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At a glance: Haiti

'A Haiti Fit for Children'

UNICEF and NGO partners make plans to build back better

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0425/Markisz
At UNICEF House (from left): UNICEF Acting Representative in Haiti Françoise Gruloos; World Vision Haiti National Director Frank Williams; Plan International Haiti Director Jo-Ann Garnier-Lafontant; Oxfam Great Britain Mainstreaming Coordinator Marie Soudnie Rivette; SOS Children’s Villages Haiti National Director Celigny Darius; Save the Children Haiti Child Protection Monitoring and Evaluation Senior Specialist Cynthia Koons and BBC correspondent Matthew Price.

By Chris Niles

NEW YORK, 31 March 2010 – Six international aid organizations met in a public session at UNICEF headquarters yesterday, planning ways to make children the focus of rebuilding Haiti in the aftermath of the 12 January earthquake.

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The session, entitled 'A Haiti Fit for Children,' featured representatives of Save the Children, SOS Children's Villages International, Plan International, World Vision International, Oxfam and UNICEF. It preceded an international donors' meeting on Haiti that opened at the United Nations today.

"The transformative agenda that we are discussing," said UNICEF Director of Programmes Nicholas Alipui, "necessarily recognizes that we find a way to project the face of the children of Haiti onto the political policy and operational efforts that we make."

Such efforts are considered critical because the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake is largely a children's emergency. Nearly 1.5 million children have been directly affected by the disaster, and many remain at risk.

Finding solutions

Prior to Mr. Alipui's introductory remarks, yesterday's meeting opened with a moment of silence in honour of the 200,000 Haitians who lost their lives in the earthquake, and hundreds of thousands more who lost their homes and are still living in camps.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0427/Markisz
Haitian Minister of Youth, Sports and Civic Action Evans Lescouflair speaking at the panel discussion, 'A Haiti Fit for Children,' held at UNICEF House.

Haiti's Minister of Youth, Sports and Civic Action Evans Lescouflair urged that all means possible be used to help young Haitians. "They are going to try to open schools next week," he said. "It's difficult because the rainy season is going to start. We have to set up sport and cultural activities. I hope that all the NGOs can find solutions to our problems."

The Permanent Representative of Mexico to the United Nations, Ambassador Claude Heller, echoed Mr. Lescouflair's plea.

"Haiti's surviving children are traumatized and subject to extreme and vulnerable conditions, which require help. They also face long-term challenges to growing up as healthy, educated, productive citizens contributing to a brighter future," said Ambassador Heller.

The challenges are indeed comprehensive. Haiti was one of the poorest nations on earth even before the earthquake struck, with little infrastructure and a poorly functioning education system.

An opportunity for change

In a discussion moderated by BBC World Affairs Correspondent Matthew Price, panellists agreed that the tremendous devastation wrought by the earthquake also represented an opportunity to create a better future for Haiti's children – with protection from violence and trafficking, strong social services and quality education for all.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0429/Markisz
UNICEF Director of Programmes Nicholas Alipui welcoming participants to the session on 'A Haiti Fit for Children.'

The priorities have already been laid out by 1,000 Haitian young people who responded to a survey conducted by Plan International and UNICEF.

"Children and youth see a huge opportunity to build this country back better," said Plan International Haiti National Director Jo-Ann Garnier-Lafontant. "No one should be left aside. During the consultation they highlighted four major priorities; participation, protection, education and disaster risk reduction. They want free, quality education for all children."

Time to dream big

"Martin Luther King did not say, 'I have a statistic.' He said, 'I have a dream,'" noted World Vision Haiti National Director Frank Williams. "I think now is the time for the Government of Haiti, for the international donors in collaboration with the NOGs and civil actors and professional societies – as well as the Diaspora – to dream about a new educational paradigm for the country of Haiti."

Prior to the earthquake in Haiti, only about half of primary school-aged children were attending school, Mr. Williams pointed out.

The United Nations has asked for $1.4 billion to repair the damage in Haiti. To date, it has received $718 million from international donors, and another $36 million has been pledged.

Participants in the session at UNICEF agreed that it was important to work with the Haitian Government – and that nation's children – to create a system that effectively accounts for how donors' money is spent.

"Coordination is key, said UNICEF Acting Representative in Haiti Françoise Gruloos. "Coordination to support the Government of Haiti – it has to be nationally owned, it has to be a Haitian response."




30 March 2010: UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on the work of UNICEF and its partners to ensure that children are the focus of Haiti's redevelopment efforts.
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