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At a glance: Haiti

In Haiti, art is helping children cope with life-changing situations

© UNICEF Haiti/2011/Steinlechner
Dancers perform at Haiti en Scene. “Art is a powerful way to encourage children to take their life in their own hands.”

By Benjamin Steinlechner

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 16 November 2011 – “We stand up and life goes on come join us in our celebration of life.” a chorus of Haitian voices sings.

“We are singing this song to invite children to join us and have fun,” explained Bertrand Labarre, Executive and Artistic Director at Haiti en Scene. This UNICEF partner NGO specializes in using art to help children express their feelings and thoughts, reinforcing their resilience and facilitating their healthy psychosocial development.

Focus on helping children

The NGO’s latest project focuses on helping children in a displaced persons’ camp in Croix-des-Bouquets, a neighbourhood on the outskirts of the nation’s capital, Port-au-Prince. The camp has become the home for more than 400 families that lost their homes almost two years ago in the January 2010 earthquake that killed more than 220,000 people and directly affected the lives of an estimated 1.5 million children of this tiny nation.

An estimated 643,000 people remain in camps designed as temporary accommodation that are in danger of becoming permanent communities. Here Haiti en Scene is focused on helping children and youth deal with issues associated with relocating from one displaced persons camp to another. Many of these children are still grappling with the emotional scars of having lost family and friends, conditions that can be made worse by uprooting yet again to live in another, albeit more comfortable, community.

“By offering children a space where they can express their feelings and thoughts this NGO is doing great work for Haiti’s children,” said Patricia Landinez from UNICEF’s Child Protection section.

© UNICEF Haiti/2011/Steinlechner
Haiti en Scene, is helping displaced children in Port-au-Prince express their feelings and thoughts through art, reinforcing their resilience and facilitating their healthy psychosocial development.

Healing through expression

Today, in this new community a group of actors and musicians from Haiti en Scene have turned the small square in the centre of the camp into a festive party scene. A dance performance and live music fill the small square with a cheerful audience in less than half an hour.

“Art is a powerful way to encourage children to take their life in their own hands,” stressed Labarre. “Through self-expression and social interaction, art gives children the power to take control over traumatic experiences they have had, while also bonding with their peers.”

Moving to a new community site is never easy. While their new shelters in Croix-des- Bouquets are no doubt a step above the tents where families used to live, the shelters are far from a permanent solution.

“Our little hut is much more comfortable than the tent we used to live in before,” said Marie Maude Joseph, a mother of four girls who arrived a month ago. “It’s better to have this tin roof but still, I pray that someday we can move back to a real house.”

Creating community links

The new environment also brings different challenges. Few of the people here know each other and some parents, like Marie Maude’s husband, are cautious with neighbours and don’t allow their children to be around strangers.

“Activities like telling stories and acting in self-written plays gives children an opportunity to discover and share similarities in each other’s experiences.” said Landinez. “Our aim is to support children and youth to create community links and help them feel part of their new environment.”

To ensure they reach out to every child, the artists knocked on every door in the camp telling parents about the workshop’s goals so they will let their children participate. Once enrolled, the children will be grouped by age with each group working on an artistic project.

“Art is a way for children to tell their own stories,” explained Landinez. “Children’s participation in these workshops also has an impact on their self-confidence, self-esteem, creativity, and imagination.”



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