|© UNICEF Haiti/2011/Nybo|
|Pierre Juno (name changed), 15, has committed to going to school at the Don Bosco Centre in Cap Haitien, Haiti.|
By Benjamin Steinlechner
CAP HAITIEN, Haiti, 6 January 2012 – Almost every day, Father Stra walks around the city of Cap Haitien looking for boys on the streets who are ready to move to the sanctuary of the Don Bosco Centre.
It was on one of these walks that he met 15-year-old Pierre Juno (name changed). Pierre’s life fell apart when his mother died. His father married a woman who beat him until he finally ran away, becoming one of thousands of children struggling to live on the streets of Haiti, vulnerable to abuse, violence and recruitment into the country’s infamous gangs.
The Don Bosco Lakay Lakou Residential Care Centre for Children from the Street is the only institution of its kind in Cap Haitien, providing not only shelter from the violence and insecurity of the streets but also a chance to learn. Those who live in the house have to promise – and sign a contract confirming – that they will go to school.
“The most important part of helping children is to understand the life of children in the street,” says Father Stra. “We invite them to come and spend a few hours with us every day. They learn what it feels like to live in a safe environment. They come and go as they want. Finally it is up to them to decide if they want to stay with us or not.”
Much residential care lacking
The Don Bosco Centre offers children something special: not just shelter but community, and not just assistance for the present but also the skills and education that will help them in the future.
|© UNICEF Haiti/2011/Nybo|
|After living on the streets, 15-year-old Pierre Juno (name changed) is starting a new life at the Don Bosco Centre in Cap Haitien, Haiti.|
In Haiti, these are opportunities many children do not have. Even before the 2010 earthquake that devastated the country, UNICEF estimated that there were at least 50,000 children living in residential care of some kind. Many of these institutions are poorly run.
Most of the children at these facilities are not orphans – many have been placed there by parents who hope they will receive educations and better care. But, too often, this is not the case. In fact, children living in these places – crowded into dormitories and often without proper sanitation – are more vulnerable to outbreaks of diseases like cholera and are at risk of exploitation, including forced labour and sexual abuse.
Raising standards of care
With assistance and training from UNICEF, the government’s Institute for Social Welfare and Social Research (IBESR) has been working to find and evaluate these residential centres and report on their standards.
One hundred fifty IBESR social workers, trained by UINCEF, are also working to track down the families of children in residential care to see if the children can safely be returned home.
In the meantime, the Don Bosco Centre, a UNICEF partner, is working to help those who cannot go home again – children like Pierre.
On the streets, Pierre endured violence and hunger. But with the help of Father Stra and the Don Bosco Centre, he will learn to build a better life for himself.
“I want to come here,” Pierre said at the centre, “because I know they will help me.”