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At a glance: Haiti

Field Diary: A long-term commitment to children affected by the earthquake in Haiti

© UNICEF/2010/Khadivi
The devastation from the 12 January earthquake in Haiti can still be seen on the streets of Port-au-Prince, the capital.

By Roshan Khadivi

UNICEF Communications Officer Roshan Khadivi filed this field diary on 25 February 2010, offering reflections on her month in the Haitian quake zone.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – I arrived in this country after the earthquake as part of an emergency team, and today is the last day of my assignment here.

AUDIO: Listen now

The last 30 days – working in high temperatures, from early dawn until the late hours of the evening, in temporary UNICEF tent-offices next to Toussaint Louverture International Airport – were incredibly intense. The permanent UNICEF Haiti offices and warehouses were badly damaged by the 12 January quake, so the team is running its massive aid effort from new, makeshift locations.

I have been in many emergencies around the world, but Haiti has been a unique experience. A drive to every corner of the vcapital, Port-au-Prince, tells the story of the massive destruction that occurred.

© UNICEF/2010/Khadivi
A church destroyed by the earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

‘More determined that anyone can imagine’
I asked a colleague of Haitian origin – who flew in after the quake from North America to assist – how people here were managing to cope. “Haitian people are more determined that anyone can imagine. And while it is hard to forget, because everything that surrounds you is a reminder, still they are going to move on,” he replied. 

The capital’s Champs de Mars Park was once a marvel, particularly when Haiti hosted its annual carnival each February. Like many other sites around Port-au-Prince, this area has now become a refuge for displaced families.

I see children playing in the park, laughing and curiously watching a UNICEF team member monitoring a 'baby tent'. In support of the Haitian Government, UNICEF and its partners are assisting lactating mothers and newborns in these improvised camps by erecting tents that provide them with privacy and a safe, nurturing environment.

Other aid activities in the park include providing clean water; vaccinating children against measles, rubella, tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough; building latrines; and registering unaccompanied children who have lost contact with their family members.

© UNICEF/2010/Khadivi
Vehicles crushed amidst the rubble of fallen buildings in Port-au-Prince.

Hurricane season looms
With the rainy and hurricane season looming, UNICEF’s water-and-sanitation teams are working with the Haitian authorities to increase the number of latrines, distribute safe water and improve hygiene and sanitation conditions for the displaced population – all of this in order to avert the risk of diarrhoeal diseases.

This is a large task, as the number of camps continues to grow in the capital and in the affected cities of Jacmel and Leogane. The fact that many parts of the country did not have adequate sewage systems – even before the quake – poses additional challenges.

I am in awe of my UNICEF colleagues here. Many were in the country during this devastating natural disaster and lost family members, homes and belongings, but they are still showing up every day to help make a difference in the lives of Haitian children.

During my last week in Haiti, I met a nine-year-old girl named Yolanda in a tent school on top of Mount Jacquot, a neighbourhood in the vicinity of Port-au-Prince. Her mountain community is accessible only by a steep road. Though it’s difficult for even helicopters to land here, a UNICEF supply team managed to deliver tents to construct a temporary school and a clinic, along with school kits, medicines and basic medical equipment.

School brings hope
“I like to draw, sing and play with my friends. I am so happy today,” said Yolanda, who lost both her home and her old school in the quake. Yolanda’s teacher, Onickel Paul, told me that the opening of the tent school had helped bring children and parents hope that things would get better in Haiti.

Despite only a handful of schools being open in the Haitian capital and outlying areas, everyone is working to support the Ministry of Education in its efforts to resume classes on 31 March. To achieve this goal, tents will be set up for immediate use as classrooms, and teachers will be identified and trained. An accelerated learning programme will be also be put in place to ensure that students do not fall behind.

Recently, a journalist asked me how Haiti will deal with the colossal challenges ahead. I replied that such challenges are the reason why UNICEF and its partners are on the ground, and that while Haiti might appear and disappear in the headline news, we have a long-term commitment here.




25 February 2010: Listen to an audio field diary from UNICEF emergency-response team member Roshan Khadavi in Haiti.
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