Forty-five children- Haitians by birth and origin, and their favorite song is "Sinoć sam pola kafane popio" - transl. Last night I dranked half of the bar' - by Željko Bebek (former lead singer of Bijelo Dugme). They are orphans in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and were rescued by the Croatian Relief Services, Inc.
Emerson is seven years old and calls himself Commander. His favorite hero is Batman and he wants to be a truck driver when he grows up. He is one of the forty-five abandoned children who have shared the same destiny, roof and family for the past five years, at the Cardinal Stepinac Children’s Home in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince.
The Children’s Home was founded by reverend Giordano Belanich, a priest with an American address and of Croatian heart. He was five when his family was forced to flee communist Yugoslavia. Fr Belanich oversees the orphanage while servicing three parishes in the United States. The orphanage is currently run by three Croatian loving nuns from Bosnia and Herzegovina: Sister Liberija Filipovic, sister Miriam Filipovic and sister Ana Uložnik.The children's ages at the orphanage range from youngest, Max, 19 months old and the eldest, Naelle, seventeen years old. All the children go to school, have a roof over their heads and hot meals. Their birthdays, holidays, and academic success are all celebrated, and most importantly, how they grow in love. But it wasn't always like this.
AFTER THE 2010 HAITI EARTHQUAKE
Most of the children arrived in the chaos after the earthquake in January 2010. The initial shock of the earthquake registered at 7.0, and soon followed by more. The devastation in Haiti was so great because of the country's lack of building codes. After the quake, the disaster area was a landscape of collapsed and disintegrated buildings. Father Gio remembers that in the beginning, people brought children to the home covered in blood and crying silent and heartbreaking tears. No one wanted to sleep inside the house because they were too scared, and weeks after the earthquake, aftershocks and tremors continued to petrify everybody. In the months and years after, the Home continued to accept children. Often, families would come and beg the staff to take their children because they could not feed them.
The three nuns, who came to serve the mission in January, 2014 continued with teaching the children to sing and pray in Croatian.
Croatian influence started with Croatian lay women serving the mission three years prior to the nuns arrival. Now, sisters have plans to make "sarma" a new national dish in Haiti! The nuns decorate eggs with children for Easter, and they taught them the tradition of Sveti Nikola on December 6. The children also enjoy Croatian games such as Slijepi miš (transl. Blind Mice), Ringe ringe raja etc. Before bedtime they pray "Anđele Čuvaru Mili" (transl. Guardian angel) in Croatian. Sr Ana also decks on a soccer jersey and plays soccer on the field with the kids. These children are showered in love.DAILY LIFE
A lot of improvisation takes place, patching when there is no permanent solution, but the staff and children get by. Nights are troublesome because the orphanage is surrounded by the poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince. Gunshots are everyday noise. Kidnapping, robbery and even murder are frequent and violent. Clean water is like the Holy Grail, and having a well in our yard means we are at constant risk of new attacks and robberies. Currently, the attacks on religious communities are news throughout Haiti. We have been the target of multiple armed robberies. In one incident, the solar panel for the water purifier was stolen, leaving the orphanage temporarily without access to safe water in a city fighting a cholera epidemic. Leaving the house requires watching over your shoulder, precautions in form of machetes hidden under the car seat, police batons and large sunglasses. Closed windows of vehicles are required no matter if the temperature surpasses 40 Celsius and it is sizzling hot, without a single breeze.
The needs of the orphanage are still enormous, and resources are limited. Future plans include a project to build a mission house for visitors and thus make the first step towards self-sustainability for the orphanage, which is desperately needed. The project is estimated to be worth $170,000. There are also other needs such as the boys require their own dorm and showers and currently the roof is in need of repair. Plus the ongoing costs of food, education and medicine still need to be met.
Nerlie (11) says "Tell the people who are helping us that we are good kids and that we will be even better, because if it weren’t for them, we would never have had any chance. And look at us now.”