Monday, 10 May 2010

Like a holiday

Line Wolf Nielsen, currently in Haiti for SOS Children's Villages, spends two days in a part of Haiti that offers luxury goods that simply can't be found in Port-au-Prince: a steady supply of water and electricity - and silence.

I have just come back from a few days visiting the Northern city of Cap Haitien, where there is another SOS Children's Village. When asked how it was up there, my short answer was: "a bit like being on holiday."

The Northern part of the country has not had to deal with the direct impact of the January 12 earthquake. When you see the city of Cap Haitien, it is not a heap of crumbled houses and tents on every single plot of land. You are not overwhelmed by the sense of there being just too many people on too little land, and the ratio of affected and traumatized children and families is much lower.

Still, everyone is very much aware of the problems. Local hospitals have taken in countless wounded people and many left the capital Port-au-Prince in order to seek shelter, work and refuge from the horrible conditions there.

In the SOS Children's Village of Cap Haitien, 40 children have been admitted since the earthquake, but as opposed to the village in Santo, it has not been necessary to put the kids up in tents. The 22 families living in the children's village at Cap Haitien have been able to absorb and integrate the new faces into their existing families. Grass fields are not dotted with big tents and children, flowers prevail over empty plastic bottles and the staff is not sporting black circles under their eyes after months of heavy additional workloads.

In addition, there was no need to share a tent with colleagues. I was lodged in an actual guesthouse with a steady supply of water, electricity, home-cooked meals and silence. In short: there is calm in Cap Haitien, which the village of Santo and our living quarters there cannot provide. After tree months on the ground in Santo, such things seem like such a luxury that two nights equal a holiday.

Such benefits aside, the main reason why I thoroughly enjoyed my trip was because it re-fuelled my hope for Haiti's future.

I met some cool SOS co-workers who really knew what they were doing and what they wanted to achieve. At the community centre I saw both fathers and mothers in charge of cooking and cleaning - workloads being shared between the genders are not a given here - and I spoke with young people with dreams about starting their own businesses. It was good to be reminded that not all of this country's human resources are bogged down in earthquake-emergency related work, but that other priorities do indeed exist and prevail.

In the long term goals and dreams will be needed just as much as tents and latrines are at present, at least in order for the reconstruction to take root in "building back better" - to put it in UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon's words.