemed like a dream – constantly in my mind; such vivid images – yet I was never able to hold them. I imagined that they must think I’ve given up on them. They must think that once again, they’d been abandoned and left to fend for themselves.

Climbing over one more steep hill, I looked up to see two beautiful girls, munching on fresh grapefruit. The battered 13 year olds I’d left in 2011 had blossomed into beautiful, smiling young women! They were free!

Both Christella and Lourdia’s and parents sat in a circle with my Outreach worker and me. Christella and Lourdia each sat on one side of my lap. We had a wonderful meeting, sharing information about what the girls went through; how they came to be in the orphanage; and what their situation is like now that they’ve been reunited with their families.

“I’d tried to go get her, ” Christella’s mother explained. “But each time I went to the orphanage, the owner said I’d have to pay her. She said she’d be losing money if I took Christella back, so I’d have to pay her to make up for it.”

When we hear the word ‘orphanage’, we do not typically envision mothers being told they have to buy back their children. But this is happenig right now.
I was about to leave this surreal visit with Christella and Lourdia, I had to ask them one question: “Did you think I’d forgotten about you? I never ever gave up on you; I thought of you every single day.”

The girls shook their heads. “We knew you’d never give up on us.” 

Christella
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