Nowhere safe. Nowhere to go.
Child hit by stray bullet at home and gang ridden area of Port-au-Prince
Charitée Tibreuil, 37, is a worried mother. On 21 March 2023, her 13-year-old daughter, Virginia Danielle, was hit by a bullet in her home.
“Virginia was putting her school things away in her bag when suddenly she felt like she had been hit by a pebble that plunged her whole body into a state of shock,” she describes.
Charitée was out at the market selling when the incident occurred. Virginia had not gone to school that day because armed groups were at war and heavy gunfire rang out all day. A bullet then went through the corrugated sheet roof of Charitée's little house to hit her daughter in the back.
“I felt something touch my back... I ran my hand over it, but I did not notice any blood. But when the neighbour slid his hand, he saw that the blood was flowing,” said the little girl, still in shock.
Virginia's life was in danger. With the help of neighbours, she was taken to the nearest hospital for an urgent surgery. “They did an X-ray, and the doctor told us that they can't perform surgery on her because of where the bullet was lodged. If they did, chances were that she could become paralyzed,” explains Charitée, who hastily left the market to go to her daughter’s bedside.
UNICEF’s partner OCCEDH saved the life of Virginia
A desperate Charitée did not know who to turn to. It was then that OCCEDH, a local organization partnering with UNICEF, came to her help by urgently bringing little Virginia to the hospital run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Tabarre. The surgery was a success.
Violence has a devastating impact on children, both physically and psychologically. Virginia, who is in third grade and loves mathematics, can no longer go to school while she recovers from her injuries.
Virginia's life is safe and she is recovering from this unfortunate ordeal, however, she seems to be experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“When I hear gunshots, I jump up and hit myself. I'm afraid to stay at home. I am scared when my mother leaves me alone,” she says.
Forced to stay home, Virginia can't wait to get back to school and see her friends again. But she also worries about them. “I want to go back to school when I feel better, but I fear for my friends who live even closer to the places of violence,” she says.
Prior to this incident, Virginia participated in psychosocial activities organized by OCCEDH in the “child-friendly space” that the local organization runs in her neighborhood.
The importance of “child-friendly spaces”
For two years, violence has swept through Delmas and Bel-Air, and people are often caught in the crossfire, especially when rival gangs clash. UNICEF, in partnership with local NGOs, runs “child-friendly spaces” to provide a safe environment where children can access the support needed to cope with the impact of armed violence.
“Mental health and psychosocial well-being are among the priorities of the child protection strategy of the decade. Child-friendly spaces offer a range of activities, including play, sport and artistic expression, to help children overcome the hardships they face,” says Charleston Talleyrand, psychosocial officer at OCCEDH.
In 2022, some 9,900 children like Virginia living in the conflict zones of Port-au-Prince benefited from these activities.
Today, Charitée fears for her daughter's safety and is haunted by the idea that this horrific incident could happen again. “This house scares me, but I have nowhere to go,” she says.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 1.5 million people, or about half of the population of Port-au-Prince, are directly affected by armed violence and the exercise of their freedom of movement and access to basic services is thereby restricted.
Nearly one in 10 households experienced security incidents in Haiti in the 12 months preceding OCHA's assessment. They are almost one in four households in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area. These alarming statistics indicate that many children in Haiti live in high-risk situations and need targeted support to cope with the impact of armed violence.
With the violence caused by armed groups that plagues Haiti, many families can no longer carry out their small businesses or other economic activities, which is an aggravating factor of poverty. Due to her daughter's convalescence period, Charitée cannot pursue her small business and must remain at her daughter's bedside. However, she must eat better for her treatment to be effective.
For a few days, she will be able to count on OCCEDH’s support to meet her needs.
Charitée thinks that things will get better because Haiti cannot stay like this, indefinitely. “I really hope that one day, things will be better. I have faith and I continue to pray. I am desperate but I still have courage since my daughter is alive,” she says.