At a glance: Haiti

Residential care centre provides a refuge for street children in Cap-Haitian

Children in Haiti are still reeling from the impact of the 12 January 2010 earthquake. Here is one in a series of stories on the long road from relief to recovery, more than a year later.

CAP-HAITIAN, Haiti, 15 February 2011 – This city north of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, was relatively untouched by the earthquake of January 2010. The sleepy port town’s buildings remain intact. Merchants, government workers and labourers go about their daily business. But nonetheless, the effects of the earthquake are here to be seen.

VIDEO: 23 January 2011 - UNICEF's Gabrielle Menezes reports on residential care centres for Haitian street children, including children whose families became more impoverished after the January 2010 earthquake.  Watch in RealPlayer

 

Many poor Haitian families became poorer still in the aftermath of the earthquake, and they came from rural areas to cities like Cap-Haitian seeking employment. Children also found their way here.

Some of these children were thrown into the street by families no longer able to care for them. Others ran away from home to find work. Still others fled from abusive or violent environments. Today, children can be seen on the streets of Cap-Haitian, begging amongst cars or asleep on cardboard boxes surrounded by rubbish.

Regaining childhood

“The problem of street children in Haiti is getting worse,” says UNICEF Child Protection Specialist Gallianne Palayret, “which is why UNICEF is supporting partners working to help these children regain their childhoods. But helping street children is a complex issue. It requires addressing the many terrible experiences they’ve had and the specific psycho-social and educational support they need.”

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF video
Twenty-five boys live at the UNICEF-assisted Lakaye residential care centre in Cap-Haitian, Haiti.

The Lakaye Centre, one facility that provides such support, is housed in a small building with peeling paint, perched on a hillside in Cap-Haitian. For the 60 boys here who play and receive basic vocational classes at the centre, it is the closest thing to a home.

Twenty-five of the boys also live at Lakaye. UNICEF provides the centre with mattresses, and educational and recreational materials.

Lessons for the future

The process of welcoming street children at Lakaye takes place in stages. They go from visiting the centre only during the day to staying overnight, and committing to the strict rules of non-violence and sharing that characterize life at the centre. It takes some children months to acclimate after living on the street.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF video
Boys relax at a residential care centre in Cap-Haitian, Haiti, where they receive psycho-social and educational support.

All of the boys who live here attend the local public school. But having missed out on years of basic education, many find the classes challenging. In the hope that they will find jobs, Lakaye also provides practical classes in electricity repair and tailoring.

Despite the challenges of their new environment, children here are grateful for the help they receive.

'I can really change'

“As soon as I came to the centre, it was easy for me to get used to it,” says Jerome, 17. “To live on the streets is a lot more difficult. There’s a lot of violence, rapes and people who want to steal what you have, and people selling drugs. I can really change at Lakaye.”

Although more children want to live at the centre, it is already filled to capacity. With UNICEF’s help, the staff hopes to expand the facility so that children like Jerome, who need the kind of support and stability that Lakaye offers, can also have a chance at childhood.


 

 

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