Birth Certificates in Haiti and America

Waiting for Elijah’s birth certificate for the past month or so has lead to me think about the difference in birth certificates in Haiti and America.  How many times, since you were born, have you really worried about the location of your birth certificate?  There are a few times in our lives when we have to have a “certified” copy of our birth certificate, and somehow we always manage to find it.  If we cannot find it in our baby book or some other place in the house, we can always order one online and have it a few days later.  It is kind of funny, waiting for Elijah’s, that every time I call Vital Statistics and find out that I cannot pick up my own son’s birth certificate, I get a little irritated.  I understand the reason and I understand that it takes time to process, but I also know he is my son and I want the document that says that to be in my possession.  On top of that, as you probably already know, we cannot apply for Elijah’s passport until we get his birth certificate which makes this wait a little more difficult.

At the same time, I remember the first time we realized how important it was to have birth certificates for all of our kids in Haiti.  A birth certificate in Haiti is so important, and especially for those children who do not have parents or family that are caring for them.  So I began asking the kids if they knew where their birth certificates were, not really expecting a response.  It was one of the most amazing things, and I still remember it over 5 years later.  At least 12 of our kids went back to their bed and pulled out original birth certificates from under their mattress, out of their bags, or inside their pillow cases.  These kids were, quite literally, holding their birth certificates in their sleep.  It was almost like they were holding onto their identity on that sheet of paper and nobody was going to take it from them.  I even remember, when Jess and I really began taking administrative control of the orphanage, some of the kids had a hard time trusting us with that document.  Can you imagine, at the age of 13 or 14, being so concerned about your birth certificate that you slept with it under your pillow?  

That is not to say that every kid had their birth certificate because that would be far from the truth.  In fact, more than a few of our kids have numerous birth certificates with different birth dates listed while we have sent money with parents to retrieve other birth certificates and we are still waiting on them to come back (this was 2 years ago now, so I don’t think they are coming).  It is such a difference finding your birth certificate in Haiti than in America.  If I wanted a certified copy of my birth certificate, it would take a few dollars, a couple of days, and a quick internet search and it would be in my mailbox waiting for me.  In Haiti, oftentimes because of record keeping issues, to get a copy of your birth certificate you pay a few dollars, tell someone when and where you were born, and walk out with a hand-written “original” copy of your birth certificate.  In fact, many of our kids had no idea when their birthday was prior to us taking their birth certificates, and they still have to ask Jessica to find out when they were born.  

So as we keep waiting on Elijah’s birth certificate, it could be worse.  At least he will always know his birthday, he will never have to sleep with his birth certificate under his pillow, and his identity will never be tied to a piece of paper.  I actually went down to Vital Statistics yesterday to turn in all the paperwork and expedite the process so hopefully we will have the birth certificate early next week, just keep praying that we get to be back down with our kids ASAP!

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