IKEA alliance with UNICEF Haiti creates win-win situation
By Benjamin Steinlechner
Port-au-Prince, Haiti, July 12, 2011 – A small truck trailing dust and a throng of following children as it makes its way through a crowded Internal displacement (IDP) camp in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince is the first sign of a win-win partnership between IKEA, UNICEF Haiti, and a local NGO.
Welcome to IDP camp CHT 23 where hundreds of people live with only tenting and emergency plastic sheeting between them and the sky or at most makeshift tents made out of tin and wood.
Children from camp CHT 23, including five-year-old Aliya Nissa Charlite, are gathered around boxes filled with plush animals, toys, crayons, paper, scissors, and towels. Aliya eagerly eyes the colouring sticks among the brightly coloured items she and other children will use in this child-friendly environment in the days and weeks to come.
Child-friendly spaces like this provide Aliya and other children living in displaced person camps that have now become all but permanent residences with a sense of safety, structure, continuity and support amidst often overwhelming circumstances.
The toys, easily identified by the blue and yellow logo, are donated to UNICEF by IKEA the international Swedish furnishings company. UNICEF also adds a hygiene kit to the donations to encourage the children to wash their hands before playing with the toys. Their arrival at camp CHT 23 is made possible by UNICEF partner heartland Alliance and members of SOFA (Solidarite Femmes Haitiennes) who prepared the materials for distribution. SOFA is a Haitian association mainly consisting of women who were victims of gender based violence.
“Involving women of SOFA in this initiative demonstrates just how much of a win-win project this is,” says Francoise Gruloos-Ackermans, UNICEF’s Representative in Haiti. “Women have an opportunity to earn an income by preparing the distribution of donated toys for children in IDP camps. All of which is made possible by the UNICEF-IKEA partnership.”
Living conditions in IDP camps are especially hard for children like Aliya. There are no playgrounds and there is nowhere to hide. While many children all over the world this time of the year are looking forward to their summer holidays, they deprive children in the IDP camps of Haiti of their only window into another reality and escape from squalid living conditions.
“I am in the second year of kindergarten,” says Aliya,” I like my friends there and I like poetry,” she says, reciting a poem she’d just learned this week.
In cooperation with UNICEF partner Heartland Alliance the IKEA donation of toys valued at about 140,000 USD is being used to create kits for children in camps,” says Jean Marc Marcellus from UNICEF Haiti’s child protection section. The kits will be delivered to 30 camps a day reaching 20,000 children over 15 days.
Natacha Azard is a secretary of the IDP camp committee and an animator in the camp. Together with her colleagues she is trying to bring some life into children’s lives here.
“We play with the children and teenagers in the camp twice a week,” she says. “We organize soccer games on Saturdays and play with the smaller children on Fridays,” she says, opening one of the boxes.
“This distribution comes during the school holidays, which is a time when children, especially those in the camps, need toys to play with,” says Gruloos-Ackermans.
“We hope that the distribution now will help children to bridge the time until fall when school starts again with socializing activities that help bring normalcy into children’s lives,” she adds.
Meanwhile, a half hour drive away 30 female members of SOFA are working daily to get boxes filled with IKEA donations ready to be delivered to the children in the camps.
“Our organization is a very strong community of women helping each other,” says 53-year old Yvose Edouard, a member of SOFA.
“We provide women with medical assistance, we organize workshops on how they can protect themselves, and we also provide short-term housing for women who don’t want to return home because they are afraid of being abused,” she adds.
While contributing to a protective environment that fosters child development, the distribution of IKEA materials in IDP camp in Haiti is also helping empower women, in this case the members of SOFA, through economic independence. Win-win indeed!
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