GRAND GOAVE, Haiti — In the orphanage where Sheeven Joseph lived as a young boy, 31 children slept on cardboard boxes.
They had little food to eat. The man who housed them received donations based on the number of children, but the money did not go toward their care, according to the organization that provides care for them today.
"When we got them they were very sad, very sick, very hungry," said Andrea McGinniss, director of child care at Hands and Feet Project, The Franklin-based nonprofit that began working in orphan care in Haiti in 2005.
The same children now sleep in blanketed bunk beds, eat three meals a day and live under the care of four Haitian house mothers. Hands and Feet built a new site for the children in Grand Goave after local authorities stepped in eight years ago.
"I go to school," said Joseph, 13. "I make good grades. I eat well. I'm comfortable."
The Mission Guest Village project, which is expected to be fully built and operable in 2018, is Hands and Feet's latest effort to address the needs of Joseph and the nearly 110 children and teenagers living in their care. The children transitioning out of the homes will be able to earn incomes as guides for guests or fill other jobs created through the facility's operations. The vision is to help the children live independently as adults and to break the cycles of poverty their parents encountered.
Hands and Feet began with musicians of Christian group Audio Adrenaline in 2004, when they established their first children's home in Jacmel, south of Grand Goave. More recently, they created a line of leather goods and woven hats, called Haiti Made, that employs about 35 individuals — both teenagers from their two homes and teens and adults from the local communities.
Of those children living at Hands and Feet Project's homes, about 85 percent have a living parent. The problem is rooted in poverty. Parents, unable to provide adequate food, see no other option but to find alternative caregivers. As often as once a week, a parent asks if a child can live there, according to Hands and Feet directors.
"They see, OK, my kid is going to eat," said McGinniss, who lives in Jacmel with her husband, Hands and Feet co-founder Will McGinniss, and three children. "My kid is going to have clothes. My kid's going to go to school."
Hands and Feet only accepts children after social services approves and connects families to resources that can help them get by.
"Every orphan care strategy has to start with a fight to keep families together," said Mark Stuart, Hands and Feet co-founder. "We are putting as much effort into family preservation as our child care."