Assistant principals looking to adopt children from Haiti mired in delays as conditions worsen
Henry Renelus (r.) and Regina Tottenham are trying to adopt three Haitian children affected by the earthquake, but bureaucratic red tape has complicated and delayed the process.
Seven months ago, two Bedford-Stuyvesant school administrators visited Haiti and were moved to adopt three young children victimized by the devastating January earthquake.
The two are still waiting for their children – and now they are in a race for time to get the youngsters here, as conditions in Haiti have grown worse.
Henry Renelus and Regina Tottenham – both assistant principals at Star Academy on Tompkins Ave. – had hoped Jessica Charlinde, 1; Obedson, 5, andJohn Peterson, 16, would be celebrating Thanksgiving with them Thursday.
But the paperwork has been endless, more than they ever anticipated. And as they wait, the children’s health has become fragile.
“Our kids are worse off than they were in March,” said Tottenham, who lives inWilliamsburg with her husband and 3-year-old son.
On the trip, Tottenham fell in love with Jessica, a calm baby with braided hair and the youngest child at a makeshift orphanage outside Port-au-Prince.
On a visit to Haiti in September, Tottenham learned the baby has “respiratory problems and skin disease,” and will need hernia surgery.
Jessica has already been through enough: Her mother left her in a basket at the encampment after the quake because she was unable to care for her.
“The kids have less than nothing,” said Tottenham. “They’ll break your heart.”
Tottenham and Renelus – who lives with his wife and three children on Long Island, send food and money to the children, hoping to protect them from hunger and disease.
The boys seem scarred by the quake. “They have a blank expression on their faces,” said Renelus. “Their childhood has been stripped away. They are not engaging in anything.”
The mission began back in February, when the two educators and their spouses discovered they shared a dream of adopting children harmed by the quake.
A month later, they traveled to the ravaged country.
They visited Renelus’ cousin Fitzner, who lives with his wife and four kids 8 miles outside Port-au-Prince. Their house was flattened by the quake and they were living in tents.
Renelus promised to adopt his cousin’s sons, Obedson and John Peterson. “I had to do something to help,” said Renelus, 36, who was born in Haiti.
He sends $150 each month so the boys can attend school, and he paid to build their father a small workshop so he could go back to work as a carpenter.
But there is no work to be had. The city is still covered in rubble and without electricity and running water. Cholera is spreading unchecked, Fitzner Renelus told Brooklyn News in a phone call.
The boys are healthy for now, but keeping them that way is a struggle. “Tent cities have become normal,” said Fitzner Renelus. “Our biggest concern now is disease.”
At the Bon Samaritan orphanage, where Tottenham found Jessica, 100 hungry kids still sleep in tents.
She said she was sickened during her fall visit when she saw how conditions had deteriorated at the soggy camp, which had no medical care.
“Kids are walking around naked in the rain,” Tottenham said. “They’re all sick. It breaks your heart.”
Tottenham and Renelus both hope to have their adoptive kids in New York by next spring.
In the meantime, they’ve formed a nonprofit called Impact Ayiti that sends $800 worth of food to the orphanage every month.
On Saturday, a mobile clinic paid for by Impact Ayiti will visit Bon Samaritan and provide health care for the sick boys and girls there.
“The kids have struggled for so long and been through so much,” said Henry Renelus. “We need to stop their suffering.”