Jean Griffith, assistant English professor at WSU, has her adopted son, Alexander, home after the Haiti earthquake threatened his and other orphans' lives.
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Haiti earthquake hastens WSU prof's adoption plans
Feb 19, 2010 2:59 PM | Print

Family has always played an important role in Jean Griffith's life.

For as long as she can remember, the youngest of 10 children has been surrounded by siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews and in-laws.

"Being part of a family that is the size of a small country exposed me to an idea of family that goes way beyond boundaries of blood kinship and traditional social groupings," said Griffith, an assistant English professor at Wichita State University.

So when she and her husband, Ross Haskell, decided to adopt a child, they looked toward Haiti, a place Griffith had always had an interest in.

"My upbringing has contributed to my willingness to parent a child not mine by birth and across borders of race and nationality," she said.

Although matched with a baby boy named Alexander in April 2009, Griffith and her husband weren't expected to be able to take him home to Wichita until sometime in late 2010 or early 2011.

But all plans went out the window the second a devastating earthquake hit Haiti on Jan. 12.

Their immediate thoughts were about whether their son was even alive.

"There was an hour where we didn't know anything," Griffith said.

Once they received word that Alexander and the other children at the orphanage were OK, they started thinking about what would happen next for the children, who were stuck outdoors with limited clean water and poor security.

"My husband and I thought this would end our adoption," she said. "We were just fighting for him to survive."

They were lucky enough to be in contact with Alexander's caretakers, who said that the children – who were getting dehydrated and sick – would die if they were left for too much longer in the worsening conditions.

Working in emergency mode, Griffith and her husband did everything they could to arrange for water and safety for the children. All their thoughts were on Alexander and Haiti, a country Griffith holds close to her heart.

"We were up at 7, in bed at 3 in the morning," she said. "We didn't eat. It was a constant state of panic."

A week later, they were given word that more than 50 of the kids were on a plane out of Haiti, headed to Pennsylvania. Without knowing for sure whether Alexander was part of that group, Griffith and her husband jumped on a plane to find out. As soon as they saw his caretakers' faces at the airport, they knew their new son was there and was going to be OK.

Adjusting to a new life

More than a month later, life is returning to a new normal for the family. That has included scrambling to get all the things necessary to care for their son, who is now 18 months old.

It also means keeping a lower profile than in the days immediately following the earthquake, when the couple was interviewed on CNN by Anderson Cooper, as well as other TV stations and newspapers.

"Alexander – his face has been on CNN. People are dying to see him," Griffith said. "But we're trying to give him time."

He's doing well, but still gets scared on outings and needs to touch her or her husband as he sleeps at night.

Griffith said she is happy to be able to raise her son in Wichita. A native of Philadelphia, she has also lived in Massachusetts, Oklahoma and Texas, where she earned her Ph.D.

She came to Wichita State to pursue a tenure track, which she said is highly competitive, especially in the humanities. She teaches courses in American and ethnic literatures, focusing on fiction, and wrote "The Color of Democracy in Women's Regional Writing," which published in August 2009.

"The urban-serving research mission at WSU suits my needs as both an educator and a scholar perfectly, and being in the city suits my personal life and that of my family," Griffith said.

Even though her son is finally home, Griffith's thoughts are never far from Alexander's homeland. If there's one thing she wants people to know about her, she said, it's that she is still very much dedicated to Haiti and its people.

She said she's still trying to help in any way with the effort to provide safety for the remaining orphans.

"It's heartbreaking for those of us who love Haiti," she said, adding that she looks forward to the day she and her husband can take Alexander to visit. "I used to focus on the day I brought him home. Now I focus on the day we can bring him back."

For more information, contact Jean Griffith, (316) 978-3130 or
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Created on Feb 19, 2010 2:59 PM; Last modified on Mar 22, 2010 10:47 AM
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