On January 12, 2010, Haiti’s worst earthquake in history killed 230,000 people, flattened the capital, Port-au-Prince, and decimated government buildings.
Included among the dead were public officials, teachers, and medical workers — people whose skills are sorely needed during a natural disaster. Haiti’s November 2010 elections, whose outcome will not be clarified until February 2011, and the riots that the election sparked, have hampered the formation of a functioning government that can coordinate reconstruction with the United Nations, nongovernmental organizations, and Haiti’s citizens.
Right after the disaster, on-site NGOs like the international charity SOS Children’s Villages quickly sprang into action to provide emergency food and shelter for affected children and families. In the last twelve months, SOS has expanded the network through which it provides hot meals to 14,000 children a day, delivered medical and psychological help to children in need, and temporarily absorbed into two SOS Children’s Villages in Haiti hundreds of boys and girls whose families had disappeared or could no longer care for them.
SOS has since reunited 150 children with their families and supported these households with family strengthening programs when required. The SOS school in Santo currently enrolls 921 children — twice its capacity before the quake — and requires two student shifts.
No Quick Solutions in Haiti
Despite the work of groups like SOS and signs of overall progress in Haiti such as better access to food, medical care, and clean water, experts say it will take years for the nation to recover. A year after the earthquake, more than a million Haitians are still living in tent camps and relying on outside emergency aid. Evidence is growing that violence against tent children is increasing in a country where, before the quake, an estimated 1.2 million children already were victims of psychological and physical violence.
“We have to accept that there is no quick solution to the situation in Haiti,” stated SOS President Helmut Kutin after visiting Haiti in October. “But we must move forward, sticking to our reconstruction plan, so that it will give the people the strength to help themselves. However, this process will take longer than we would like.”
The reasons that recovery is so slow are complex. Prior to the earthquake, deep poverty, lack of education, and weak public services already made life difficult for Haitians: One in 13 children died before age 5, half of all children did not attend school, and 60 percent of the population was illiterate. In the wake of the terrible quake, Haitian families have suffered non-stop blows, including Hurricane Tomas, a cholera epidemic, and civil unrest resulting from uncertain election results.
Haiti Building Plans Ready, Approvals Pending
Focused on caring for, protecting, and educating children, as well as supporting families, SOS has developed a ten-year plan that requires the approval of the Haitian government.
Emphasis is on constructing buildings that, in the long run, will be maintained by the Haitian government and local communities. But the government has not yet given approval for SOS to construct permanent buildings such as schools (because new quake-safe buildings codes have yet to be passed), nor has it responded to SOS-drafted agreements in areas such as teacher training and quality control of child care facilities. Education is urgent, as one SOS volunteer at a food point remarked, “The children need more than just something for their stomachs now; they also need something for their brains.”
In the case of school construction, SOS is seeking an agreement from Haiti’s Ministry of Education to ensure that the state takes over the daily operation and financing of ten planned schools after a seven-year transition phase.
SOS Children’s Villages would also like to sign a cooperative agreement with the Social Affairs Ministry. SOS Children’s Villages has offered to evaluate the quality of care in orphanages and other care facilities, to develop recommendations for converting institutions unsuitable for children into smaller, family-based programs, and to introduce national quality standards.
To learn more, please visit http://www.sos-usa.org/haiti.
Photo credit: SOS Children's Villages
By Kyna Rubin, SOS Children's Villages
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