Two Ben Avon sisters left for Haiti Monday -- their mission, to bring home 12 stranded children from a Port-au-Prince orphanage or stay behind to watch them as their country continues to dig out from a deadly earthquake.
The orphanage, known as BRESMA, was the center of a dramatic mission led by Gov. Ed Rendell last month in the aftermath of the quake that has already created countless new orphans in the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation. Fifty-four children from the damaged orphanage who had been living in precarious conditions were flown to the United States Jan. 18
Jamie and Ali McMutrie, along with Leslie McCombs and her son, Herbie, boarded a private jet Monday at 10:30 a.m. at Allegheny County Airport, bound for Port-au-Prince, Haiti, after a stopover in Opa-locka, Fla. At 4:20, Ms. McCombs, a senior consultant for government affairs at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, reported back: "Just wanted to let you know we arrived safely."
The McMutrie sisters, who cared for the children of BRESMA as unpaid volunteers before the Jan. 12 quake, hope to bring 12 of 28 children still at the orphanage back to the United States, according to a news release issued by Burson-Marsteller, a public relations firm representing the sisters. Those dozen children have no pending adoptions and are caught in a bureaucratic limbo because of it; the other 16 children have pending adoptions in Europe.
The sisters, who do not have legal clearance to take the children out of Haiti, returned Jan. 30 in an unsuccessful attempt to secure their release. .
"There's kids down there still, so we're going to take care of them. We've heard that they're pretty sick," Jamie McMutrie, 30, said at the airport on Monday.
The sisters plan to stay at BRESMA until they find some way to get the children to the United States.
"We're taking as many supplies as we can fit on the plane, and we're going to stay with the children in the yard, and we're going to stay until we do [get them to the United States]," Ali McMutrie, 22, said before the flight took off.
What comes next will depend on whether the Haitian government agrees to let the children leave. Ms. McCombs said that Raymond Joseph, the Haitian ambassador to the United States, had flown to Port-au-Prince late last week to intervene with President Rene Preval to get clearance for the children to leave Haiti. The status of the children still has not been resolved.
The plane was met by two vans after it landed at Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince. The group unloaded supplies for BRESMA and prepared to head out to the orphanage's one remaining occupied lot. The children have been cared for by nannies and nurses who work for BRESMA.
The building suffered some structural damage in the quake and workers there said engineers had warned them not to stay inside the structure, which hangs on a steep hillside overlooking a ravine.
"We're going to rough it," said Ms. McCombs.
The Corporate Air, eight-seat plane was to return after dropping off its passengers and about 1,000 pounds of supplies. The estimated $20,000 cost for the one-way flight was donated by Highmark, according to Ms. McCombs.
The supplies, including tents, cots, medical tools, blankets, diapers and some non-perishable food items, will go to the BRESMA orphanage -- short for Les Brebis de Saint Michel de l'Attalaye -- as well as another facility, the Comfort for All Foundation Orphanage.
"We're trying to get some of the babies from having to sleep on the ground," said Ms. McCombs of the latter orphanage.
Now the sisters will wait for word from the Haitian government, which has toughened rules for taking children out of the nation, a situation made all the more difficult when a group of 10 missionaries from Idaho were criminally charged after they tried to take a group of orphans across the border to the Dominican Republic without proper documents.
To combat the threat of child trafficking in the midst of the chaos caused by the earthquake, the Haitian government has strengthened its adoption regulations.
"No word yet from the ambassador, although I don't expect to hear from him at all tonight," said Ms. McCombs. She said the U.S. government has indicated that the children will be allowed in the United States if the Haitians give the go-ahead.
Two primary requisites mandate that rescuers obtain proper documentation of a particular child's status, and children confirmed as orphans must already have had a waiting adoptive family before the quake struck, Ms. McCombs said.
Ms. McCombs said she and the McMutrie sisters don't have all the necessary clearances to remove the 12 BRESMA children from Haiti, but will try to obtain them in the coming days.
Jim McKinnon: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1939. Dennis B. Roddy: email@example.com or 412-263-1965. Staff writer Mackenzie Carpenter contributed to this report. First Published February 16, 2010 5:00 AM