Tuesday, 4 January 2011

New things to come

Over the last days of 2010 more than 100 children of the SOS Children’s Village in Santo moved into their new homes. The temporary shelters,built on the children’s village grounds, help reduce the number of children in the family houses and provide a temporary home for many. All these children came here after the earthquake. The majority of them will be reunited with their biological families in 2011.

SOS Aunties gather and choose bedsheets for their new homes in the temporary shelters in Santo - Photo: Sophie Preisch

A group of SOS aunties is gathering at the back of a truck and choosing bedsheets for their new homes. "Everything here is new. We are making 20 houses ready for the children to move in. We bought beds, mattresses, fans... everything", says Jules Richard, director of the temporary shelters in Santo. These prefabricated houses were donated as part of the emergency relief programme after the earthquake in January 2010. Some of them have been in use since June, others will be in use from now on.

"The process of moving is quite complicated, it needs a lot of thought and cooperation from everyone involved", says Jules Richard. Each house is a home to five children and one SOS auntie. One block consists of four houses and functions as a community in household questions and cooking.

Jules Richard, director of the temporary shelters, knows the difficulties but has ideas to overcome them - Photo: Sophie Preisch

It is important to organise certain things in order to still provide a loving and secure home to the children: "We don’t want to separate siblings. Those families where children under five years of age came here with their brothers or sisters stay in the SOS Children’s Village. Even though the shelters are a good alternative to proper housing they still don't provide all the facilities necessary to babies, for instance. Most of the infrastructure - like a bigger kitchen and a community house for leisure activities - are still in the process of being built".

A new community kitchen is being built for the SOS families, who live in the temporary shelters in Santo - Photo: Sophie Preisch

"It's cold at night and hot during the day. It will take some time until everything is working and we get used to our new homes", says an auntie who just moved here with five children. The fan has not yet been installed in her house, that’s one of the things that are being fixed these days.

Nevertheless, the children make do with what they have: A group of children is playing with a wheelbarrow, another group is standing in the grass flying kites fashioned from sticks and plastic bags. Ten year old James says he’s doing fine here. He still visits his SOS mother and his SOS siblings in the children’s village, but most of the day he spends in his new home.

Boys living in the temporary shelters in CV Santo flying their self-made kites - Photo: Sophie Preisch

He is one of over 100 children that will be reunited with their biological families during 2011. After the earthquake thousands of families lost their homes and weren't able to provide for their children anymore. It took months to find out which children can be reunited with their families and when they would be capable to care for them again. The temporary shelters now accommodate those children until they move back with their families. But they also accommodate children who lost all their family members and who will move into the new SOS Children’s Village that is being built. "There are still a lot of difficult cases to be handled, but we just needed to act quickly. It will take some time until we have enough trees providing shade and spaces for leisure activities. But at least we are already providing the basics", says Jules Richards. He and his team are also moving their offices into the plastic prefab houses.

As the new year steps in, a new temporary village is being born.

Monday, 3 January 2011

A moment of peace and joy

"Everyone is waiting on this special evening. Waiting for Santa Claus and for good things to come. And it is necessary to spend some time together in peace, joy and love... because even if Santa does not bring any gifts, often it is enough to have one such precious moment", says SOS co-worker Samy, who hosted a Christmas party for the children of the SOS Children’s Village in Santo on Christmas Eve.

Two girls at the christmas celebration in the SOS Children's Village Santo - Photo: Sophie Preisch
The community house was beautifully decorated, Samy was doing stand-up comedy, playing games and singing songs with the children. Boys and girls competed in dance contests, and the ones who were not chosen to dance on the stage just danced in the audience. For a few hours the kids were sharing a joyful time, older children looking after their younger siblings, former SOS-Children who already live by their own dropping by to say hello. "I always remember what Christmas meant to me as a child. I believed in Santa Claus and I still keep this picture in my mind. Having a good time at Christmas means a lot, especially this year. After a year full of crises, of the earthquake, of loss and destruction, of cholera and misery we need to get together in peace to prepare ourselves for a new year - one that will be better", says Samy looking back. He says his christmas wish was fulfilled: having a good time with the children.

Samy on stage celebrating with the children of the SOS Children’s Village in Santo with games, songs and dance competitions - Photo: Sophie Preisch

Just one day prior to that, Samy’s children’s choir "Image d’amour" was performing at a hospital, bringing joy and peace to some of those who had to spend Christmas in poor health. "I know we all had a tough year and I know that some of you are living in tents, but that won’t keep us from celebrating Christmas with a lot of faith", said 15-year old Rose Andre in her opening words for the show. 16 children of the SOS Children’s Village in Santo were singing and dancing and doing exactly what Samy referred to as the most important thing at christmas: offering a moment of joy.

"Image d'amour", the choir of SOS CV Santo, singing and dancing at a hospital in Port-au-Prince - Photo: Sophie Preisch

Some people clapped their hands as the group danced, others smiled. As the choir sang a slower song at the end of their show many patients could be seen crying. In their hands they held Christmas cards the children had made over the last months. Each card is unique, as SOS co-worker Bettina gave the children a space to do the crafts as well as paper, scissors and crayons - but left them the freedom of creating the cards after their own designs. The audience in the hospital appreciates the show says good-bye with a hearty applause and a big “Merci!”.

During the show of the choir many found a moment to reflect on this past year - Photo: Sophie Preisch
Behind the scenes, it had been quite an effort to bring this peaceful moment to the people in the hospital. The children sang and danced for months rehearsing for this show, they nervously waited in the SOS Children’s Village Santo in the morning until the right cars, the right keys and the right drivers were available at the same time, then rode for about two hours through the hot and dusty city, then waited patiently again when the car broke down half-way, and then again when the police stopped us a few minutes later... and they arrived at the hospital in a good mood, bringing joy to the people and then getting back on the car for another two-hour ride to return. I imagine Santa Claus to be somewhat like that: He also must suffer long, exhausting journeys and still arrives filled with joy and love for everyone.