— From the moment Kendra Schlenbaker and her husband, Brett, heard about the devastating magnitude-7 earthquake in Haiti on Tuesday, the couple began scouring the Internet and trying to reach anyone they could in the Caribbean nation in a determined search for news about their two young children.
Just a month earlier, Kendra Schlenbaker had traveled to Port-au-Prince with the hope of finalizing the adoption that would bring Dejennika and Djouvensky back to Bellingham, Wash., where the mother hoped to finally have her entire family together. The couple have two other children, 12-year-old Austin and 8-year-old Karson. “It’s been an incredibly long journey,” she said Wednesday. “It’s been one drama after another.”
But their quest to adopt two Haitian siblings, which began in December 2006, took another turn after the quake flattened Haiti’s capital, leaving a death toll that could reach into the tens of thousands and many more injured and homeless. As the Schlenbakers examined every photo they could find overnight on the Web for any possible clues about the fate of their children, they saw little to make them optimistic.
“I had to stop looking,” Kendra said.
Their anxious vigil ended Wednesday afternoon. “I just got word that they are alive,” said Kendra. “I’m very relieved right now.”
Brett told the TODAY show on Thursday that word came indirectly from a church member, who was visiting the orphanage. They were told that orphanage suffered some damage, including damage to the church in the compound.
For the moment, that’s the couple’s only reassurance. Although the Schlenbakers learned that all 90 orphans at the New Life Children’s Home, near the city’s airport, survived the quake, they still don’t know the extent of injuries, if any. “My knee-jerk reaction is to board the next flight down there,” said Kendra, a part-time Costco employee.
Kendra, 37, has already flown five times to the island nation since the couple made the decision to adopt Djouvensky, now 6, and his sister, Dejennika, 8. Between paperwork and bureaucracy, the process has dragged on. During her last trip to Haiti, Kendra is grateful she made extra copies of all the paperwork, nearly complete except for two last signatures. “Everything is done. It’s all been looked at and approved.”
She and Brett, a 37-year-old warehouse manager for Gensco, are nearly certain that in the aftermath of the quake, the Haitian government will not have the infrastructure to sign off or even find their papers. They are now working with U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., and an aide to push for emergency visas and passports that would allow the children to leave the country immediately. “I just want the government to give me my kids,” she said.
Kendra explained that the two children are already part of the family. "They have been for three years."
Having visited Haiti so often, Kendra is especially concerned about the future of a country whose 9 million residents are already so desperately poor.
“It weighs heavily on my mind. There are going to be orphans all over the place,” she said. “What’s going to happen to all those children?”