Refuge Joins Hands and Feet Project in Haiti

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Counseling takes ministry beyond the basics in Haiti

Refuge Center joins effort ofHands and Feet

FRANKLIN — For years, ministries in Haiti have worked on meeting the basics of life — clean water, food, shelter — for the thousands of orphaned or abandoned children there.

It’s only recently that one of those ministries, Franklin-based Hands and Feet Project, moved to a higher level of care, dealing with children’s emotional and mental stress through a new partnership with The Refuge Center.

The Refuge Center, a Franklin faith-based counseling center, will start the process Saturday as a group of clinicians leaves for an intense two days of evaluations with children in Hands and Feet villages in southern Haiti.

“This partnership fulfills the circle,” said Mark Stuart, executive director and co-founder of the ministry. “We’ve worked with doctors for physical help, teachers for educational help. This is the final piece of the puzzle.”

“Hands and Feet partnered with us because we’re experts in trauma,” said Amy Alexander, executive director of The Refuge Center. “But we’re not experts in Haitian culture. We’re all going into this first trip with a spirit of humility, ready to learn.

“Our core values are the same. And the heartbeat is to care well and do it with excellence.”

As house mothers in Hands and Feet villages build relationships with the children, who may not have living parents in the country, outbursts and behavior issues from past trauma may crop up. The Refuge Center will hold group assessments with children through specific age-based questions.

The goal is to create a manual and go back to Haiti several times a year. They’ll also meet with the house mothers and site directors.

Since announcing the partnership, The Refuge Center has had calls from local clinicians who want to help, Alexander said.

Hands and Feet has been working in Haiti for almost 10 years and takes care of about 100 children in two villages. An American family of missionaries lives at each as its site director, and Haitian house mothers take care of about six children each in a home in the village.

Hands and Feet is building two sister villages for each existing village. As the children age out of the younger program, the new villages will be for 18- to 22-year-olds who will also get vocational training.

Stuart, of the Christian band Audio Adrenaline, sees the global change in orphan care shifting from so much adoption, which he believes in (he has two children adopted from Haiti), to sponsorship and building community in a country.

“For so long the thought was to get them out,” he said.

But Hands and Feet’s children’s village model works to feed and educate children often with the idea that they may reunite with family.

Contact reporter Vicky Travis at vtravis@tennessean.com.