By Benjamin Steinlechner
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 26 April 2011 – The small classroom at Nouvelle Source School in Port-au-Prince was bustling with students when UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Tetsuko Kuroyanagi arrived to join them in drawing messages of support for children in Japan.
|VIDEO: 7 April 2011: UNICEF's Michelle Marrion reports on Goodwill Ambassador Tetsuko Kuroyanagi's recent visit to Haiti where she met with earthquake-affected children who are sending messages of support to their Japanese peers. Watch in RealPlayer|
The cards, some with images of children holding hands and smiling under big yellow suns and others with brief messages written in all colours of the rainbow, were small tokens of compassion from Haitian children to their Japanese peers. Whether illustrated with colourful letters or covered in creative pictures, a feeling of hope resonated in all of them.
“I will relay the thoughtful message from Haitian children, who are themselves victims of a serious natural disaster and extreme poverty,” said Ms. Kuroyanagi, a renowned actress, best-selling author and one of Japan's most popular television personalities. “Be it in Haiti, Japan, or elsewhere in the world, many children are suffering. I sincerely hope that the international community works together to help children who are most in need and to make the world more equitable.”
As a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Ms. Kuroyanagi has been dedicating herself to helping advance children's rights across the world for the past 27 years. She last visited Haiti 16 years ago and admits that, despite changes for the better, there is an obvious need for more development and assistance in areas such as combating illiteracy. Haiti’s adult literacy rate currents stands at just 65 per cent.
During her stay, Ms. Kuroyanagi also visited the Carrefour Residential Care Centre, where 10 adolescent rappers called ‘Coeur a Coeur’ (Heart to Heart) welcomed her with a song especially written as a gesture of support for the children of Japan:
|© UNICEF Video|
|UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Tetsuko Kuroyanagi visited the Nouvelle Source School in Port-au-Prince. Haitian children have been sending messages of support to Japan.|
“…We have to stay strong!
Tears in the eyes, we are needy, that’s true
We stay strong!
Haiti, Chile, Japan and so on
We were hit that’s true
But life should go on…”
UNICEF Representative in Haiti Francoise Gruloos-Ackermans said Haitian children in particular know how important it is to feel supported by others.
“All of these children have experienced the earthquake here a little over a year ago," she said. "They know what it is like to lose everything, just like many of the children in Japan who also lost families and friends and homes.”
About 55 per cent of Haitians survive below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day. Since the earthquake, new emergencies have occurred. A cholera outbreak has killed nearly 5,000 people, many of them children. Devastating hurricanes and civil unrest have hindered the rebuilding process. Income disparities are acute and responding to the needs of children much more complicated.
Hopeful and optimistic
Despite these challenges, Haitian children show an enviable enthusiasm for working towards a better future for their country, and remain hopeful and optimistic. Be it the cards they have drawn or the songs recorded for the children of Japan, they are eager to share their hope and optimism with the rest of the world.
|© UNICEF Video|
|Ms. Kuroyanagi, a renowned actress, best-selling author and one of Japan's most popular television personalities, has been dedicated to advancing children's rights across the world for the past 27 years.|
During her stay, Ms. Kuroyanagi visited camps for people displaced by the earthquake, as well as a UNICEF nutrition programme at University Hospital in Port-au-Prince. “I met a 14-year-old without parents who looked like he was eight,” Kuroyanagi said in a meeting with UNICEF Haiti staff.
“I asked the boy if the earthquake had scared him. He said ‘no’. I asked ‘not even while the earth was shaking?’ and he said ‘no’,” said Ms. Kuroyanagi. “Many children in Haiti have such a hard life that the earthquake apparently was a minor event in their world.”
Earthquake and tsunami emergency relief website
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Earthquake in Haiti