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For orphans, safe haven brings new rules

FOND PARISIEN, Haiti – On their first full day at the pastoral Love a Child orphanage, in the hills outside of Port-au-Prince, the dozen rescued orphans started to settle into a new home with new standards of discipline.

They are safe, clean, well fed and well hugged. They're also expected to do chores if they want to eat.

"It's nice," said Mafouna, 12, who stood cautiously in the sprawling yard, looking sideways, because the orphanage's gentle stallion, Victor, was trying to nuzzle her ear.

Making new friends David Friedman / msnbc.com Love A Child co-founder and director Sherry Burnette checks to make sure that, Mafouna, center, one of theŠnew arrivals at the orphanage in Fond Parisien, Haiti, is getting acclimated to her new home. To help the children from the Rescue Children Orphanage get used to their new surrounding, each child was paired up with a "buddy" from the Love A Child orphange. The two new friends are seen here.

The children see familiar faces here on the 100-acre lakeside compound, an hour's drive from the chaotic capital. The new orphanage would not take them in unless adults from their old orphanage came along to help with their care. So two "mommies," or adult women, came from their Rescue Children Orphanage in Port-au-Prince, sponsored by the Lifechurch volunteers from Allentown, Pa.

The orphansŠand most of their adult protectors bugged out of that crumbling, insecure environment on Tuesday. Men from the group spent another day there, paying neighbors to help pack the truck. After frantic calls from loved ones back in Pennsylvania, a three-person security team from the State Department drove by with tactical gear to see whether anyone needed to be extracted. But the situation was calm, so they moved on, followed soon by the men driving out truckloads of belongings.

After a night and a day at the Love A Child compound, it appears that this place is aptly named. It's hard to imagine a safer place in Haiti right now.

Our lastŠblog postŠprompted comments from readers -- some worried, some disapproving -- about the use of corporal punishment at the new orphanage. Referring to co-founder Sherry Burnette, we said, "She's the one with the whistle and a belt, and knows how to use both."

That's entirely accurate, but it didn't give the full picture.

No one is running around the compound beating the children.

SLIDESHOW: Church rushes to help orphange in Haiti

Yes, she does blow the whistle when she needs 80 children to stop what they're doing. We heard a blast when two of the new boys climbed on top of the monkey bars where it's not safe. She shouted in Creole for them to get down.

And yes, she said, she does use a belt or a switch for "a swat on the bottom." We saw her ask a television crew member if she could borrow his belt, because she was going off to have a stern talk with a child. She came back saying, "I didn't need to use it this time."

"You can't run an orphanage where the children are out of control," said Sherry's husband, co-founder Bobby Burnette, when told about the comments from msnbc.com readers, or else everyone's health and safety is endangered. "You have to respect adults. You have to help with the chores. We give them a swat on the bottom if we have to. Many of these children have been beaten, before they came to us, but here they're loved."

He said Americans, particularly younger ones, don't remember being spanked, but their parents certainly do. This, he said, is one reason why American children are so poorly behaved, and why Haitian children are so well behaved.

The Lifechurch children have now seen three different orphanages in six months, and three different styles of discipline.

INTERACTIVE: Meet the children

In their first home, discipline was very harsh, and some abuse had occurred, according to members of the Lifechurch group that then took over. The keys to the Rescue Children Orphanage were essentially handed to the Pennsylvania church's members after mission director Ramon Crespo met the orphanage leader at the airport as he offered to help carry her bag. "We had never planned to run an orphanage," said senior pastor Randy Landis.

Lifechurch's disciplinary style was based more on reward than punishment. The "house father," David Harris, a retired management trainer, said he instituted a system of privileges. Toys were a privilege. Watching a video was a privilege. Disobeying meant losing those privileges.

The children did have chores, and a schedule for every day was posted on the wall. Bathrooms were cleaned at 6 in the morning before school.

But there was no punishment, and certainly no spanking. The children seemed well behaved, for their ages, even after the earthquake disrupted their lives and sent them out into the garden for safety.

On Tuesday morning, they awoke to a new style. Before breakfast, the 80 children were organized by age group for chores. The smallest ones picked up leaves from the driveway or straightened up the toys. The middle ones straightened their bunk room. The older girls, Mafouna and Marie-Victoire, 15, helped package meals for medical workers at the Love A Child clinic.

Then came a confrontation of titans.

Sherry Burnette, 62, asked 7-year-old Widlyne to help clean up. Back at the Lifechurch orphanage, Widlyne had sometimes been a bit of a handful, though her behavior was improving, said Harris. Still, if there were shouts of "Fight! Fight!" on the playground, Widlyne was probably in the middle of it.

Now Widlyne was being asked, before breakfast, to pitch in.

"I already clean up," Widlyne said, sounding less than convincing.

"No, don't tell me you cleaned up," Sherry told her. "You have to clean."

"No," Widlyne said.

Sherry doesn't seem to hear "No" very often, but she tried politeness one more time.

"Please help clean," Sherry said.

"No," Widlyne said, crossing her arms, setting her shoulders and tucking in her chin in her usual show of defiance.

Sherry had an answer for that: "You don't work, you don't eat. Everybody works."

Widlyne gave in, at least for a few minutes.

Read previous stories:

At the end of orphans scary journey, a Haitian oasis

As tension mounts, orphanage group decides to move

An island of relative calm in a sea of chaos

A joyful reunion, but now what?

Armed, resolute, church group heads for Haiti

Pa. pastor 'expecting the worst' at Haitian orphanage

After lunchtime, the children were asked what they thought of the new place. "It's nice," said Stevenson, 7, another intelligent and strong-willed child. He didn't sound enthusiastic about it, or unenthusiastic, just as if he were pointing out an obvious fact of life.

He no longer slept outside or showered in the garden for fear that the house would collapse. He could see mountains and a playground, not razor wire. When someone knocked on a door, he didn't see men grabbing their machetes and shotgun.

And what about Sherry and her rules?

"You don't work, you don't eat," Stevenson said, stating another fact of his new life.

Click here to donate to Love A Child . Click here to donate to Lifechurch missions.Š Or you can click here for a list of other charitable organizations working on the Haiti earthquake relief effort.