Imagine Missions has been working since 2011 to provide a family and home for over 100 children and young adults in Despinos, Haiti. Through nutrition, education, a trade program, and spiritual and emotional mentoring, Imagine Missions has sought to prepare children and youth living in a pre-existing orphanage (LOCC) for significant and successful adult lives invested in their community. In 2019, we were blessed to connect with Haiti Mama and transition from an orphanage model to one of family reunification and empowerment.
Below is a list of FAQs to further explain why and how!
What is the purpose of these changes?
Eight years ago when Imagine Missions formed to support our pre-existing children’s home, it was presumed that the best and safest thing is to keep children in the orphanage. However, we now can see the global changes in orphan care, and have been researching best practices in childcare.
Research demonstrates the many ways institutional group care harms children in their development and their future chances of success. Studies have shown children in orphanages demonstrate lower cognitive functions (like learning capacity), unhealthy attachment patterns, depression, and anxiety. Because they are contained within orphanage walls, youth growing up in orphanages are and are more prone to abuse and develop fewer social and survival skills within their culture.
Heartbreakingly, we have noted that behaviors in our children match the research.* This has prompted us to pursue both social-emotional care through counseling and improved care and supervision for our children in the form of ‘family units’ within our orphanage in the short-term. Looking at the longer term, we realized that reunification is the best way to connect children with what they need to thrive and experience the love of Jesus. For more information about this, see our recommended reading list at the bottom of this page!
Have you seen some of these behaviors?
Yes. To protect the rights and dignity of our children we will keep their personal stories protected. However, we have sought counseling, medical examinations, and outside organizational support to ensure their safety and success.
What is the relative cost?
The research on orphanages in Haiti as well as around the globe shows that our operating costs can decrease in the long term. In fact, switching to a family empowerment model will allow us to do more for more children. Lumos estimates that the annual funding towards (all) Haitian orphanages is $100 million. Rather than simply supporting 30,000 children, this money, if redirected, could support 770,000 children to go to school. The economics make strong business and social sense given the fact that a primary reason children are given to orphanages is that they might attend school!
Another example: Georgette Mulheir, CEO of Lumos, calculates that given the 30,000 children in orphanages in Haiti and $100 million given, more than $3,300 is spent per child per year. The sad irony, Mulheir says is that if parents in Haiti just had an extra $200 per year to feed, clothe and educate their child, “that child would never go into an orphanage.”
Enlightening fact: In Haiti, Lumos has found that it costs $680 to reunite a child with his or her family and provide that child with support to care for their children. That is comparable to the cost of one mission trip participant's week-long visit to Haiti.
*Of note, COVID-19 and the ongoing impact of Haiti's political instability has contributed to unanticipated increases in almost all costs and unfortunate delays in our family empowerment timelines. However, we will continue to be faithful to our reunified families in the interim as the primary goal is to ensure stability and no risk of another separation of children from their loved ones.
Do these families have the capacity to care for the children? Will the kids be safe? How do we know they won’t go into abusive/poor conditions? What if families do not want their kids back?
Experts in reunification emphasize that the critical component to successful reunification is strong social work follow-up. Social workers will be assessing and preparing both children and families for this process and then completing regular weekly visitations that can be tapered up per the needs of the child and family. With social work assessment, we will be able to identify the primary reasons a child was placed in our care and be able to address those through employment opportunities, housing and medical assistance, disability services, parental training and support groups, legal advice, and continued education and vocational training (at Imagine Missions School and Professional School as able). Haitian social workers are mandatory reporters and will be able to intervene if they note a child is in an unsafe situation.
Can we still visit the kids? Can mission trips continue with these changes?
The scheduling of all trips to Imagine Missions is paused to give our children the time and space to go through changes and get settled into new situations. However, this is NOT goodbye! The relationships you built with the children will still be fostered going forward. As we move towards honoring, respecting, and partnering with entire families, your relationships might extend to include that child’s whole family. While trips to Imagine Missions have yet to be determined, we are excited by the future possibilities.
What will you do about the building investment?
Imagine Missions’ grounds will be utilized by our school! We have over 400 children attending our K-13 school, and as of 2020 have started a school lunch program to aid in food security for our students, keeping at-risk families together. Our students’ many family members in our community may attend Professional School, and enriching training on our grounds so they themselves and their families can flourish.
The new buildings being constructed on the new land will provide an incredible opportunity for expansion and eventual accreditation of our Professional School which will be crucial to parent empowerment towards family sustainability.
If kids are in families, what is Imagine Missions main purpose?
Now more than ever, our programming is crucial to changing lives and creating hope in Despinos and beyond! We will operate Imagine Missions School (of over 400 students!), revamp Professional School, closely monitor family reunification transitions to ensure child wellness, and provide family strengthening programs to help parents reach full family self-sustainability!
Have we funded work that harms children?
We are finding that we are not unique- we fall in the same category as other orphanages in Haiti and unfortunately, the research shows that no matter how loving an environment we attempt to create, an institution is an institution and a family is better. Your contributions have allowed us to improve our children’s lives through stronger and stronger education at Imagine Missions School, drastically improved nutrition, experiences like beach trips, movie nights, sports, music, dance, and camps, and church and Bible study attendance. Unfortunately, our environment still cannot protect our children from the risks of institutionalization and those things, while wonderful, still cannot replace family. We are grateful we discovered this together as a leadership team so that we can do better for our children and truly instill the love and hope of Jesus in their lives.
We encourage you to continue leaning in and learning with us. We recognize there is nuance to this work, and prayerfully continue to seek God's guidance and research-based methods whenever possible. We also trust the expertise of our Haitian Child Welfare Specialist. Some books we have found interesting and helpful to learn about Haiti and orphan care along the way:
1) The Orphan Gospels - Shelley Jean
2) Slow Kingdom Coming - Kent Annan
3) The Big Truck That Went By - Jonathan M. Katz
4) In Pursuit of Orphan Excellence - Keith McFarland and Philip Darke
5) When Helping Hurts - Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett
6) Miracle on Voodoo Mountain - Megan Boudreaux
There are many other books on aid in Haiti and orphan care, but these each touch on many things we have learned in a unique way. Always feel free to reach out to Melissa with further recommendations for our Imagine Family!