Image: Avi Berman, of Israel, sits next to a baby that was rescued from the collapsed house
Ricardo Arduengo  /  AP
A five-month-old baby boy is nursed by Avi Berman while being treated for injures sustained during last week's earthquake at the Israeli Field Hospital in Port-au-Prince on Monday.
updated 1/19/2010 2:57:30 PM ET 2010-01-19T19:57:30

The 5-month-old patient at the Israeli field hospital has a number rather than a name.

No one even knows who dropped the barely conscious child at the makeshift medical center after he was pulled from the debris of a collapsed building four days after last week's catastrophic quake. Now recovering, doctors have a difficult decision ahead.

"What will we do with him when we are finished?" said Dr. Assa Amit of the hospital's pediatric emergency department.

No one knows who the boy's family is, or whether any of his relatives are alive.

Tens of thousands of children have been orphaned by the earthquake, aid groups say — so many that officials won't venture a number. With so many buildings destroyed and growing chaos in the capital, it is conceivable that many children are alone.

"As yet they are still on the streets," said Elizabeth Rodgers, of the Britain-based international orphan group SOS Children. "Without doubt, most of them are in the open."

Even before Tuesday's deadly magnitude-7.0 earthquake, Haiti, one of the world's poorest countries, was awash in orphans, with 380,000 children living in orphanages or group homes, the United Nations Children's Fund reported on its Web site. Video: Field hospital a model for crisis care

Previous disasters
Some of the children lost their parents in previous disasters, including four tropical storms or hurricanes that killed about 800 people in 2008, deadly storms in 2005 and 2004, and massive floods almost every other year since 2000. Others were abandoned amid the Caribbean nation's long-running political strife, which has led thousands to seek asylum in the U.S. — without their children — or by parents who were simply too poor to care for them.

International advocacy groups are trying to help, either by speeding up adoptions that were already in progress, or by sending in relief personnel who could potentially evacuate thousands of orphans to the U.S. and other countries.

On Monday, the Dutch government sent a planeload of immigration officials to Haiti who will try to locate and evacuate 100 children who were already being adopted by Dutch parents.

Also Monday, Indiana-based Kids Alive International, which runs orphanages around the world, is expected to take 50 Haitian orphans to group homes in the Dominican Republic, the organization said in a news release.

U.S. Homeland Security spokesman Sean Smith said Monday that orphans who have ties to the U.S. — such as a family member already living here — are among those who can get special permission to remain in the United States.

Bringing kids to U.S.?
Notwithstanding the U.S. policy, the Catholic Church in Miami is working on a proposal that would allow thousands of orphaned children to come permanently to America. A similar effort launched in 1960, known as Operation Pedro Pan, brought about 14,000 unaccompanied children from Cuba to the U.S.

Under the new plan, dubbed "Pierre Pan," Haitian orphans would first be placed in group homes and then paired with foster parents, said Mary Ross Agosta, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Miami.

"We have children who are homeless and possibly without parents and it is the moral and humane thing to do," Agosta said.

Archdiocese officials said many details would have to be worked out and President Barack Obama's administration would have to grant orphans humanitarian parole to enter the U.S.

In the meantime, U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes said the United Nations is establishing a group whose mission on the ground in Haiti will be to protect children — orphans and non-orphans alike — against trafficking, kidnapping and sex abuse.

And orphanages that were operating in Haiti before the earthquake are scrambling to keep their kids safe, sheltered and fed. Those with damaged buildings are pledging to rebuild and take in more children, if needed.

Three of the four orphanages operated in Port-au-Prince by Planting Peace, a Melbourne, Fla., nonprofit, have been damaged, forcing staff to move everyone into one building. They are now trying to secure homes in Haiti for the kids, the group's founder, Aaron Jackson, told The Associated Press in an e-mail. Rainn Wilson, who appears in the TV show "The Office," is raising money for the group, Jackson said.

Jackson said all 37 of his orphans are physically fine and he would like to help more children.

"There needs to be some communication from the government level about what we need to do. Can we take these children?" he said. "We're ready. We've already raised a fair amount of money where we can go out and get an orphanage running soon."

Sherrie Fausey had to evacuate 30 children from her Christian Light Foundation orphanage in the capital after her facility was badly damaged in the quake.

Fausey, a former Florida elementary school teacher who came to Haiti 10 years ago, acknowledges that her job — daunting before the quake — has become even more challenging now.

"Wherever the Lord sends you, he'll make you content to be there," she said. "Times can be hard, but I'd rather be here in all this rubble. It's where my kids are."

At the Israeli field hospital, doctors are expecting to treat many more orphans in the coming days.

On one of the hospital's stretchers, Patient No. 236, a 6-month-old boy, lay on a hospital stretcher, crying in pain. Relatives brought him to the medical center shortly after the disaster, then left. They didn't tell anyone the boy's name.

Doctors suspect the infant had meningitis long before the earthquake — and they also suspect that no one is coming back for him.

"We will wait to discharge him until there is a facility that can grant continuous care," Amit said.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: For lucky few, adoption paperwork can wait

  1. Closed captioning of: For lucky few, adoption paperwork can wait

    >> haiti . thanks tonight, as always.

    >>> on our flight back onboard an air force cargo jet a man, a christian minister came up to me onboard the plane and handed me a business card and begged for our help to get help and attention at a dire situation at an orphanage in haiti . he had written on the card, "48 babies rescued, now safe, but no food." by the time we landed in the states i alerted our team to the story. ron allen was able to make it to the orphan age and tell the story, especially of one little girl and the americans who wanted to take her own. our emotional tale from nbc's ron allen .

    >> reporter: mike wilson is frantic.

    >> is there anything coming down from customs and immigration stateside?

    >> reporter: six days and nights trying to rescue tia, a 5-year-old orphan he was months from adopting when the quake hit.

    >> it's extremely important to get her out.

    >> reporter: she is now a survivor evacuated to a safe house with 50 other children. food and water are running out.

    >> all we have to do is show up at the embassy and we need to go home.

    >> reporter: hilton's wife missy called from nashville and said the u.s. embassy will provide tia a way out.

    >> let's go home.

    >> reporter: first the good-byes. tia's friend yearns to go, too, but no family is waiting for her.

    >> there are thousands of people there.

    >> reporter: we drive them through the mayhem of the capital. they had no car.

    >> we are going to do everything we can to get her. we are not going to let them -- she's been there for close to four years.

    >> reporter: wilson worries because the embassy has turned them away several times before.

    >> i think we'll get into the embassy this time which is more than we've done before.

    >> reporter: an hour later we are there with thousands trying to flee.

    >> i've got a lot of hope, man.

    >> reporter: with two other toddlers, they head inside. just three among several hundred haitian children in limbo, almost adopted, now mired in haiti 's misery. faced with that, u.s. and haiti ease the adoption rules. children like tia may join them now and finish the paperwork later. father and daughter flew through the night to nashville. where mom and their three other kids were waiting. tia is now an american, a family celebrates.

    >> i haven't lost it yet. it's coming. the it's the greatest feeling in the world.

    >> reporter: while aching for those left behind. and determined to give as many as possible a new life in america. ron allen , nbc news, port-au-prince.

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