EINDHOVEN, Netherlands – Enveloped in his new mother's embrace, 4-year-old Jersen Silvester Eefting gazed wide-eyed around a hotel lobby at the end of an 11-hour flight that whisked him from the devastation of Haiti to his new home in the Netherlands.
"It feels magnificent," said Roel Eefting as he videoed the newly adopted son he had met minutes earlier.
Jersen was one of 123 children, aged from two months to seven years , flown into this southern Dutch city Thursday. They arrived on a plane chartered by the Dutch government and two adoption agencies to airlift children out of Haiti to new lives in the Netherlands and Luxembourg.
Wrapped in blankets against the cold of a Dutch midwinter, the children walked or were carried one by one from the Boeing 767 to a bus that ferried them to the terminal of Eindhoven Military Air Base. There they had an emotional private meeting with their new families.
One boy waved to reporters and said a word that sounded like "Dag" — Dutch for hello. Another wore striped socks and no shoes. Graying piles of snow lined the edge of the tarmac.
None of the children was hurt in last week's earthquake. But Macky Schouten, head of the Netherlands Adoption Foundation, said it was difficult getting them from their orphanages in Haiti to the choked Port-Au-Prince airport.
"They had to come from different houses in a situation that was very dangerous," she said.
The children were accompanied on the flight by medics and psychologists trained to deal with post traumatic stress, Schouten said.
The children slept through most of the flight. Then, two and a half hours from Eindhoven, they woke up, had a meal and a drink — and started doing what kids do the world over.
"It was a big playground in the plane," Schouten said.
The quake may have killed 200,000 people, and it left thousands of children orphaned. That triggered a rush of inquiries from around the world about adopting a child from the impoverished Caribbean country — which before the quake already had about 380,000 orphans in need of homes.
Experts have warned against taking newly orphaned children out of Haiti or rushing adoption procedures. UNICEF said it was working to prevent children being abused and exploited and to reunite them with family members.
Earlier this week, 54 orphans arrived in the U.S. city of Pittsburgh. They were given medical care and placed in group homes until adoptions are finalized.
Most of the children who arrived in the Netherlands had already been matched with new parents. Some — like Jersen — were being introduced to them for the first time.
Nine had been approved for adoption but not yet matched with families; they will be placed in foster care until parents are found. Fourteen were going into the care of Luxembourg's adoption authorities.
Some of the children speak a little Dutch, having had daily lessons in a Dutch-run orphanage in Haiti.
Eefting said he and his partner, Imelda Hutten, started the adoption process four and a half years ago. They were close to traveling to Haiti to pick up Jersen when the quake struck.
As Jersen started settling into his new family, his father's joy was tempered by news that two Dutch couples were killed in the quake, along with the three Haitian children they had just adopted.
"We are happy, but at the same time we are very aware of the sorrow for people who adopted children and died and the people who died in Haiti," he said. "It puts this into perspective."