McMutrie sisters return to Haiti
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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- A Pittsburgh-based group landed yet another plane here Saturday night to drop off medical supplies and pick up orphans, amid revelations that 11 children remained stranded at the BRESMA orphanage two weeks after the rescue of 54 others.
Onboard were the two Ben Avon sisters whose plight and dramatic air rescue, carried out by a delegation headed by Gov. Ed Rendell, catapulted them to national prominence.
Jamie and Ali McMutrie, who refused to leave more than 100 children in their care at the BRESMA orphanage amid the chaos that followed the Jan. 12 earthquake, suddenly found themselves in a new spotlight: fending off questions about how money has been spent by the Hazelwood church that husbands the funds raised for the orphans.
The McMutries joined a delivery and pickup mission that was again the work of James and Carolyn Bouchard, the Sewickley couple who carted 30,000 pounds of medical supplies to this stricken nation. The Bouchards also brought in more than 50 doctors to deal with the injured.
The sisters returned here Saturday, intent on bringing back 11 more BRESMA orphans who remained when they departed with the other children.
The McMutries said they had been told those 11 children who remained would be matched with families in France. But those matches were not made, leaving the 11 stranded in the driveway of the wrecked orphanage with a nanny, as the other orphans had been before their rescue.
The orphans who remain in Haiti do not have pending adoptions. But the sisters came here along with UPMC lobbyist Leslie Merrill McCombs in a shot at persuading authorities to allow them to bring the children to the United States.
That bid was turned down Saturday night, however, and it was not clear if the rejection came from U.S. or Haitian authorities. Before the plane departed on its return flight, the McMutrie sisters helped to offload more than a dozen boxes of food and other supplies from its hold and sent them along to the orphans, along with the telephone numbers for American doctors who could be summoned if needed.
"They're better off than they were an hour ago," said Jamie McMutrie, 30. She and her sister were to return to Pittsburgh this weekend, but planned to travel here Wednesday to continue their efforts to retrieve the remaining BRESMA orphans.
Also Saturday, the sisters issued a lengthy statement promising to give a detailed accounting of the monies collected by the church that underwrote the orphanage where they cared for children -- Keystone Church in Hazelwood.
"Over a three-year period from 2007 through the end of 2009, we received about $80,000 in donations and every penny was spent on food, water, medicine and infrequent expenses for us to travel between Haiti and Pittsburgh," the sisters said in the statement.
Their father, Sam McMutrie, serves as an unpaid accountant for Keystone Church and also serves on the board of a church-related community empowerment organization known as Center for Life.
The sisters said Center for Life does not handle finances related to BRESMA. A separate nonprofit corporation has been set up to handle more than $70,000 in donations that have poured in since their rescue drew national attention, they said.
"We have kept very detailed records of all expenditures made with any donated funds and have absolutely nothing to hide," they said in their statement.
In response to questions Saturday, Sam McMutrie said the church kept a separate ledger of orphanage finances and the sisters lived in the same housing and ate the same food as the orphans. The statement did not clarify whether the sisters received a salary.
On Saturday, Jamie McMutrie said questions about the donations have stopped her from spending money from the orphanage account until a full ledger is assembled to explain their spending.
Instead, she said, the church used its own money to make purchases for baby food, sanitary products, rice, beans, sugar and infant formula for the 11 stranded orphans in the past two weeks.
Employees there would be at a loss to provide receipts to document purchases, she said, because so much commerce in Port-au-Prince is carried out on the streets, often by people who do not know how to write a receipt.
"They're not going to bring money here because people couldn't get a receipt for the things you buy on the street," she said.
Organizers of Saturday's flight also hoped to bring orphans from other Haitian facilities to the United States, but how many orphans would board the flight became a matter, again, of paperwork. Forms had to be processed. An increasingly wary Haitian government had to sign off.
None of those children was destined to deplane in Pittsburgh. This time, they were headed to Florida, said Ms. McCombs, who helped to engineer the first rescue mission and who has been an informal liaison on the Bouchard missions.
The plan called for the flight to divert to Miami. But after the pilot learned the plane would not be permitted to land in Florida, the children instead were put on a military transport.
"No more orphans to PIT," Ms. McCombs text-messaged as the plane taxied on the runway at Pittsburgh International Airport. "They all have to go through FL and this plane is coming back directly to Pit."
Saturday's flight underscored the shifting nature of Haiti's recovery and America's response. The country is now awash in medical volunteers, but still starved for medical supplies.
The plane offloaded thousands of pounds of those supplies. A doctor from the Pittsburgh headquarters of Hopital Albert Schweitzer signed for the delivery of drugs to be sent along to medical centers.
On its return flight were a dozen emergency medical technicians from New York who were seeking a way out of Haiti -- a nation that still remains almost inaccessible to nonmilitary flights.
Some doctors also came home Saturday night, exhausted and, they said, enlightened.
"It's been life-changing," said Butch Dennison, of Clarksburg, W.Va., who told of a scene of poverty and desperation in the town of LaCroix.
"The first night we were working there, a baby comes up with malnutrition. There was no formula. We got the formula, but it was too late," he said. "The baby didn't live."
First Published January 31, 2010 12:14 am