Byemoor woman, family eye ‘heartbreaking poverty’

For Byemoor native Loretta (nee Knowles) James, her family’s visit to a Haitian orphanage was everything she expected and more.

Including mother Loretta James of Byemoor

Including mother Loretta James of Byemoor

For Byemoor native Loretta (nee Knowles) James, her family’s visit to a Haitian orphanage was everything she expected and more.

“There was lots of good out of it all,” she said of the 10-day visit to the impoverished country, but added, “There were some unexpected challenges.”

Loretta James, along with husband Trevor and children Taycla, 10, Ethne, 9, and Jack, 7, arrived home in Edmonton last week after an experience that none will likely soon forget. Loretta James said the kids at the orphanage had never seen Caucasian kids previously, and being inquisitive as kids are, swarmed closely around her children. She said the James’ youngest child found that attention “a bit overwhelming.”

Not all the repairs have been done to the orphanage since the hurricane in 2010 devastated that country, James said. She said their living accommodation at the orphanage — located about two hours out of Port-au- Prince — was little more than a granary, by Canadian standards. There are no locks on the doors and the first morning the James family awoke to find “four little brown faces peering at them through the door.”

Another unexpected wake-up call for the city-dwelling James family was a rooster crowing at 5:30 a.m.

James said her children dealt with the contrasting lifestyle well.

“They were real troopers,” she said, and took things like bug-bites in stride. The James children interacted with the orphanage children while their parents assisted with the day-to-day routine of the orphanage and helped organize supplies. The large amount of supplies the James family brought to the orphanage was well-received and put to immediate use.

James said a young mother brought her baby to the orphanage because she wasn’t able to nurse it and couldn’t afford formula. She thought her only option was to give up the baby. Fortunately, among the supplies the James brought was some breast-feeding equipment that “had the baby feeding in no time,” James said.

On a few occasions, the Canadian family took a walk outside the orphanage compound. James said the family discovered that homes were bare, many with dirt floors, and kids had no shoes.

Something that stood out was there was no waste management and no recycling programs to return water bottles.

The education system in Haiti is quite different, James said. School runs only during the morning and for four days a week. It’s a private system for those who can afford it. Some families can’t afford to send all their kids to school, and many alternate by sending one child one year and another the next year. Sometimes, there might be a 17-year-old in Grade 1, because the family couldn’t afford it before.

“It was heartbreaking to see poverty in that way,” she said. Loretta said the toughest challenge on the trip was dealing with the helpless feeling “you can’t do more.”

The orphanage has its own school with a U.S. teacher volunteering. English is taught in the school, as some orphans end up being adopted by English-speaking families.

James said her children bonded with the orphans and considered them as friends. The orphanage director told her the orphans learned valuable social skills from the James children.

“It was a learning experience for both,” James said.

A new orphanage is being constructed, but progress is slow due to the limited availability of modern technology, James said.

The visit to Haiti left a lasting impression on the James children. James said their middle child, Ethne, “got teary about leaving.” She told her mother, “I want to work in an orphanage someday.”

James said the family is uncertain if they’ll return to Haiti. She said they would have to weigh the cost to travel there with giving that amount in financial aid and consider what option would do more good.

When they prepared to leave, they took a bus on a two-hour journey to Portau- Prince. A 10-month-old girl that had been brought to the orphanage in October suffering with malnutrition was still struggling to regain health and weighed only seven pounds. Staff brought the infant along on the bus to visit a clinic in the city, as the orphanage didn’t know how else to help the child. On a sad note, the James family learned on their return to Canada that the child had died.

James said there’s “such contrast” between the two countries and their family is “so grateful” for what Canada offers.