#GivingTuesday: In Haiti, your gift saves lives AND families

In the foothills of Haiti where we live, the plaintive eyes of hungry children bore through us, their hands upturned, begging for food.

This country of more than 10 million, located in the verdant Caribbean, suffers from unrelenting chronic food insufficiency. This paradox defines a nation where 15 percent of children are orphaned or abandoned, many because their parents can no longer afford to feed them.

Extreme unemployment, lack of access to birth control and stunning poverty all conspire to force children out of loving families and into orphanages, or worse – into the cruel streets.

Children who are truly without parents need proper supervision and love in the confines of a clean, licensed orphanage, but many orphanages that house these ‘economic’ orphans lack quality living conditions and adequate food supply. Certainly the answer to proper childcare for those with parents lies somewhere outside these ill-equipped orphanages.

For the 80 percent of the Haitian population, who live on less than two dollars a day, a small offset of their daily expenses means the difference in keeping their children in the home or turning them into one of the thousands of economic orphans.

Consider the story of one young orphan we encountered. Jono* had noticed that the nightly portions of food that he and his five siblings received were gradually decreasing.

During the eight short years of his life, he had increasingly been falling behind his friends in height and weight, and now he looked more like a four-year-old than a second-grader.

He knew the people living in his rural area of Haiti had always struggled for food, but since the earthquake, it seemed worse.

He had seen his mother talking quietly with the orphanage director down the road, but there was no way he could know they were talking about him.

Within the week, his mother had tearfully pushed him through the orphanage gates, turned her back on him and walked away.

Jono had entered the surreal world of the economic orphan, not abandoned by death, but rather rejected by living parents who could no longer afford to feed him.

The knowledge that his brothers and sisters were enjoying the relative comforts of familiar surroundings and each other was almost crushing to his diminutive frame.

For the 80 percent of the Haitian population who live on less than two dollars a day, a small offset of their daily expenses means the difference in keeping their children in the home or turning them into one of the thousands of economic orphans.

At our non-governmental organization, LiveBeyond, we identified 70 children who were at least 40 percent underweight and at risk of being turned out of their homes in Thomazeau, Haiti.

We began feeding these children two meals per day, supplying daily vitamins and providing scholastic tutoring, leadership training and daily physical fitness routines.

We measured physical and cognitive parameters at one-month intervals and periodically assessed family well-being, and have seen remarkable improvement throughout the year. Additionally, the costs of the program were a fraction of the monthly costs for housing children in an orphanage.

Besides experiencing the obvious benefits of keeping children in a functional home surrounded by parents and siblings, these children are thriving by being part of a cohesive group of children who like them were struggling to survive. While these benefits are priceless, the costs of the minimal investment to keep children in their own homes far outweigh the emotional and spiritual trauma that awaits the abandoned.

As you think about where your dollars can be most effective on this #GivingTuesday, remember Haiti, where a little goes a long way, and your donation not only feeds a child, but helps him or her to remain in a home with a family.

We see this as the most cost-effective solution to the orphan crisis, and it not only can help stabilize the family unit, but the community as a whole.

Dr. David Vanderpool is founder and CEO of LiveBeyond, a faith-based, humanitarian organization improving lives of the poor in Thomazeau, Haiti, with sustainable solutions in medical and maternal health care, clean water, education, and agricultural and economic development.