Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Happy Birthday Little Star!

Today is a special day for the SOS family in House #8. The table is laden with delicious food and the living room is bursting with guests. Loud music is coming from the speakers as the star of the afternoon makes her appearance: It's Princess Marevie's second birthday.

Marevie is celebrating two birthdays - two years since she was born and one since she was born again. Photo: Sophie Preisch
 Two years might not seem long, but Marevie has a long story. The girl was found a year ago in severe malnutrition. She was cared for by her fathers girlfriend - or rather: was supposed to be cared for by her. The woman, herself a mother, used Marevie to gain access to more food and medicine, but she did not feed her. When SOS co-workers took her to the hospital the day he found her, she hardly had enough strength to keep her eyes open. It took months of treatment to recover, to be able to walk and play.

This SOS co-worker was moved to tears when she saw how healthy Marevie looks compared to one year ago. - Photo: Sophie Preisch 
 Today, that all seems far away, as we watch her dancing in her bright white princess' dress. "She loves to dance", says her SOS mother, "she dances all the time."

Marevie was taken into the SOS Children‘s Village in Santo on 10 February 2010. She has been given an SOS family: a mother, aunties and brothers and sisters who look after her and care for her. They give her love and care and space to develop. During this past year, Marevie has also turned famous, since her story touched many hearts, and still does.

Even though she has become something of a mascot for the whole SOS Children's Village, Marevie seems unaware of all the attention and prefers to play with her SOS sister. - Photo: Sophie Preisch
She herself, seems unaware of all the excitement about her. She surveys her surroundings with a critical expression and prefers playing with her best friend and SOS sister to being the centre of attention. As SOS co-workers are sitting around, eating birthday cake and reflecting how the past year changed this this little girl, Marevie dances away to play with the other kids.

On a bus that never arrived at school

One year ago 33 children were brought to the SOS Children's Village in Santo after a long and sad trip. A group of self-proclaimed missionaries wanted to bring them to the Dominican Republic and were later charged with child trafficking. In March 2010 the children were reunited with their families - we visited two girls and their mother at home to follow up on their story.

In spite of - or because of - her love for her girls, Leila's and Soraja's mother didn't want to pass up an opportunity to offer them a better life abroad. - Photo: Sophie Preisch
 Education is a big issue in Haiti. An estimated 55 percent of Haitians are illiterate, schools are mainly in private hands, and the monthly cost still does not guarantee high-quality education. It was the hope of making a good education available to their children that made 22 parents give away their children one year ago. "Everyone hopes for a good future for their children. They told us they would go to school and we could visit them", says the mother of Leila and Soraja.

On 12 January 2010 their home collapsed and the family - like many others in Haiti - lived in shock and fear. They lost their house and had to sleep outside. It was just two weeks after the earthquake when they were introduced to a group of foreigners who promised a better future for their children. Most of the children, taken from their parents by the ten missionaries came from Calebasse, an area in the mountains outside of Port au Prince. Infrastructure is indeed lacking up here, the dirt roads are full of potholes and there is only one school. Nevertheless, families here live in relatively good conditions, there is a lot of agriculture and the community seems strong.

This is a summary of what happened a year ago: 33 children were brought to the border of the Dominican Republic. There the bus of US-American Missionaries was stopped by Haitian police. The children did not have valid documents - nor an idea of where they were being taken. After a night of debate (and without food for the children) they were finally brought to the SOS Children's Village in Santo, where they were cared for until mid-March. Haitian authorities then decided to reunite all those children - who, contrary to the missionaries' statements, are not orphans - with their families.

"How are the girls?" asks the SOS mother, in whose SOS family house Leila and Soraja lived. "They still call me once in a while. They say: Mama Joseline, we don't have much credit on the phone, but we wanted to say hallo!" Joseline is proud that she was able to ease their difficult time a bit by giving the two of them a temporary home.

Today, the girls are glad to be back home, but still go visit the woman who took them into her family - and call her Mama Joseline. -Photo: Sophie Preisch
 Now, Leila and Soraja are visibly happy to be back at home. They are playing with their cousins, giggling and happily jumping around their mother while she talks to us. "For the next year we hope things will get better. All the things that happened to Haiti, we hope that they do not happen again", she says. The family was able to rebuild their home, they earn some money by offering internet on their computer to neighbours. "Thank god we are fine now. And also for the problem of the school we will find a solution."