Loss and resilience, again, in the wake of an earthquake in Haiti

Peterson was only four years old when he lost his arm in the 2010 earthquake. Last month, another devastating quake took his home.

By Jonathan Crickx
Peterson, 14 year old, lost his arm in the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. In the 2021 earthquake, he lost his home.
14 September 2021

LES CAYES, Haiti – For more than a decade, 14-year-old Peterson has been living with the scars of tragedy. 

On 12 January 2010, a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, claiming the lives of over 220,000 people and destroying much of the country’s infrastructure. 

“That day when everything happened, [my mother] wasn’t with me. She had gone to sell a few things on the market, and when she came back, she couldn’t find us,” Peterson recounts. 

But – only four years old at the time – he doesn’t remember any of it. 

“They told me I spent three days buried in the rubble. They say they found me on the third day and brought me to the hospital. They never said anything about the rest of my family.” 

Peterson lost his arm in the earthquake. Since then, he has lived mostly with his godmother, especially after his mother passed away in 2020. He doesn’t know anything about his father.

“When I was growing up, I would cry when I noticed other people have two arms and I don’t,” Peterson adds. “It saddened me. But this is the way I am.” 

Then, years later on the morning of 14 August 2021, Peterson and his godmother were visiting friends when the ground began to tremble. He recalls the events vividly. “I went out to bring water for my godmother and her friends, to cook. When I was out, I bumped into a friend and that’s when the earth started shaking. It was scary,” Peterson describes.

The 7.2-magnitude earthquake rocked the southwestern departments of Sud, Grand’Anse and Nippes, killing over 2,200 people and injuring more than 12,700. The powerful quake collapsed homes, hospitals and schools, leaving communities in urgent need of assistance. UNICEF estimates that some 1.2 million people, including 540,000 children, have been affected by the devastation.

Peterson and his godmother were spared from physical injury, but their home was badly damaged. “We saw the damages when I returned,” Peterson explains. “Now, I don’t have anything left because of what happened. My godmother takes care of two other kids too, and has difficulty buying our books, school bags and shoes.” 

Without a steady place to live, Peterson was forced on the move. “I sleep here and there,” he says. “And sometimes on the boulevard.” 

A devastating toll

Children bear the heaviest brunt of natural disaster. When emergency strikes, they can lose access to safe shelter, drinking water and hygiene facilities. They may be torn from critical health, education and protection services. And for those separated from families or caregivers, they face a greater risk of violence, exploitation and abuse, with severe psychological and social consequences.
In its initial assessment, UNICEF identified nearly 2,500 children in need of psychosocial support and other protection services following the August 2021 earthquake. In Les Cayes alone, Peterson is among 178 children who have been separated from parents or caregivers, now receiving care at the UNICEF-supported IDEJEN centre. 

“There, we learn about body image, have lessons, play, and they give us meals,” Peterson explains. “I like to play games, use the phone. I’m not into football or sports, because I’m afraid of falling. I like to draw and do other things.” 

The centre, like many others UNICEF supports, provides more than lessons. It also serves to protect children from the risks of exploitation and trafficking, which surge for children who have been uprooted by natural disaster. 

“Every child who went through this earthquake requires psychosocial support, even if they haven’t been physically injured,” says Pierre Jean Stenio, Chief of the UNICEF Les Cayes field office. “Children [in rural communities] are even more in need of support, as they are at risk of trafficking. Many rural families have lost everything during the earthquake and might come to cities and towns, where the risk of human trafficking is way higher.”

UNICEF works with partners in the health system, too, to ensure injured children who have been separated from their families and caregivers are protected from trafficking and other human rights violations.

In addition to psychosocial services, UNICEF continues to prioritize the resumption of essential services – including water and sanitation, health, nutrition and shelter – for children and their families. UNICEF and partners are distributing tarpaulins for emergency shelter, latrines and showers; water reservoirs for safe water distribution; and hygiene kits, including water treatment tablets, soap, menstrual hygiene materials and jerrycans.

For Peterson, the care he receives at the centre marks just the beginning of his journey.

“My dream is to be an artist and actor, and be on the internet,” he says. “To realize my dream, I’ll have to work very hard, starting from now. While I’m young, I should start doing the work so that I can grow.”

One month after the earthquake, thousands of children in Haiti remain at risk. Even before the earthquake, children were suffering from high rates of malnutrition, displacement caused by gang-related violence and the secondary impacts of COVID-19. Now, the humanitarian needs of Haitian children are more acute than ever as entire families have lost their homes, schools, access to water and health facilities, and more.


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