Thursday, 11 November 2010

Learning plumbing and cosmetology in Cap Haitien

There are two SOS Children’s Villages in Haiti, one in Santo, just outside Port au Prince, where I am based, and the other in the north at Cap Hatien. According to Wikipedia, Cap Haitien is an historic colonial city with an architectural style similar to New Orleans. It apparently also has the best beaches in Haiti and - before the earthquake - was a stopover for ships cruising the Caribbean. Wikipedia doesn’t mention the SOS Children’s Village, which is actually located just outside the town, nor the school, the social centre or the vocational training centre that are all run by SOS Children’s Villages. But the fact that they are there indicates that Cap Haitien has other needs.
The children of the SOS Children's Village Cap Haitien greet the new arrivals - Photo: H. Atkins

I visited the Cap Haitien children’s village at the weekend just after Hurrricane Tomas, which actually became a tropical storm, had hit Cap Haitien. Like Port au Prince, the area suffered a heavy deluge but thankfully nothing worse, and I found it a haven of calm after the hurly-burly of the capital. The village director, Francois Arror, is a gentle giant of a man, obviously much loved by the children. While we strolled through the village pathways the younger children greeted us as they played, and the older ones invited us into their houses. Further on, a football game was in progress between the energetic village youth, and a small boy sat watching, entranced by the activity.
Refrigeration technology is a popular course at the vocational training centre - Photo: H. Atkins

The village compound encompasses an SOS Hermann Gmeiner School, a social centre (the equivalent of a kindergarten), and a vocational training centre (Centre de Formation). I have seen SOS vocational training centres before, in Africa, where the main subjects taught are usually carpentry, electrical engineering, automotive engineering and tailoring. I was surprised to find that the Cap Haitien Centre de Formation also teaches plumbing, refrigeration engineering, cosmetology (beautician training) and bricklaying, the latter in partnership with Habitat for Humanity.

The plumbing course has a very "hands-on" approach - Photo: H. Atkins

I watched keen students learning the intricacies of connecting water to showers and toilets, others engrossed in the technical parts of a fridge, and a class full of students applying extended false finger nails to willing guinea pigs. My only disappointment was that there were no girls on any of the courses except cosmetology and tailoring. Having said that, the cosmetology course was obviously very popular, with every space taken.

Traditional gender roles still prevail in Haiti - Photo: H. Atkins

My short trip to Cap Haitien was a welcome break from the constant noise in Santo, where an overworked village houses many extra children who lost their parents during the earthquake. It reminded me that SOS Children’s Villages are not only places of refuge, but are permanent homes to thousands of children throughout the world, and that given time, normality will once again return to Santo.


  1. Skills training like welding, electrician and plumbing courses are really helpful to communities like this. Most first world countries still lack sufficient skilled trade workers.

  2. Now that is a good cause. Plumbing for the gentlemen and cosmetology for most ladies (cause a lot of guys are into it too). I do hope a lot participates and even though it is not going to be their profession, they can learn something they can use on the daily basis (e.g. maintenance of house plumbing)