|Loveson, 13, assisted here by a UNICEF child-protection worker, was separated from his family in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, after the 12 January earthquake; he is now in a UNICEF-supported facility in the Dominican Republic.|
By Jennifer Bakody
JIMANI, Dominican Republic, 16 February 2010 – Born and raised in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 13-year-old Loveson has such a small frame that he could easily pass for 9 or 10. Outside the makeshift UN headquarters here, 5 km from the Dominican Republic’s border with Haiti, he plays with a plush Tiger hand puppet and a toy cell phone.
Under the circumstances, Loveson is understandably shy. But when asked how he’s feeling, he smiles. “I have all these people around me,” he says quietly in his native Creole. “Everyone is looking after me now.”
Over the past month, Loveson has been through a lot. On 12 January, the earthquake that struck the Haitian capital and other densely populated areas levelled his family’s home. While Loveson managed to escape immediate harm, by all accounts his relatives inside did not.
Alone and scared, Loveson somehow found his way to the border. In the chaos, he crossed into the Dominican Republic, where a local family first took him in before bringing him to UNICEF’s offices in Jimani.
|Thousands of homes were levelled in Port-au-Prince on 12 January. Here, men dig amidst rubble of buildings destroyed by the earthquake in the centre of the Haitian capital, searching for family members.|
A safe environment
UNICEF Dominican Republic staff member Moyra Tames has been working with Loveson ever since. The first priority was “that his basic needs were met and that he was examined, fed and placed in a safe environment, under supervision,” she says.
Ms. Tames immediately arranged for Loveson to be sheltered with one of UNICEF’s partners on the ground. She made sure he had access to safe water, soap and other essential items.
Loveson also has been introduced to a professional psycho-social counsellor to help him begin dealing with a kind of trauma that even adults aren’t equipped to handle.
Monitoring, support and protection
Meanwhile, UNICEF and its partners have been supporting efforts by the Dominican National Council for Children and Adolescents to locate Loveson’s closest surviving relatives and return him home to their care.
His case isn’t unique. UNICEF has been following cases of unaccompanied Haitian minors in the Dominican Republic since shortly after the earthquake struck. Each case requires close monitoring; each child needs life-saving support and protection.
As for Loveson, he’s retaining his ready smile and has even made a new friend – a boy his own age who lives in Jimani but comes from Haiti. They spend most of their days outside, racing around amongst the busy aid workers and calling out each other’s names. By meal time, they’ve expended a lot of energy. And like most teen-aged boys, they have very healthy appetites.
Earthquake in Haiti