For nearly eight years, Jamie and Ali McMutrie ran an orphanage in Port-au-Prince. Although most of the children for whom they cared were in the process of being adopted abroad, Jamie and Ali treated them like family and formed close relationships with many of the children’s birth families as well.
Imagine. As a parent, you lose your job. Without a savings account, without a credit card, without a family member to help you maintain your current lifestyle, what would you do to save your home? To keep your children? To keep your family fed? Now imagine doing this in a developing nation. This is Haiti.
For years, Haitian culture has maintained that placing a child in an orphanage if a family member cannot properly care for the baby for any reason – the loss of a job, temporary or extended illness, inability to pay bills, the death of a parent – is the best thing for the child.
That orphanage was severely damaged in the January 2010 earthquake, leaving Jamie, Ali, and the children homeless. In the traumatic aftermath, they kept all of the children safe while aggressively advocating for the evacuation of those already in the process of being adopted. Their passionate pleas for the children led to a coordinated effort by federal, state, and local government officials that brought the children to their new homes.
In the months that followed, Jamie and Ali returned to Haiti, dedicating themselves to a new mission with a stronger vision: helping families in Haiti — to put, as the name of the organization suggests, Haitian families first. We provide options for finding employment, supplying nutritional needs, providing assistance with children’s educations, and offering health and wellness services to help struggling families tend to immediate needs that will lift them from poverty and help them toward self-sustainability.
We believe that rather than give up parental rights, there are options to care for the child through the social services we provide. Our three main programs are interconnected to thoroughly and holistically serve families, helping them find self-sustainability from the root of poverty.
Haitian Families First works toward helping poor parents and birth families keep their children with them, in their families where they belong, and out of institutions. This type of assistance – grassroots, one family at a time assistance – lifts a family from the ground up, helping to eradicate poverty at its root, by offering social services that do not exist, otherwise. Poverty orphans who would before face life without a birth family who loves them now have the opportunity to stay with their families thanks to the support of Haitian Families First.
Our Staff in Haiti:
Three amazing women who have lifted themselves from incredible situations, who have benefited from HFF programs, now act as leaders in their communities, and trusted staff members and friends to us.
Junia is just the kind of woman who has been touched by Jamie and Ali’s work. Raising two daughters on her own without the aid of their father, who was abusive to her, Junia lost her job as a cook at one of Haiti’s few beach resorts when the company unexpectedly downsized. With no one to help her, she thought she would have to place one of her daughters in an orphanage while she looked for work to support her other daughter. She thought she had no other choice.
But thankfully, Jamie and Ali thought differently, and offered Junia a job working for their organization. She’s become an invaluable part of the HFF team, working alongside Jamie and Ali as they distribute aid, assess what help a child or family might need, and work with hospital staff. Junia not only got to keep both daughters with her, she also got to fulfill a life-long dream: to work with children. Jamie and Ali also helped Junia raise the money she needed to send her daughters to school, something many women like Junia cannot afford to do. Although she a busy, hard-working, single mother, Junia recently took into her care another child, Jeremie, whose mother had died giving birth to him and whose father is unknown. Jeremie needed very special care—he weighed less than 2 pounds at birth—and Junia gave it to him. As she told Jamie and Ali, Junia plans to adopt Jeremie because they helped her, and now it’s her turn. Read more about Junia here
When Jamie and Ali met Jeta in April of 2010, the mother of two had fallen on hard times. Her partner had left her, she had lost her job, and she was struggling to feed her eighteen-month old son, Kervens. Jeta already knew how painful a separation from Kervens would be: she’d already placed her four-year old daughter with another family in Port-au-Prince. After talking with Jeta, it was clear to Jamie and Ali that this was a mother who just needed another option—not relinquishment, not separation, but a chance at self-sufficiency.
Jamie and Ali went to work trying to assess what skills Jeta had to help her achieve that goal, and soon discovered that this mother of two was the perfect HFF jack-all-trades: someone who could help others in many of the ways HFF does. Jeta serves as a nanny to the children we take into care temporarily and as a cook for families who stay with us while they’re in Port-au-Prince getting medical care, etc. for their children. She visits the families of new babies who need encouragement. And she spends many hours in the hospital—comforting abandoned infants until a solution can be found for them, holding the hands of sick children, and helping their families advocate for their children’s care. A dedicated HFF employee, Jeta is also once again raising both of her children and, like Junia, serving as an inspiration to other women who may have fallen on hard times.
Clercine had a good job as a nanny. But when she became pregnant, her employer was no longer interested in employing her—unless she was willing to relinquish her newborn to an orphanage. Opting for certain poverty and an uncertain future, Clercine and her husband—also out of work at the time—took the risk of trying to keep their family together. Clercine already had a four-year old son living away from her with an aunt, and she not only wanted to keep her daughter; she wanted her son back.
Clercine was hired by HFF to run Jamie and Ali’s home—which can be a very, very busy one—and, like Jeta, provide families and children support on Jamie and Ali’s behalf. On weekends, though, Clercine heads to her home in the mountains, which she shares with her husband and her two children, including the son they were once too poor to raise. With a little help from HFF, Clercine and her husband were able to keep their daughter, get back their son, and send both children to school in the hope of an even better tomorrow.