|© UNICEF Haiti/2007/ Parisot|
|Samuel Dalembert shows children at the Lakou Centre how to shoot a basketball from afar. Lakou is a day centre with activities geared towards the reintegration of street children.|
By Linda Tom
PORT-AU-PRINCE, 25 September 2007 – US National Basketball Association star and Philadelphia 76ers centre Samuel Dalembert has just completed a one-week visit to his native country, Haiti, where he spread the message of hope and encouragement to thousands of vulnerable children and women.
Born in Port-au-Prince and raised here until the age of 14, Mr. Dalembert has seen firsthand how violence and lack of access to basic health care and education take a toll on children.
“I always have ideas of what I can do, lots of projects in mind, but it's time to pass from talk to action,” he said. “I came here with UNICEF to see what I could do for youth here in Haiti.”
Advocacy and awareness
In the capital’s impoverished Cité Soleil district, Mr. Dalembert visited the UNICEF-supported St. Vincent de Paul Cultural Centre and school.
“A school like that means so much. They must have over 2,000 kids, and there are still a lot of other kids out there that are unable to enrol in school because there are not enough schools,” he said, adding that the cost of uniforms, books, transport and school fees is also prohibitive for many parents.
Just a few minutes away at the Lakou Centre, Mr. Dalembert was showing children affected by armed violence how to shoot a basketball. The centre offers more than 350 boys and girls a safe place to get a hot meal, access to health services, and literacy and vocational training in carpentry, hairdressing and tailoring.
|© UNICEF Haiti/2007/ Parisot|
|Samuel Dalembert observes premature infants during a visit to the UNICEF-supported Zamni Lasanté project, which offers free, high-quality health care.|
UNICEF Deputy Representative in Haiti Njanja Fassu underlined the importance of Mr. Dalembert’s visit in advocating and raising public awareness about the well-being and development of thousands of vulnerable children in Haiti.
“In a country where an estimated 11 per cent of children – over 400,000 – are orphaned by the death of one or both parents, and about 8 per cent of children between the ages of 5 and 17 are in domestic service, such a visit can only bring hope,” said Mr. Fassu.
Access to health care
In the hills of Haiti’s remote and impoverished central plateau, Mr. Dalembert visited the Zamni Lasanté project. With the support of UNICEF and other partners, this ambitious programme offers free, high-quality health care and an extensive range of community and social services in a region where even basic medical care is hard to come by.
Mr. Dalembert, who has been active with the NBA and UNICEF in the Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS campaign, was impressed by the Zamni Lasanté project’s highly successful AIDS treatment programmes and its efforts to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. “The fact that a hospital can exist in a location like this – imagine many more like that in different locations,” he said. “You can see the potential.”
Asked what he hoped to accomplish through his visit, Mr. Dalembert replied that his goal was simply to help children. “We could be back home where we don’t have problems like loss of electricity or access to safe water and health care,” he said. “But hopefully, being here I can help in some small way.”
Then he added, laughing: “Maybe you will keep a job for me, for when I retire.”