After weeks of unrest, parents and children of Cité Soleil finally reunited
76 children displaced from Cité Soleil due to violence were reunified with their parents on the site of the Institution Saint-Louis de Gonzague
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It is under a radiant sun that hundreds of children victims of the wave of violence that has hit Cité Soleil since last July 8 were finally able to find their parents this Thursday 11 August 2022. Emotion was at its height. Parents and children were, all in all, delighted.
“I will finally be able to see [my mother]. I'm very happy it's been a long time since I've seen her," says Sarah (not her real name), 10 years old.
However, challenges remain steady as these families, most of which have lost everything, face a major dilemma as to what the future holds in store for them. The situation remains complicated.
“My other children and I sleep on the streets and when it rains, we wait for it to pass and then mop the ground and lie down on it,” says Natalie (not her real name) , 40 years old, mother of 5 children who finally finds her daughter Sherlie (not her real name), 17 years old, who had managed to barely escape Cité Soleil under the good care of Sister Paezie, of whom she is a pupil.
“I still don't know where to go. I am thinking of going to live with her at a public square near the Shalom church or returning to Cité Soleil,” laments Natalie.
On 8 July, a new upsurge of violence erupted as rival gangs started waging a fierce war in Cité Soleil, a municipality in the Metropolitan Area of the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince. According to the UN, between 8 and 17 July 2022, over 471 people were killed, injured or unaccounted for. Around 3,000 people have also fled their homes, including hundreds of unaccompanied children, while at least 140 houses have been destroyed or burnt down.
Clearly, while the initial interventions of agencies such as UNICEF may have provided some relief from the deepening misery these families are experiencing, the wave of armed violence that has swept through the Cité has been ruthless. Long-term support is unavoidable. Worried parents seem to go through an endless cycle of beginnings.
“On 25 March 2021, my house in Cité Soleil was burnt down. I went to the market to offer my services for washing vegetables. I was able to raise some money which allowed me to rebuild my house. On June 25, 2021, my house was burned down again. And on July 8, 2022, the same, for a third time. With a loan I’d contracted, I was able to start a small business and I was able to set aside ten thousand gourdes [about USD $80], which helped me pay my rent. Today, I am devastated, I rely on heaven.”
The director of the Institute of Social Welfare and Research (IBESR), Ariel Jeanty Villedrouin, is aware of the sheer size of the challenge and works hand in hand with partners at every stage of the process. “An amount will be given to the parents for each child in order to support them. This funding comes from the assistance of UNICEF. We also make sure that there are no complaints about the amounts allocated. The point of all of this is to strengthen families, not to fund a child,” she says. Family reunification is an important step in the life of a separated child because a child must live within a family.
A total of 76 children (37 boys and 39 girls) unaccompanied and separated with their families during the Cité Soleil crisis, have been reunited with their parents, a beginning of normalcy. This work was carried out by the IBESR, in collaboration with UNICEF and its partner, the ONG OCCED'H, thanks to funding from the UN's Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).
“Today we ensure that these children are reunited with their parents so that they can leave the site. A protocol has been followed in order to document these children and ensure that they are indeed their parents,” she adds.
There is also the sad reality of these children who have not been able to find their parents or who are accommodated in other centers. Their situation is more complex and requires more effort from all partners. “We are planning other mechanisms for children who may not see their parents again for various reasons. For those who remain unaccompanied, we will seek extended family (uncles and aunties), foster families or foster care centres as a last resort before making a final decision on adoption or childcare,” she underscores.
Natalie looks at the situation with philosophy: “The money I’ve received today is not a big amount, but it could help me do some trading,” she concludes