UNICEF official speaks about deadly Haitian orphanage fire

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SCRANTON, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — We are learning more about circumstances surrounding an orphanage fire in Haiti two weeks ago that killed 15 people, 12 of them children.

That orphanage is owned by the Church of Bible Understanding based in Scranton. Friday Eyewitness News spoke with an official from UNICEF. That organization monitors child relief services around the world, including Haiti. She says the tragic fire is no surprise based on the sheer number of orphanages in that country.

The fire showed no mercy, ripping through the orphanage just outside Port Au Prince. The orphanage is owned by the Church of Bible Understanding based in Scranton. Its home address is the Old Good Things antique warehouse and shop on Gilligan Street.

Eyewitness News spoke to Jennifer Melton. She is the chief of child protection for UNICEF in Haiti. That’s short for United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund. That agency monitors service programs for children in need, including orphanages. She spoke to us from Haiti via Skype Friday afternoon.

“Apparently this facility was out of electricity, did not have electricity at that time. They didn’t have fuel for the generators so they had candles. That is reportedly the source of the fire. There was a candle. It happened in one of the dormitories where the children were sleeping,” Melton said.

Melton says Haiti has 754 orphanages, holding 25,000 children, and the government just doesn’t have enough manpower to monitor all of them.

“Unfortunately these institutions, children homes, they just often don’t have the staffing available to really provide adequate care to children,” Melton said.

Melton says she does not have any first-hand knowledge of the conditions at the Church of Bible Understanding orphanage that burned, but points out…

“There needs to be better monitoring of the existing centers. Really applying where they don’t have proper accreditation that they are working towards getting these children in safer places and closing their doors,” Melton said.

Haitian officials have not said what started that fire. We again reached out to a spokesperson for the church. We did not receive a response.

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