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The Haitian government shut down an orphanage last week in light of abuse findings by several U.S. charitable organizations, including Gainesville-based Adventures in Missions.
Operators of the Son of God Orphanage in Carrefour, Haiti, are alleged to have abused the children at the orphanage. Instead of using the medicine, clothes and other donations to care for the children, Maccene Hyppolite, his wife Marie and their children are accused of selling the goods for profit and selling the orphans as well.
Rania Batrice, executive director of the Dallas, Texas-based Freedom Project, said she was unsure of the total worth of the goods sold, but said it was "pretty substantial."
"We started to notice the children we were trying to help ... their condition seemed to get worse. We started to get suspicious about 15 months ago," said Jeff Goins, director of communications for Adventures in Missions.
Goins said the organizations did not want to jump to any conclusions. The teams on the ground in Haiti kept an eye on how things were going. Eventually, Goins said, the organizations realized that not only were the Hyppolites misappropriating funds, they were abusing children.
Children were also disappearing from the orphanage.
Maccene Hyppolite is now in jail in Port au Prince on these charges, according to a news release. He was arrested in July "while attempting to sell one of the orphans" during a police sting operation, but his wife and children continued to run the orphanage. Accounts from those still in Haiti demonstrated the situation continued to worsen.
Members of the organizations met last week with senior level officials to Haitian President Michel Martelly to make them aware of the situation at Son of God Orphanage, the news release said.
"They were shown photographs and a first-hand account of the people who've been on the ground for the last 15 months," Batrice said. "(The orphans) were still starving to death and still many were naked. The evidence is so damning you can't look over it."
Goins said though the groups were advocating for the orphanage to be closed, they did not expect the government to do so on such a fast timetable.
Even after the orphanage was shut down, Marie Hyppolite and her children were not arrested, Batrice said.
The orphans were relocated to other orphanages in Haiti.
"Efforts continue ... to locate the missing children, ensure the safety of the relocated children and push for a full and thorough investigation of anyone involved in the situation," the news release said.
Batrice said there were about 85 children in the orphanage.
"There are 46 of these kids who are missing. That's on top of the 53 kids who were already missing," she said.
Batrice said part of the speculation about the orphanage is that Maccene Hyppolite trafficked at least some of these missing children. She said when some of the aid workers wanted to take their sponsored children to the doctor, he told them no but said he would sell them to the workers for $2,000.
The groups, Adventures in Missions, along with Bridgeway Church, Timberline Church, Children's Hope Chest, Journey Community Church and Respire Haiti, began working with Son of God Orphanage shortly after the country was devastated by the earthquake in 2010.
"We discovered this orphanage that was in great need after the earthquake hit Haiti," Goins said. "We sent a team down immediately."
Barnes said when he saw the orphanage, it was "horrible."
"The earthquake had damaged the building. The kids were sleeping on the floor. They were doing school under a tree," said Seth Barnes, executive director of Adventures in Missions.
Batrice said there are still teams in Haiti, and some who were in the states returned when they realized the severity of the children's condition. They are checking on the relocated orphans and still pursuing those who are missing.
Barnes said the groups hope to find the kids who are still unaccounted for and help them find a safe home.
"They're just really trying to push the issue," Batrice said. "All of this is speculation, but they think there's about 20 other orphanages trying to do the same thing."