|© UNICEF Haiti/2008//LeMoyne|
|UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman greets a young girl at a UNICEF-supported shelter for children affected by HIV/AIDS during her first-ever trip to Haiti.|
By Thomas Nybo
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 7 January 2008 – Executive Director Ann M. Veneman has just completed her first trip with UNICEF to Haiti, the country with the highest rates of infant and maternal mortality in the Western Hemisphere.
Upon her arrival, Ms. Veneman took time to speak with reporters about what she hoped to accomplish during her three-day tour of the country before meeting with top government officials.
“We will really be looking at the ways in which UNICEF is working in the country, and also how we can work together with our government partners and our NGO partners to better improve the lives of children,” Ms. Veneman said.
Watching UNICEF in action
During her stay, Ms. Veneman visited more than a half-dozen programmes that receive UNICEF support. Her first stop was the Lakay-Lakou project, which includes a shelter open to street children, who are especially vulnerable to violence and abuse.
More than 375 boys and girls come here to receive basic services such as food, health and education. Lakay-Lakou hopes to do more than just provide a respite from harsh street life for these children; the project’s goal is to equip them to succeed for life.
|© UNICEF Haiti/2008//Lemyone|
|Ms. Veneman visited a half-dozen UNICEF-supported projects while in Haiti, in addition to meeting with government leaders and policy makers.|
One orphaned child at the centre, Yonel, 16, told UNICEF he believes the vocational training he is receiving there will help him survive on his own as an adult and keep him from returning to life on the streets.
Ms. Veneman’s next visit was to the Choscal hospital, which treats more than 3,000 children for malnutrition every month. UNICEF has supported the centre since 2005 as part of its ongoing commitment to improving access to basic health services for children and women, especially children under the age of five and pregnant women.
Children have a chance to thrive
And just a short drive away, Ms. Veneman toured a programme managed by AVSI, a UNICEF partner that gives psychosocial support to children affected by armed violence – an all-too-common reality for children living in Cité Soleil, one of the Haitian capital’s most dangerous areas.
Ms. Veneman also visited programmes for children and women affected by HIV and AIDS. Thousands of children are living with HIV in Haiti, a situation further complicated by the fact that almost half a million young people under 18 have lost one or both parents, many of them to AIDS.
During Ms. Veneman’s stop at Zanmi Lasanté (Partners In Health) – a full-service hospital with adult and paediatric inpatient wards, an infectious disease centre and a women’s health clinic – Dr. David Walton said he had seen tremendous improvements in the 10 years since he started working there.
|© UNICEF Haiti/2008|
|UNICEF's Executive Director meets with President René Préval at the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince following her tour of programmes for children in Haiti.|
“Without these programmes, it’s almost a death sentence,” Dr. Walton added, referring to common childhood illnesses combined with extreme poverty and malnutrition. “Oftentimes, they die before they reach the age of five years. So you’re allowing these children to grow up, to have a chance for education, and they come back after they’re educated and serve their communities.”
‘A country of many contrasts’
It was in this same spirit of progress that Ms. Veneman offered her thoughts on UNICEF’s role in Haiti.
“It’s a country of many contrasts,” she said. “Haiti is a country that has so much poverty, and it’s a country where you find it very difficult to believe that you’re only a three-hour plane ride from New York. Only 50 per cent of the primary-age children are in primary school. Forty per cent of the children are not getting regular vaccinations for childhood diseases. And there are many, many protection issues in this country, from violence against children to sexual violence to trafficking, to a whole range of other issues.
“And so, this is a country in which children need health, they need education, they need protection,” she concluded. “And UNICEF is working in all three of those areas, to try to make a difference in the lives of the children.”