Thursday, 18 February 2010

Farewell to Haiti

Georg Willeit was deployed in Haiti for four weeks. He arrived a week after the earthquake in the SOS Children's Village in Santo near Port-au-Prince and supported and contributed to the emergency aid in the extremely difficult and distressing early stages. Now he is taking his leave, with "unimaginably sad images in [his] head, but also some very positive ones."

It's over. I'm sitting in the airport in Port-au-Prince waiting for my flight to Santo Domingo. The UN has made these flights available in order to make it easier for international aid workers to get to Haiti. Yes, I'm saying goodbye to Haiti, my time here has passed incredibly quickly, and the farewell isn't easy, although I'm glad to be going back to my 'normal' life again, and back to my family. I'll never forget my time here, I have some unimaginably sad images in my head, but also some very positive ones. The Haitians' vitality, the power of international solidarity, and the individual fates of the children and the families we have helped.

The time has passed quickly, but when you look back on it, much has happened. In everyday life, day by day, it all seems to go too slowly. But as a whole, in retrospect, it's really quite considerable. Not only for us in the SOS Children's Village and through our work, but also step by step in the city, even if they have only just managed to complete the first hundred metres of a marathon.

On my arrival [on 19 January], the SOS Children's Village in Santo was still in a state of shock. The aftermath of the earthquake, which had happened just one week ago, had paralysed the entire Village; no one talked, no one laughed, they were glad to have the bare essentials, and even having them wasn't a certainty in the beginning because of the distribution problems. The Village had no way of communicating with the outside, no running water and no electricity. Yet what has happened in the past four weeks… the supply situation in the Village works, there's water and there's electricity. Children play and laugh, the courage to face life has returned.

The school was converted into a storage depot for storing the countless relief supplies. Seven classes are packed full with valuable and much-needed goods. A warehouse is already being built in order to free up the school for lessons, which are to resume soon. Instead of 150, around 320 children are now living in the SOS Children's Village, and that number is growing daily. All the children can still be accommodated in the Village's family houses thanks to the great commitment of the SOS Mothers, who, in this emergency situation, have now taken on responsibility for up to 20 children. The first tents have already been put up on the football field, ready to accommodate yet more children, the toilets and washing facilities have been built, the kitchen is under construction and plans for temporary housing are being put in place.

The work in the poorest districts of the city has quadrupled - instead of 16 community centres, 66 are already in operation. This currently enables us to provide over 9,000 children with food every day. And many more centres like these are to come.

SOS Children's Villages is an important partner in international cooperation, especially in connection with the issue of child protection and the situation for unaccompanied children in this country. And therefore SOS Children's Villages is already involved, through active participation in the relevant UN working groups, in the planning of the rebuilding of Haiti.

In everyday life it's hard to get a look at, as they say, the 'big picture'. There's the pressure of the big emergency, there's the daily grind, the actual doing itself. And there's still so very much to do. That's why I'm relying on the long-term support of our donors and sponsors, because the people here need help! They need it even when things seem to be going too slowly to people on the outside, or when there are a few setbacks.

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