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Found: the little orphan who became symbol of Haiti tragedy

She still has the same broken front teeth and those innocently-wide eyes. Her home is still a filthy orphanage on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, where you won't find a single toy and where the children sleep, up to eight to a room, on rusty bunk beds.

But Wideleine Fils Amie no longer counts a red tartan dress as her only worldly possession: a couple of months ago, she also acquired a yellow school uniform.

The nine-year-old told me she was "hungry" and "scared" when we first met, on January 19, in the backyard of the Foyer de Sion orphanage in Petionville. Then, she was one of 18 anxious girls and boys, aged between two and 15, waiting for help that seemed like it would never arrive. They hadn't a drop of clean drinking water left and their food reserves consisted of three bags of rice, three bags of beans, a few yams and half a bottle of ancient orange cordial.

Today, she's a healthier, happier child than the traumatised specimen whose plight was seen all over the world media last January.



Symbolise

Wideleine, who came to symbolise the tragedy facing hundreds of thousands of Haiti's orphans in the aftermath of January's earthquake, has also learned how to smile.

I finally found her on Friday, at the Ecole Evangelique de Pentecoste de Beraca, a modest school with roughly fifty pupils, half a mile's walk from the orphanage she still calls home. It was mid-afternoon and students were sitting in a maths lesson, chanting times tables in French.

"She's a clever girl," said the headmaster, Herold Lira. "She talks a lot, especially likes reading and is as happy as anyone could expect, given what she went through."

"I am always happy here," she told me, in a shy whisper. "My favourite subject is reading, but I also enjoy learning to count. My favourite way to spend time is with books, so I have decided that when I grow up, I want to be a teacher."

To the delight of Mr Lira, she added: "I think it is very important to be in school, because my teachers have been showing me how to be a better person."

The tale doesn't yet have a happy ending, though. The fact Wideleine is still living at the Foyer de Sion means that she remains almost completely institutionalised and seems to have no prospect of being successfully resettled outside of the orphanage.



Limbo

As Haiti marks six months since the worst natural disaster in modern history, the plight of children who lost their parents remains in a curious state of limbo. Shortly after the quake the Haitian government announced that all pending adoptions from the country would be fast-tracked through the legal system.

But it also placed a complete moratorium on brand new overseas adoptions, in an effort to prevent fraud, abuse and child-trafficking.

The move was applauded by experienced agencies like Save the Children, who were concerned of a 'free for all' in which children would be spirited out of the country without anyone checking they were indeed parentless.

Yet for children like Wideleine, the moratorium has also dramatically reduced the prospect of ever escaping the Foyer de Sion.

Compounding that is the unfortunate fact that she has recently watched 10 other children leave the Foyer de Sion. "I miss my friends who have gone, but of course I still have friends left behind," she said.

"Maybe I will also go to America one day. I know that God will provide for me."

hnews@herald.ie


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