Thursday, 4 February 2010

"Give me my life back"

The images are all too familiar: for days now, staff from SOS Children's Villages Haiti and the international SOS emergency relief team have been driving through Port-au-Prince, past ruined houses and emergency relief camps. They provide food for the children from the poorest areas and try to distract them from the misery of their daily lives. The stories of the children and mothers in these places are very similar too. As Soraja Beaujour puts it, "Our simple lives were devastated in a few seconds. We didn't have much, but we had a small house, and we were together. I want to turn back the clock, and get my life back again.” The earthquake took everything she had. Her house was destroyed, and her husband and eldest daughter both died. Since then she has been living on the streets with her three sons.

Even before the earthquake many people had to rely on aid. People talk of poverty, hardly any education, and mothers without any qualifications. This was the reason why SOS Children's Villages had already set up 16 community centres to provide children and families with the bare essentials.

Then the disaster struck. Twenty more centres have since been set up. SOS Children's Villages visits them on a daily basis, and now provides food to over 4,000 children each day. The human suffering has increased beyond belief. Nearly everyone has lost all their worldly goods, most of them are mourning close relatives, and children are sick and malnourished.

"We are still sleeping on the streets. Now at least we have a sheet to cover ourselves, but not much else." Soraja is just one of many who wait every day for the community to gather in her district and the arrival of the SOS bus. Food is distributed and the people immediately begin to cook communally.

"It's about more than just eating for us - we get together. It makes a welcome change that brightens up our everyday lives. After the meal the staff of SOS Children's Villages play with the children, and they laugh and dance together. This gives us and the children strength and confidence. We feel that we are not forgotten on the streets, and that someone is there for us.”

These are all things that families like Soraja's desperately need. Most of the children have coughs, worms and eczema from living on the street. There is an SOS Children's Villages nurse present at every visit so that essential treatment can be given.

In the days and weeks to come, SOS Children's Villages plans to extend these activities to the poorest districts, taking aid directly to the children. It will not just be a case of distributing food parcels, as the aim is also to empower communities to help themselves. And what's more, SOS Children's Villages can be sure that the food really reaches the ones that need it most urgently - the children.

Soraja sits at the side while her children sing and dance. Now and then a little smile flashes over her face, even though her eyes are looking beyond the moment into a future filled with worries. But these moments give her support and some hope, before she starts looking again for a place to sleep on the streets with her three young sons.

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