Moving To Haiti
“When I was younger, I never would have imagined the path I would be on after I graduated college. I remember changing my major nearly a dozen times, wondering what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I never envisioned myself living in Haiti for more than a decade and would have never imagined creating an international organization that serves thousands of children and people within a community.
My first visit to Haiti was when I was working for a hospital in Baton Rouge; they wanted someone to visit their malnutrition center in Haiti and I was sent because of my previous experience in Africa and Ukraine. I was working in PR and marketing for the hospital, not as a nurse. This trip inevitably changed my life forever, and yet I had no idea what was to come.
Respire Haiti is a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating, encouraging, and empowering restaveks orphans and vulnerable children. Restavek is a Haitian Creole word that means ‘to stay with.’ They are essentially child slaves or domestic servants. They are children who live with a family that is not their own and are responsible for all of the cooking, cleaning, laundry, and more. More often than not, these children do not attend school nor do they receive the medical care or fair treatment they deserve.
Respire Haiti began on a mountaintop in a small city in Haiti called Gressier. Bellevue Mountain became the site where we hosted feeding programs and would eventually build our school, medical clinic, and sports programs. However, one of the first encounters I ever had on Bellevue Mountain was filled with emotion and shock.
A few days after I moved to Gressier in 2011, I saw a little girl under a tree on Bellevue Mountain. As I watched her for a few minutes, I noticed she was throwing rocks at a bird. I walked over slowly and realized she was throwing rocks at the bird because she was hungry and wanted to eat the bird. Her name was Michaelle and she was 6 years old and living with a family on the mountain that was not her own. We began a friendship and I encouraged her to come to our feeding program and slowly began trying to enroll her in school.
After a few months, one night she showed up at my house in the pouring rain. As she tapped on the gate, I opened it and she blurted out, ‘They said they don’t want me anymore. You can have me.’ I was in shock that anyone would tell a 6-year-old child this but knew I had no other choice. At the age of 24, at that moment I knew this was going to change my life and this child’s life forever. So, knowing in my gut that Michaelle staying with me was the right thing, I immediately took her in.
After a few months of living with me, we had come back from visiting an orphanage and I was putting Michaelle to bed that night. Without hesitation, she scooted over in her bed and said, ‘Look, mom, we have room for one more.’ I nearly choked when she said that, but I ultimately felt the same tug in my spirit. After she went to sleep, I pulled out her paperwork and deciphered the death certificate, which was written in French.
Slowly, I pieced it together. Her mother died in the presence of her husband and two children…TWO children. I couldn’t sleep that night thinking about how incredibly crazy it was that she might have a sibling. The next morning as soon as Michaelle woke up, I asked her, ‘Do you have a brother or sister?’ and she immediately replied, ‘Yes, I think I have a sister.’ I asked what her name was and as Michaelle looked down, she explained she couldn’t remember. I began putting out feelers and called all those who helped me with Michaelle’s paperwork to try and find her sister.
Nearly three weeks later, I received a phone call: ‘Megan, you need to come home immediately. A little girl who looks exactly like Micha is on our front porch.’ Micha and I rushed home and flung open the gate. Micha ran toward our house and the next thing I know, these two sisters rushed towards each other as I heard them yelling each other’s name, ‘Micha!’… ‘Jessica!’ And they hugged each other. I could not believe my eyes.
Finding My Soulmate
I was 24 years old, single, living in a different country, and I already had two children. I remember constantly feeling like Eeyore, always thinking, ‘I’m never going to get married. I’m going to stay single and be alone.’ As much as I loved my two girls and the life we were building in Haiti, I thought for sure I would never find someone who would want the same things as me. Until I met Josh. Our first meeting was under precarious circumstances, in an orphanage that was incredibly dangerous and full of corruption.
As he continued to visit Haiti, I remember commenting to my best friend Kat, ‘He sure likes Haiti a lot.’ I distinctly remember her laughing and saying, ‘I’m pretty sure he likes more than just Haiti.’ I was so naive and clueless that I didn’t realize maybe there were more reasons for his continued return to Haiti. Josh seamlessly joined the journey of Haiti, raising two girls and running a nonprofit organization.
We were married in a beautiful ceremony on Bellevue Mountain. Looking back on that day, we laugh about how there were hundreds of students present on the mountaintop and there were goats, chickens, and cows present as well. Our perfect Caribbean wedding. Barely 6 weeks after we were married, one of our students at Respire Haiti’s school went missing. We searched for days and continued to come up empty-handed. We were devastated and hated to think of what had happened.
Miracle Number Three
Until one night, we heard a slight knock on the gate and heard our names being called out. As the gate opened, our precious student stood there with a huge grin on his face. As he walked in and sat down, this 9-year-old began to detail how he had walked for 3 days over mountains and through creeks to arrive at our house. His feet were blistered and his legs were shaking. We listened to him talk about how he knew he would be safe with us. We looked at each other and froze. We knew he needed a safe place to stay.
He stayed with us for a few months as we searched for any living relatives he might have. When we realized his biological parents were deceased and his living relatives were either not safe or alive, we knew he was meant to be part of our family. When he started our school he couldn’t even hold a pencil and write his name. Now he is 17 years old and beginning his senior year in high school with an incredible GPA.
Adoption (Making It Official)
In Haiti, adoption is truly a journey—an extremely long and convoluted journey. Not only is the process itself confusing, but the entire process is riddled with corruption. Over the course of 9 years, we fought for our children, making sure we had handled every single paper correctly, and that we had crossed every T and dotted every I, and yet, it still wasn’t made easier. Finally in March of 2022, after nearly 11 years for our girls and 9 years for our son since the beginning, we were finally able to ‘officially’ welcome our three children as Andersons.
Even though they had already been a part of our family and referred to themselves as Andersons, we were beyond thrilled that they were finally ‘officially Andersons.’ Adoption is a complex mix of emotions. It’s rooted in grief, loss, and pain for children who have suffered more than they ever should have. Yet, there is hope. Our children have used and continue to use their stories to fuel their dreams and goals in their life.
We often speak about our children’s biological parents as well as their home country of Haiti. We were blessed to have lived 11 years in Haiti and to ensure that their culture, language, and beliefs were rooted in Haiti. Now, as we have lived in the United States since COVID began, we made the difficult transition to America. Some days, our heart aches with missing Haiti, its beauty, its culture, its food, and its people. And some days, we realized how blessed we are and we’re grateful to be in a place where we can attend school every day.
Embracing Haiti In The U.S.
We often get asked about adoption, and if it’s something we would advise and encourage others to participate in. And honestly, that’s a truly difficult question to answer. Although we would never change our journey, adoption is complex, especially adopting from international orphanages. 80-92% of all children living in orphanages all over the world have at least one living parent. For this reason, going through adoption agencies or adopting straight from orphanages is extremely dangerous. There are countless numbers of children who are adopted internationally, only for the adoptive parents to find out later that the child’s biological parents are still living and had no idea their child was adopted or had always expected their children to come back home.
My husband and I are now advocates for orphan care, ethical adoption, and education. We are beyond blessed to have been put on this roller coaster together and although it’s incredibly chaotic and challenging, we wouldn’t change it for the world. Raising teenagers and toddlers (and a new infant), running a nonprofit, and adjusting to America all within the last few years have been challenging and overwhelming. However, it has also been incredibly fulfilling and life-changing. Our older children are loving this new experience and we will never forget how truly grateful we are that they are part of our family.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Megan Boudreaux Anderson of Lafayette, Louisiana. You can follow her family’s journey on her personal Instagram and her non profit organization. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more stories like this:
Do you know someone who could benefit from reading this? SHARE this story on Facebook with friends and family.