Rachel Pierre had been thinking about starting a project to help Haiti’s neglected and vulnerable children when the 2010 earthquake struck, which made her mission all the more clear.
She was born in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince and came to the United States at age 15 for an education, earning her masters in social work and eventually getting a job as a child welfare social worker in Washington, D.C.
In the back of her mind, Pierre had an idea to try to help Haiti in the field of child advocacy.
“Haiti did not have a comprehensive child welfare system, so it started more as an idea to do some follow-up to children who take part in international adoptions or children who leave Haiti without their parents because there were reports of children being trafficked,” she said.
She wanted to set up a one-stop child welfare program for Haitian children inside and outside of the country.
Haiti, like other countries in the Caribbean, has a “restavek” system in which poor families place their children in other homes where the children do light housework in exchange for getting an education.
But the system is unregulated, and sometimes the recipient families are not much better off than the child’s family and can’t afford to send the child to school. The child is also vulnerable to neglect and abuse.
Pierre went as far as developing a project proposal in 2009, but she didn’t really pursue it until the quake struck on Jan. 12, 2010, destroying much of her hometown and killing an estimated 223,000 people, including four of her relatives.
“I was deeply affected by the earthquake, but more than anything after hearing from my family and mourning the ones we lost and being relieved at the ones who survived, I felt a deep sense of guilt for not having pursued this project a year prior when the idea came to me,” she said. “I felt that at that point had I really followed up with it, we would have been strategically placed to support more of the efforts in Haiti.”
Pierre then quit her full-time job to found the Andora Project, naming it after her daughter’s middle name.
“This is my mission,” she said. “This is really what I feel like I’ve been put on Earth to do.”
Based in Washington, D.C., the project’s advocates meet with Haitian and U.S. officials to raise awareness of the needs of Haiti’s children.
The State Department issues a human trafficking report each year, and in 2011 it contained the Andora Project’s recommendations, including training a special force of social workers to prevent child trafficking in Haiti. (View the section of the report on Haiti as a special case.)
Following the earthquake, about 1,200 children came to the United States in different stages of their adoptions, Pierre said. Her organization is seeking closer monitoring of these cases because of “the chaotic nature the children left the country” and is trying to ensure they don’t fall through the cracks, she said.
Pierre wants to establish an office in Haiti someday. “We have a role to play, but I also feel it’s important for Haitians to position themselves strategically to be a strong voice,” she said.
“And ultimately the idea behind the Andora Project is to be a vehicle for Haitians and Haitians in the Diaspora to lead child welfare reform that’s been mostly led in the past by international organizations.”