|© UNICEF video|
|At ‘Xchange’, a UNICEF-supported programmed in Port-au-Prince, 18-year-old Didier (left) found a new home and a chance to leave behind his life in the gangs.|
By Kun Li
PORT-AU-PRINCE, 14 October 2005 – In many parts of this city, Haiti’s capital, armed gangs recruit children for use as messengers, or to commit crimes. The gangs lure the children with money and food – which are hard to come by for many who live in the poverty-stricken neighbourhood of Cité Soleil. But once in a gang, children are coerced to fight other gangs or carry out illegal acts, with a beating or worse as punishment if they refuse.
In Cité Soleil around 70 per cent of school-aged children don’t go to school, and are trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty and violence. Poverty and lack of education has left children here extremely vulnerable to exploitation. Often they have to join a gang just to survive.
“The gang leaders give us food, clothes, and money. They ask us to be on the lookout for other enemy gangs. When we say ‘no’, they would beat us with sticks, rocks, or whatever they can find,” said one 13-year-old boy living in Cite Soleil.
|© UNICEF Video|
|Children learning dancing at 'Xchange', in one of Port-au-Prince's slums.|
"More than 30,000 children are living under violence in some areas of Port-au-Prince. That's the reality of Haiti's children," said UNICEF Representative in Haiti Adriano Gonzalez-Regueral. "UNICEF considers these children as victims, not criminals. They are victims of poverty, lack of education, and lack of protection. That's why we are working with all partners to help them be extracted from this desperate situation."
‘Xchange’ brings children hope
Eighteen-year-old Didier Joseph once worked for gangs in Port-au-Prince. But he was able to escape the violence and find a home at ‘Xchange’ – a UNICEF-supported programme for children and young people from the slum.
"Many of these children have lost one or both parents, and most of them are poor. If we don’t help them, they will most likely end up joining the gangs," explained the Director of Xchange, Pierry Gerbier. "At Xchange, we create an environment for them to live in peace, and learn useful skills."
"Xchange gives a new meaning to my life," said Didier. "Here I learn arts, dance, and how to play the drums. I found a new family."
"I like coming here, because I like to dance, and meet other friends. When I am here I feel safe," said another girl, 10-year-old Jessica Jourdain.
Didier had the misfortune to be born in a country where a large proportion of children get no education. At the age of 18, Didier is still hoping for his chance to start school for the first time.
"I never went to school, and I would like to go to school, but for now, I don't have the opportunity," he said.