Saturday, 30 January 2010

Laughing and playing returns in the village

Two weeks after the disaster positive and negative sides of normality are back. On the negative side, some bureaucratic obstacles return. My European Mobile Provider has blocked my mobile connection, because of an increase in usage (they will certainly get paid, that is not the problem). They could be proud that they help to save lives but they prefer to hide behind red tape on usage limits. And if you look than on their homepages, you will find perfect done CSR reports. Old customs issues have started to return as well which annoys me because I don´t understand why goods we need here, have to stay blocked in customs in Santo Domingo.

Most positively slowly the children living here in SOS Village seem to be recovering. They are still scared and won´t sleep indoors in the houses, but they have started laughing and playing again. The mood is getting much more positive and some of the Caribbean atmosphere returns, even though there is still no water and electricity in the village. The children have made kites with the remains of old plastic bags, then they are letting them fly up in the sky. It is a way of feeling happy and forgetting the present.

Yesterday we built up six large marquee tents which we have got from USAID, and we filled our stores with new food and other provisions, receiving deliveries both from our own office in Santo Domingo and donated from the Red Crescent. The cooperation between the NGO´s works very well. I noticed some people commented critically about of my clear opposition against fast foreign adoptions. But the latest reports of child trafficking shows again how important controlling the movement of children is. Practically it is clear on the ground that it is impossible to know the family situation of each and every child with certainty. From here the idea of excavating children from Haiti for a certain period of time the USA or Europe looks clearly wrong. It is not just denying the child and hope of short term reunion with the family they need most of all, just imagine what you would put a child through spending a few weeks or month in a western “paradise” and then coming back to Haiti.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Beautiful, free and strong

These three words describe the songs which radio stations here in Haiti having been playing for some days. Singing about a beautiful and free country, which will be strong and healthy forever. It´s to try to give people hope and strength, but it sometimes sounds more than a lost dream and a vision. Rebuilding will take years, and many elements to “new” build Haiti. It will only work, if there is an international Masterplan put in place. It would need a lot of help, not only money, but also know how and consulting in a common approach from local and international partners.

Here we are struggling to stabilize the situation in the village. For three days we have had no water and electricity in the village. But more important is that our relief workers are out in the field, delivering food to local communities. So at least we are making sure many children get their daily meal. We are also out in the refuge camps, and seeing the situation there it always reminds you how important it is to establish safe shelters for lone children.

Since yesterday we have a small medical clinic on site, run by the Dominican Red Cross doctors, on our playing fields. Forty child spaces for sick SOS children, the children which are in our safe shelter and also those injured from around the neighborhood.

The spaces for children accommodated with our families here are already full. So we rush to put up tents. Perhaps the space is enough to care for 200-300 children properly but we are preparing the additional facilities which may be needed to host 500 children.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

SOS Children's Villages mother through and through

On her way home to the SOS Children's Village Santo, SOS Children's Villages mother Francoise found three children amid the rubble.

Just a few days after the great earthquake, SOS Children's Villages mother Francoise finally made it home to Carrefour Feuilles, a suburb of Port-au-Prince situated some 30 kilometres from Santo, to check on her grown-up son. He was mercifully uninjured, but his house had been destroyed.

On the way home to the SOS Children's Village in Santo, Francoise noticed three little children crouching between several heaps of rubble right next to the street. There was a girl lying on the ground crying, two little boys sat next to her. At that moment, there was no doubt for her: "I had to help. I am an SOS Children's Villages mother through and through; and have been for more than ten years. I knew right away that these children needed help, just as I knew that I was the person to help them and that I would make them part of my SOS family", she says with tears in her eyes.

Neighbours told her what had happened to the three children. The siblings Mathilde*, age three, and her brother Tom*, age seven, had lost their father, their mother and their brother in the quake. They spent the whole first night after the quake sitting next to their dead family. The five-year old Paul*, a boy from the neighbourhood and friend to Mathilde and Tom, had also lost his parents.

"It was heartbreaking", says Francoise, "they were hungry and crying… I couldn't just keep on walking". She made up her mind right there and then - she took the girl in her arms and started walking, the boys just followed. They had to walk for quite a while before they could catch a bus that brought them to Santo. Mathilde is often overwhelmed by her pain, her brother can talk a bit more about the terrifying seconds of the quake. "Everything was shaking, and there was a terrible noise. We were scared and just ran and ran and ran". Neither will say a word about the time right after the earthquake.

Francoise is glad to have taken the children with her: "They're safe here and have all they need. They can sleep and have a healthy appetite. The rest of us here at house number 13… well, we just huddle up to make room".

*Names altered for reasons of privacy

One child who will not forget

"Go outside and study for a little while." were the last words Yannick*, a twelve-year old boy, heard from his mother. He reluctantly went outside as he did not want to argue with his mother. Yannick and his mother had lived alone in a small house. His father had left them a long time before... "Luckily", says Yannick "because he often hit me and my mum." Yannick and his mother, who was disabled and could not walk properly, were close and coped with their difficult everyday life.
Yannick remembers that as soon as he was outside: "the earth started to shake and there was a tremendous noise". And then the little house collapsed behind him, burying his mother who was unable to save herself because of her disability.

Yannick was horrified and ran out onto the street. An aunt took him into her care and helped him through the very difficult first days. They slept out on the street and had hardly anything to eat until they finally received emergency aid in a camp.

Four days ago** Yannick finally arrived at the SOS Children's Village. He is very withdrawn and just quietly observes what goes on around him. During the day he is quite well, but during the night he has bad nightmares which take him back to what he has gone through and he shivers and is sick in his sleep.

The psychologists at SOS Children's Villages are trying to help Yannick. He knows and feels that he is in a safe place and is cared for. But he still mainly feels grief and an inner emptiness without his mother. 

*Name has been changed, photo actual
**Text from January 26, 2010

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Driving to town is always a deep and incredible experience

I have already spent a week here in Haiti. The week has passed extremely quickly, helping to get our programmes working and struggling with communication lines to the outside world.

Indeed time has passed by so quickly that I am not sure if I have really registered situation all around where I am. At the moment I feel somehow torn between two parallel different worlds. The first world is the relatively safe and secure children´s village here and the second tragedy immediately outside in Port-au-Prince and the villages around. Therefore every time I leave the village and drive into town has become a deep and moving experience.

Part of me still cannot believe, however often I see it, that this could be possible. But life is going on in town, and there you also have two parallel worlds. On the one hand extreme hardships in the refuge camps, eyes which look at you without hope, and on the other the first open shops and there are even people going to the barber or even washing their car. Perhaps this is just their way of coping with the situation and reaching for at least a little normality.

Normality is also important for the children and their families, it is part of recovery. That´s why here in Santo we have opened our social center again and have young children even coming to the Kindergarten in the morning. We also have restarted our family strengthening programs in our community centers. This network of community centres will give a lot of families on the edge access to food, medicine and also to things like day care for children, to allow parents time to rebuild or start earning some sort of living.

In the village we are busy preparing for the admission of more unaccompanied children in our safe shelter. So far over 20 are already here and every day more arrive. Together with other NGO´s we are wokring to find the most vulnerable children, young and alone. The registration process done by other organizations is still ongoing. And our  relief workers are out working in the refuge camps of Port-au-Prince to help the children still there in immediate need.

Not without my brother!

At first, everyone in Santo thought they were twins, because they are close and their names were so similar. But Jordan and Jordensten are six and seven years old, respectively. However, they never let each other out of their sight, they walk through the SOS Children's Village holding hands always sit close together and reassure each other. Jordan, the younger one of the two, seems more relaxed and even laughs from time to time. Maybe that's because he knows that he at least still has his big brother to take care of him in these strange surroundings - and after all they've been through.

When the quake hit, Jordensten and Jordan were in Port-au-Prince with their family; their father, mother, their sister and themselves. Neither their sister nor their father survived. Their mother was badly injured, but somehow managed to bring the boys out into the open. They survived the first few days any way they could in one of the many emergency camps, often relying on the help of strangers. Their mother was taken to one of the temporary hospital clinics; her current condition is uncertain.

The boys hardly talk about what happened to them but they are happy to talk about how they are doing right now in the SOS Children's Village: "The food is really good and I can play anytime I want" says Jordan, disappearing toward the swings, dragging his brother along by the hand.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

The situation here is still terrible

Today is Sunday and as on every Sunday a lot of people are going to their churches to pray. I don’t know for sure, because I was not here last week, but I somehow have the feeling their singing and praying is louder than usual. The situation here is still terrible. Yes, it is getting better, there is some available food and water, but life in the camps which have sprung up all over Port au Prince and also in the villages around the capital is very hard. Life is packed close together day and night, under really miserable conditions. But somehow the people of Haiti try to find their way back to normality. On Friday the banks opened again and many people were queueing to withdraw some money. Many little outdoor markets reopened, and people are happy to have the chance of buying at least some little things they need for their daily life.

Here in the Children’s Village of Santo, the first unaccompanied children arrived in the last couple of days. And SOS is busy preparing to give many more children a safe home here in our village. The children arriving are still shocked and traumatised, some of them are more or less not talking, and those who are talking are telling you sad stories. But if you ask them how they feel now, at least at that moment they reply with a little smile, and they say that they are happy to be here, and that they love to be with the other children. These are the special moments, where everybody here feels how rewarding it is to help the lone children of Haiti. I call them lone or unaccompanied, and not orphaned, because given the situation here it will be a long time before anyone is really sure about their family situation.
We have to give them a safe place, a shelter, we have to help them and give them the attention and love they need. And meanwhile we have to try to reunite the families. I have heard but not really understood is an ongoing hype for international adoptions. In my opinion, given the situation here, it is impossible to be sure of the family status of any lone child, and adoption might not be in the best interest of the child, when parents or close relatives could easily be still alive, just not found or identified amidst the chaos.