When recess is called, throngs of children in light blue shirts storm out of the school on the grounds of Hope Home. The boys are in khaki pants, the girls in skirts. They call out “mommy,” rushing one by one to give a woman a kiss on the cheek.
The woman, Gladys Thomas, embraces a boy, congratulating him on his latest mark. From now on, she tells him, she doesn’t expect anything under eight out of 10.
Thomas is the president and director of the Foundation for the Children of Haiti, which was founded in 1981. She calls the more than 120 orphans at Hope Home near Port-au-Prince her children. She checks up on them, can recall their early days and names off what they like and don’t like.
When an earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, more than a million people were displaced and tens of thousands of children were orphaned. In the months after, at least a dozen children were handed over to Hope Home’s orphanage, where staff have raised them to have promising futures and Thomas has strived to find the children loving homes, many of them with Canadian families.
Following the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, Hope Home provided care and worked to find the parents of children living at the orphanage. Some were reconnected with aunts, uncles and grandparents; others weren’t.
Thomas — who has four kids of her own, including an adopted son, and five grandchildren — says she looked “into their eyes to see how much they wanted to live. That’s all they were asking.”
“If we have this opportunity to really transform a life, that only God can do, yes, let’s do it,” she says.
Hope Home provides a home, schooling, food and a stable, loving environment for the children.
After saying hello to Thomas, 10-year-old Kettelie huddles up with a group of girls, whispering and laughing, and later joins a competitive game of tag.
When she arrived at Hope Home 10 years ago, Kettelie was nine months old and weighed just nine pounds. Her mother’s hut was destroyed in the earthquake.
For several years, Kettelie’s mother would come to visit her at Hope Home, but she has not returned in three years.
Other children at Hope Home have similar stories to Kettelie: some lost their parents in the 2010 earthquake, while others were orphaned by different circumstances and still others have living parents who are unable to care for them.
Gaby and his mother survived the earthquake. He was a frail baby when he was handed over to the orphanage.
“His mother was never to be found again,” Thomas says.
Rebecca was also given up. Her mother was living with HIV and died shortly after the earthquake. The orphanage was unable to locate any of her relatives.
Gary was six months old when his mother handed him over. His mother now lives in a tent and has no means to care for her son. When he goes to visit his mother, she can’t afford to feed Gary or send him to school.
Marie-Ange’s family died in the earthquake. Their bodies were never found.
Over the last 35 years, Thomas says between 600 and 1,000 children from Hope Home have been adopted by Canadian families.
Thad and Sharon Newman were the first Canadians to adopt a child from the orphanage in 1986, beginning the process to bring Jessica home with them the year before. Three years after they began the process of adopting Jessica, the Newmans adopted Annie. The couple raised their two daughters and two biological sons in Richmond, B.C.
The Foundation for the Children of Haiti includes an orphanage, a school and a hospital. It’s funded in part by donations from Canadians. In 1993, the Newmans and other adoptive parents in Canada started a charity to support the work of the Foundation for the Children of Haiti.
The Canadian Foundation for the Children of Haiti is a grassroots organization that has mainly grown through word of mouth and is supported by individuals and local church congregations. The not-for-profit organization raises funds for the Foundation for the Children of Haiti and supports a team of medical professionals who provide services at the orphanage.
Thad Newman says the Foundation for the Children of Haiti’s response in helping children after the earthquake 10 years ago “reflected the values they live by every day… doing whatever they can, regardless of the personal cost, to make a difference in Haiti.”
He says that even when the orphanage was full, it worked to provide food and shelter for other families impacted by the earthquake.
Annie, one of the Newmans’ children, was adopted when she was six months old. While she didn’t grow up at Home Hope, she still calls Thomas “mommy.” Thomas was her first caregiver and gave Annie her last name in order for her to be adopted.
“She has always been an example of what it truly means to love with all of your heart and to serve and care for those in need, and to me, that is exactly what a mommy does,” Annie says.
Ultimately, Thomas says she wants the same thing for all of the children at Hope Home: to support and help them become independent adults through education and skill-building.