Children from Haiti orphanage expected to fly to U.S.

Published: Friday, Jan. 22 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

"Close to 100" children who have been camping at a badly broken orphanage in Port-au-Prince are expected to fly to the United States this weekend to be united with the American families who are adopting them. None of the adoptive families are in Utah.

The orphans from the Maison Des Enfants de Dieu — the House of the Children of God — have been on a roller coaster since the earthquake Jan.12. And even as their sponsors and friends celebrate good news, they're braced for bad, because the children's precarious situation keeps changing.

Of the 132 children, 107 are matched to American families, said Salt Lake attorney Greg Constantino, secretary-treasurer for a group that raises money for the orphanage. He has been working with American officials to get visas under the State Department's "humanitarian parole" for Haitian orphans previously matched to U.S. families. His wife, Dr. Tawnya Constantino, a neurologist at Intermountain Medical Center and volunteer medical director for Maison, has been caring for the children and smoothing out wrinkles from Port-au-Prince all week.

In an e-mail Friday she wrote: "We have been told that all but 29 children of the eligible files have been issued paperwork. Not sure if those 29 have documentation questions or whether it's just getting late in the day and they haven't got through them all. We still don't have a transport plan to the airport. We are thinking we'd prefer to wait until tomorrow, as the day is getting late, it's really hot and there is still too much planning that needs to happen."

Volunteers, including three doctors who speak Kreyol and a search and rescue team, are providing security to the orphans, she said.

The plan is to fly them by military jet to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and unite them with the American families that are adopting them, Constantino said.

Not all the Maison children will be on the plane. Besides any whose visa issues can't be resolved quickly, several are being adopted in other countries. Another 20 — the frailest, who were being nursed back to health before the earthquake — have not been matched and have nowhere to go yet.

Utah officials have offered to provide a safe haven for Haitian orphans if that will help smooth their passage to their adoptive American homes. It's not likely that will happen with Maison orphans, Constantino said, but it could benefit thousands of other orphans.

e-mail: lois@desnews.com

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