Tue | Jul 23, 2024

Haitian orphan missing

Disabled child taken for surgery at BCH but not brought back to Mustard Seed facility; CEO says 10 caregivers also disappear

Published:Thursday | June 20, 2024 | 11:03 AMErica Virtue/Senior Gleaner Writer
One of the Haitian orphans at Jacob’s Ladder in St Ann.
Father Garvin Augustine
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One of 59 Haitian orphans, a boy with severe hydrocephalus and who had surgery performed at the Bustamante Children’s Hospital (BCH) in May, is no longer in the custody and care of the Mustard Seed Communities (MSC), the facility’s chief executive...

One of 59 Haitian orphans, a boy with severe hydrocephalus and who had surgery performed at the Bustamante Children’s Hospital (BCH) in May, is no longer in the custody and care of the Mustard Seed Communities (MSC), the facility’s chief executive officer has confirmed.

The boy is at the centre of allegations of maltreatment and denial of healthcare being made against MSC by Sheryl Ritchie, an official of HaitiChildren, a non-profit organisation that provides care and education to abandoned, orphaned, and disabled children in Haiti.

He is one of 61 of the Haitians who were sent to Jamaica to escape gang violence in the country.

Hydrocephalus is a condition in which excess spinal fluid builds up within the fluid-containing cavities or ventricles of the brain and causes victims to have an oversized head compared to the body.

Father Garvin Augustine, speaking with The Gleaner yesterday, said MSC made arrangements for the orphan to be seen by local medical personnel at BCH on a Wednesday during last month.

“On the Monday morning ... one of the individuals who came as caregivers, and one of 10 who are missing, took the child to the hospital in Kingston. He was sent back and told to return the following day. He was seen on the Tuesday, the day before the Wednesday based on the appointment MSC made. He was admitted, and surgery was performed sometime during the Labour Day (May 23) holiday week. He has been released but not to MSC,” Father Garvin told The Gleaner.

According to him, MSC has reported the matter to the police, and protocols have been established with local health facilities.

“Currently, three children are in hospital, and an attempt was made to have another Haitian child released but not to MSC. So we have had to shut that down and let the hospitals know what to do. Plus, no child from MSC facilities is to be released to individuals who are not properly identified and without authorisation from us,” he outlined.

MSC has been forced to address the damning allegations against its operations made by HaitiChildren. It has dismissed allegations from the organisation that it was mistreating Haitian orphans who arrived in Jamaica in March, fleeing violence in their homeland.

Father Garvin said the allegations were “false and totally baseless” and were hurting MSC’s reputation in sections of the world in which it operates.

Some of Jamaica’s most well-respected and formidable business operators who are retired but still active are associated with MSC. It was founded by the venerable Monsignor Gregory Ramkissoon.

Richie, speaking on Nationwide News Network, days after she and Susan Krabacher, the founder and operator of the home in Haiti, were quoted in The Jamaica Observer alleging that Jamaican children appeared happy and well cared for at Jacob’s Ladder, but the Haitian orphans did not.

She also claimed that Jacob’s Ladder refused to allow an ambulance access to the facility on multiple occasions. The ambulance, she said, was to take children for medical care, and she expressed scepticism about Jacob’s Ladder claim of hiring more than 20 additional employees to assist with the children, saying that she had seen no more than five.

Krabacher, in the meantime, said she wished to cut ties with MSC and called for the Government to give her an operational licence in Jamaica.

It was Krabacher who approached MSC for assistance.

HaitiChildren claimed that on arrival in Jamaica in March, it paid US$100,000 for the care of the orphans.

MSC executive Darcy Tulloch-Williams said it would be irresponsible of the organisation to release any of the persons under its care to strangers who appeared without documentation and identification.

“That’s the only time when we denied anyone access to the facility. Can you imagine what would happen if we did that [and] the child was never seen again? In the case of the missing child, at least we know who took the child to hospital and in whose care he was released,” she told The Gleaner.

Once proper documentation is presented, they have been allowed access.

Tulloch-Williams, along with other executives, said MSC has never made any financial demands of HaitiChildren and that the US$100,000 transferred to it was to assist with the additional space to be created to accommodate the Haitians.

“They agreed to contribute US$120,000 towards the physical plant, but we got $100,000. They do not feed the children here. When they came, they came in scrubs. When you saw them the day after, what they were wearing was provided by donors. They had no medical records or files,” Father Garvin stated.

He also said allegations of malnutrition among the orphans was a fib as HaitiChildren informed MSC prior to their arrival in the island that 17 children were suffering from malnutrition. MSC nutritionists have been following diets recommended to improve the children’s health.

MSC said it has nearly 100 caregivers at Jacob’s Ladder, providing 24-hour care, working different shifts, to monitor the residents. In that number, MSC does not include the cooks, cleaners, drivers, laundresses, security, and maintenance personnel.

“If they came here healthy, it was impossible for them to become so severely malnourished since March when they came. They get four meals per day,” said Father Garvin.

The Jamaica Government gave permission for MSC to accommodate the severely disabled orphans in the wake of ongoing gang warfare, which disrupted the lives of the Haitian people and especially the most vulnerable in the society.

10 caregivers leave with luggage

In the meantime, the 10 missing Haitians are from a group of 16 who were being housed at Jacob’s Ladder as caregivers for the orphans.

According to Father Garvin, they took their luggage and other personal belongings with them.

“It was a Saturday morning. I can’t remember the date right now. But they left in a minibus with their luggage and smartphones, and we have no idea where they are. No contact has been made with Jacob’s Ladder since they left,” he said.

He added that Jamaican immigration authorities were aware of the matter and that as of today, the missing Haitians would have no legal right in the island as they would have overstayed their time, which expired on Wednesday.

erica.virtue@gleanerjm.com