Friday, 30 July 2010

A "beep" from Merlina…

Yolanda van den Broek, a psychosocial consultant currently in Haiti for SOS Children's Villages, shares her impressions of Port-au-Prince six months after the earthquake that razed the capital and killed hundreds of thousands of its inhabitants.

The town Cap Haitien in the North of Haiti shows no physical signs of the earthquake though everybody felt the earth trembling even this far away. After two months in and around Port au Prince, spending a week in the SOS Children’s Village here feels like paradise. No rubble on the streets, no collapsed houses and no tent camps but an organized town where people go about their normal business.

But the effect is tangible here…just after the earthquake the hospitals of Port au Prince could not handle the immense amount of people that needed help, so people were transferred to various places in the country in trucks and busses. Unaccompanied children also ended up in the north of the country. When no relatives were found even after extensive research,some of the children were brought to the SOS Children’s Village in Port-au-Prince. Around 40 children have found a new family in the village.

The 13-year-old Merlina was with her aunt at the epicenter of the earthquake, and her world changed completely. Her mother did not survive and Merlina was seriously injured. She remembers the helicopter taking her to the hospital in Milot. “I was afraid and I did not know where they were taking me”, she says. She stayed on her own in the hospital for 2 months before she was brought to the SOS Children’s Village. The first weeks were very tough on her, she could only cry and avoided making eye contact with the other children. Merlina thought that they would make fun of her because of her partly amputated foot. Her new SOS mother accompanied her patiently, and gradually Merlina showed her beautiful smile again. She is now playing with the other children and looking forward to go to school in September. But I also notice that she is always outside the house, walking around a lot and trying to find ways to distract herself. I see her sitting on one of the benches outside, she holds her phone tightly and I am wondering if she is, after six months, still hoping that a family member will contact her. She tells me that this phone is the only thing she has left from her mother besides her memories.

Merlina keeps coming back to me, shyly at first but becoming more confident little by little. Sometimes she sends me little notes through her new SOS brothers and sisters and other times she wants to talk. She tried to block her grief for a long time but she is allowing it to go bit by bit now. “It really makes me sad but I do feel better and stronger now”, she said.

Although I am back in Santo now there is still frequent contact, she “beeps” me with her phone….lets it ring once so it will not cost her anything. When I call her back we talk a bit; she feels encouraged and tells me her plans for the day. It is just the little extra attention that makes her feel special again…..and that is what she needs at the moment. I am confident that she will get through the difficult times and will enjoy life again.

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