Video: Couple anxiously await word of Haitian adoptees

  1. Transcript of: Couple anxiously await word of Haitian adoptees

    MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: We are back at 7:49. Many Americans who have loved ones in Haiti are anxiously awaiting word. Last July, Kendra and Brett Schlenbaker adopted an eight-year-old girl and her six-year-old brother from an orphanage in Port -au-Prince, but because of problems with paperwork, the children have not yet been able to leave Haiti . Kendra and Brett Schlenbaker are with us now. Good morning to you both.

    Ms. KENDRA SCHLENBAKER (Adopted Children Still in Haiti): Good morning.

    Mr. BRETT SCHLENBAKER (Adopted Children Still in Haiti): Good morning.

    VIEIRA: Kendra , if I could start with you, the children that you've adopted in -- from Haiti are Dejennika , who's eight, and her brother, Djouvensky , who is six. They are not with you at this point because of a delay with paperwork, as I just said. So what went through your mind when you heard about this earthquake?

    Ms. SCHLENBAKER: Well, fear and very -- just a lot of turmoil, not knowing if they were OK. They were so close to the palace that had crumbled that we were very worried about their safety.

    VIEIRA: But I understand you realize given the time when the quake actually hit Haiti that they were probably not inside the orphanage, is that right?

    Ms. SCHLENBAKER: That's what we were hoping for. I was just down there in December, and they're very rigid on their schedules. And so when the quake hit at 4:30, everybody should have still been outside with all the handicapped children. So that's what we were praying for.

    VIEIRA: Brett , the communication with Haiti is almost nonexistent, so how did you hear that the kids were OK?

    Mr. SCHLENBAKER: We got a phone call from one of the -- our friends from church who got an e-mail from a gentleman that was on a mission trip down there and he just happened to be staying at the orphanage when the earthquake hit. And sometime yesterday, he was able to leave the orphanage and get out to an area where he got cell service or somehow he got word to somebody in the States and an e-mail went around saying that everybody in the orphanage was OK.

    VIEIRA: And was the orphanage, the structure, still intact?

    Mr. SCHLENBAKER: No. The -- what the e-mail said, it was real general, but it said everybody was OK. They lost part of the church that's in the compound, and the compound's surrounded by about 12-foot concrete walls and so most of the walls had crumbled down. But other than that, everything else was OK.

    VIEIRA: Kendra , we mentioned -- we mentioned that there was a paperwork delay that was keeping you from bringing the children home.

    Ms. SCHLENBAKER: Mm-hmm.

    VIEIRA: You have officially adopted them. So what happens next? Are you going to head to Haiti ?

    Ms. SCHLENBAKER: Well, at this time, we'd love to just get on a flight and head down there and see for ourself that they're OK, but we're trying to work with the government . The children are legally ours and I have copies of all the paperwork stating that. So at this time, we're working with Congressman Rick Larson and his aide in hoping that maybe the right people in government will see our paperwork and help us get passports and visas for the kids to get them out of the country , because that's all that we're needing. And that way, we can get them home.

    VIEIRA: Yeah. You already have two biological children, as well, Karson and Austin , that are waiting to see their brother and sister . What do these two little children mean to you?

    Ms. SCHLENBAKER: Mm-hmm. They're part of our family . They have been for three years. So we talk about them like they already live with us. They're very much involved in our family . Everybody -- we come from a large family , so everybody talks about them like they already are living here. So to have them here would just be amazing.

    VIEIRA: Kendra...

    Ms. SCHLENBAKER: And to actually get them out of there.

    VIEIRA: Kendra , we're going to have to go.


    VIEIRA: I thank you, Kendra and Brett , so much for this very happy ending . We'll be back after your local news.

updated 1/14/2010 9:34:47 AM ET 2010-01-14T14:34:47

From the moment Kendra Schlenbaker and her husband, Brett, heard about the devastating magnitude-7 earthquake in Haiti on Tuesday, the couple began scouring the Internet and trying to reach anyone they could in the Caribbean nation in a determined search for news about their two young children.

Just a month earlier, Kendra Schlenbaker had traveled to Port-au-Prince with the hope of finalizing the adoption that would bring Dejennika and Djouvensky back to Bellingham, Wash., where the mother hoped to finally have her entire family together. The couple have two other children, 12-year-old Austin and 8-year-old Karson. “It’s been an incredibly long journey,” she said Wednesday. “It’s been one drama after another.”

But their quest to adopt two Haitian siblings, which began in December 2006, took another turn after the quake flattened Haiti’s capital, leaving a death toll that could reach into the tens of thousands and many more injured and homeless. As the Schlenbakers examined every photo they could find overnight on the Web for any possible clues about the fate of their children, they saw little to make them optimistic.

“I had to stop looking,” Kendra said.

Anxious vigil
Their anxious vigil ended Wednesday afternoon. “I just got word that they are alive,” said Kendra. “I’m very relieved right now.”

Brett told the TODAY show on Thursday that word came indirectly from a church member, who was visiting the orphanage. They were told that orphanage suffered some damage, including damage to the church in the compound.

For the moment, that’s the couple’s only reassurance. Although the Schlenbakers learned that all 90 orphans at the New Life Children’s Home, near the city’s airport, survived the quake, they still don’t know the extent of injuries, if any. “My knee-jerk reaction is to board the next flight down there,” said Kendra, a part-time Costco employee.

Kendra, 37, has already flown five times to the island nation since the couple made the decision to adopt Djouvensky, now 6, and his sister, Dejennika, 8. Between paperwork and bureaucracy, the process has dragged on. During her last trip to Haiti, Kendra is grateful she made extra copies of all the paperwork, nearly complete except for two last signatures. “Everything is done. It’s all been looked at and approved.”

She and Brett, a 37-year-old warehouse manager for Gensco, are nearly certain that in the aftermath of the quake, the Haitian government will not have the infrastructure to sign off or even find their papers. They are now working with U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., and an aide to push for emergency visas and passports that would allow the children to leave the country immediately. “I just want the government to give me my kids,” she said.

Kendra explained that the two children are already part of the family. "They have been for three years."

Having visited Haiti so often, Kendra is especially concerned about the future of a country whose 9 million residents are already so desperately poor.

“It weighs heavily on my mind. There are going to be orphans all over the place,” she said. “What’s going to happen to all those children?”

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