Companioning the Children

VanBerkelsChildren, especially orphaned children, are some of the most vulnerable in any disaster.

God’s Littlest Angels, an orphanage in Petionville, had 90 children under the age of 2 sleeping in its driveway. Tom Vanderwell ’87 and Cheryl Bruxvoort Vanderwell ’87 adopted two children from the orphanage in 2004. Now a member of its board of directors, Tom has been organizing donations through the orphanage’s blog since the day of the quake. Cheryl, a registered nurse, went to Petionville to help care for the children and to help escort 81 of them who, granted emergency humanitarian parole, were flown to Miami on Jan. 22.

There they met families who had spent years in the process of adopting them. Almost 5-year-old Francky went home to Kent City, Mich., with Anne DeLange Scholtens ’02 and her husband, Rob.

In Port-au-Prince, when the walls of HIS Home for Children fell, none of the 122 children were hurt. For days they slept in a church courtyard. On Jan. 25, 67 were granted humanitarian parole and flown to Florida. Calvin landscape operations supervisor Geoff Van Berkel and his wife, Judy, were there to welcome their adopted daughters Daphna and Grace.

For 10 years Bryant “Bud” Bonnema ’73 and Jan Koning Bonnema ’75 have sheltered children at Children of the Promise in Cap-Haitien. Working with them are Jamie Groen ’05 and Jenny Van Osdel Groen ’05, Kurt Visker ’06 and Laura Boersma Visker ’06. Their buildings sustained no significant damage, and 33 of their children were granted humanitarian parole to their U.S. families.

In Les Cayes, as the executive director of the Caribbean Children’s Foundation, Nora Uitvlugt Léon ex’72 helped evacuate the children of the Children of Israel orphanage—and herself—to a refugee camp on a soccer field. She lived in the camp with them until they found housing in nearby Torbeck. In the United States since late February, Léon will rejoin her husband and the orphanage’s children in Haiti this summer. “I don’t know why God chose Haiti for me,” she said, “but it is my life now.”

Praying for Hope
Friends called Calvin sophomore Phanie Duchatelier to tell her about the earthquake and that it leveled the area where her parents have run a Christian school for 20 years. “I went to bed thinking I was an orphan,” she said.

Within two days she knew they were alive, though the school and their apartment had collapsed, and they were living with 300 other people in the school’s courtyard.

It would take two weeks before Miki Vernet, also a sophomore, learned that her father and two brothers were safe, having fled from Port-au-Prince to the countryside.

Both students suffer survivors’ guilt.

“I feel guilty for the education I’m getting here,” Duchatelier said. “But I know this is the calling God has for me now: to learn and prepare to help Haiti in the future.”

“Sometimes I’ll be happy and then, out of nowhere, I’ll feel depressed,” Vernet added. “So I get up every day and pray for all the people there, and I pray to stay hopeful.”