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Home at last: 7 Haitian orphans arrive in U.S.

It wasn't simple and there was a lot of red tape, but seven Haitian children who were adopted by American parents arrived in the U.S., leaving behind the aftermath of a devastating earthquake and uncertain futures.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

The last three days seemed the longest for a Kansas family who finally welcomed home four Haitian orphans Sunday.

“We’re home,” Alecia O’Byrne declared with gratitude and relief after five days of frantic effort to rescue the children from the shattered island nation. “We haven’t been able to sleep for five days.”

The O’Byrnes had learned their children had gotten all their papers to leave the island on Thursday. Because of city-wide power outages, U.S. embassy officials in Haiti wrote out the children’s U.S. visas on paper by hand, said Alecia, who praised the efforts of the embassy staff to get the children out of the country.

The children weren’t able to get a flight out Friday, but on Saturday, “they snuck them out the back door of the embassy and into a truck and took them straight to the airport,” Alecia told TODAY. “They had them top priority for the next flight out.”

In addition to the four O’Byrne children, three other Haitian orphans from the same orphanage run by Lifeline Ministries of Kansas also flew on the same plane to join two other Kansas families. A ministry worker accompanied the children.

The O’Byrnes and the other two families drove to Kansas City, expecting to meet their new family members around 3 Saturday afternoon. But fog socked in the airport and the group could not make the final leg of the trip from Chicago.

Alecia said that a Fairfield Inn donated rooms for the parents in Kansas City Saturday night. At 7:45 Sunday morning, all seven orphans finally touched down on their new home soil to a chorus of screams and shouts of joy.

Alecia O’Byrne and her husband, Tim, a Baptist pastor, had initiated adoption proceedings four years ago for two sets of siblings. The adoption was completed 14 months ago, but red tape and lost paperwork kept the children from coming to their American home.

When the earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince Tuesday, the O’Byrnes redoubled their efforts to get the children off the island. They joined with two other Kansas families who were adopting three other children from the Lifeline Ministries Orphanage in a suburb of the Haitian capital. The three families were aided by the staff of U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback.

The O’Byrnes finally got everyone in the car and drove to their home in Holton, where Tim is the pastor of the First Baptist Church. They stopped by the church in the middle of Sunday services. When they entered, Alecia said, the congregation burst into cheers.

Alecia said her husband addressed the congregation. “He got to talk a little bit about how excited we were to see God work and see our kids in our home,” she said.

Tim O’Byrne has no doubt that the power of prayer is responsible for getting the children out of Haiti. But both he and his wife also give large helpings of credit to Brownback and his staff, who were working even before the earthquake on helping the O’Byrnes get their children home.

Long process“It is over now due to the amazing efforts of Senator Brownback’s office,” Alecia said.

The U.S. State Department told that the O’Byrnes’ children were among 254 Haitian children in the process of being adopted by American parents. Many of the adoptive parents have found the process to be long and filled with hurdles and barricades. Haiti was estimated to have 380,000 orphans in 2007, and that number is expected to skyrocket in the wake of the earthquake.

When the O’Byrnes began the adoption process, their children ranged in age from 11 to 1. Today, that range is from 16 to 5. The adoptees are actually two sets of siblings: Blandy, 16, and Blanco, 15; and Jackson, 7, and Woodlyn, 5. All had lived most of their lives at the Lifeline Ministries Orphanage in Croix-des-Bouquets, a suburb about eight miles northeast of Port-au-Prince. With them was 17-year-old Junior, who joined his new parents, Scott and Wanda Miller of Heston, and Wilton and Olivier, who joined their new parents, Willie and Connie Newcomes of Inman.

“These five older boys have all grown up together in the same orphanage since they were about 4 or 5. Crazy!! They all end up in Kansas together!!” Alecia wrote.

Not until late Thursday night was it clear they would wind up anywhere other than back at the orphanage. Tim said that things started to break when about a dozen members of the Lifeline Ministry took refuge at the U.S. Embassy. With Sen. Brownback’s aides pulling strings, the missionaries were given permission to bring just the five teenagers back to the embassy.