By Tania McBride
Children in Haiti are still reeling from the lingering impact of the 12 January 2010 earthquake. Here is one in a series of stories on the long road from relief to recovery, a year later.
LEOGANE, Haiti, 6 January 2011 – Far from the congested capital of Haiti lies Leogane, a provincial town that was near the epicentre of the January 2010 earthquake, which claimed more than 220,000 lives. Scenes of devastation still characterize the once-bustling seaside municipality.
|VIDEO: UNICEF'S Gabrielle Menezes reports on creative solutions to keep earthquake-affected Haitian families together through income-generating activities. Watch in RealPlayer|
Joseph Charles* – a father of three girls, two of them 12-year-old twins – is a rice farmer from Leogane who made a modest living until the earthquake left his family without shelter or an income. His wife Marie Charles sold vegetables and fruit before the quake, but she, too, saw her livelihood stripped away.
Mr. Charles and his wife were under extreme pressure, so when they had a chance to send the girls to a local residential centre, they accepted. They were relieved to know that their children would be provided with food, water and shelter.
“I was embarrassed and ashamed,” says Ms. Charles. “It was the most difficult thing I have ever had to face.”
Against a backdrop of poverty that existed in Haiti even prior to the earthquake, many families like the Charleses saw no option but to place their children in residential care. There, at least, they would be provided with the basics for survival.
|© UNICEF Haiti/2010/McBride|
|The UNICEF-supported Terre des Hommes reunification programme in Leogane, Haiti has helped these three girls reunite with their parents.|
While Joseph and Marie Charles were able to visit their daughters every other week, it was heart-wrenching to leave them at the end of each visit. “We felt we had failed in our duty as parents,” says Mr. Charles.
“The economic situation of children and their families prior to the earthquake was precarious at best,” explains UNICEF Haiti Chief of Child Protection Jean Lieby. “Forty per cent of the all the children registered by the Inter-agency Working Group [a child-protection body in which UNICEF is a partner] were actually separated from their parents prior to the earthquake, pointing at deeper-rooted inequities in Haitian society.”
In an effort to address these inequities, the international non-governmental organization Terre des Hommes – a UNICEF partner – embarked on a project aimed at long-term, sustainable solutions for families who felt they had no other choice but to give up their children.
Simply reuniting children who had been placed in residential centres was not enough. Creative solutions had to be developed to improve the economic status of families and, most important, sustain that improvement in order to keep them together.
|© UNICEF Haiti/2010/McBride|
|Twin sisters, 12, now attend their local school in Haiti and enjoy being home in their newly built house with their parents.|
Twenty four families who had given up their children for economic reasons were identified and targeted in a pilot project. Parents – including Mr. Charles – met with social workers from Terre des Hommes, who assessed the viability of restarting their businesses or looked into other opportunities in line with their skills. With assistance, each family set up a bank account to pay school fees, purchase food and budget for future needs, including permanent shelter.
Homecoming for children
Mr. Charles is now tending his rice fields and has been able to employ other labourers, allowing them, in turn, to provide for their families. Follow-up visits and monitoring by child protection workers are helping to ensure that the families reunited with their children are able to support them in the long run.
After a couple of months at the residential centre, the Charles’ girls came home. The excited look as they rushed to greet their mother at the doorstep of their small home said it all: once again, a family reunited.
* Not his real name; all names of the people mentioned in this story have been changed to protect their privacy.
Earthquake in Haiti