French by birth and resident for seven years in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, Anna has volunteered to help with emergency relief in the SOS Children's Village in Santo, Haiti. She thought she might be of use as an interpreter, as she speaks English and Spanish as well as French. This was indeed the case, but more importantly, she is also a trained psychologist. "I didn't really know what was ahead of me, I just wanted to help. It was great that my background in psychology fitted in perfectly." Here she describes a typical working day in the course of the three weeks:
"We start early here in the SOS Children's Village in Santo, so I usually get up about 5.30 a.m. when the sun is rising and it is still lovely and cool. There is always plenty to do in this situation, because at the end of the day, every minute counts. Everyone is faced with huge challenges in these conditions. My working day begins about 7 a.m. after breakfast. Today the first task with the Haitian cooks was how to make our menus more varied. For the past two weeks it's been rice, milk, beans, and cornflakes, and somehow we have to work out how to get more vitamins – we all need energy after all.
Then at 8 o'clock our five Haitian psychologists arrive, whose services have been engaged for a few months in the first instance. It's my job to plan out the next three months with them, the first phase of our emergency relief. We want to provide psychological support in the following areas: 1. children in the SOS Children's Village, 2. mothers and aunts in the SOS Children's Village, 3. other educational staff and co-workers in the SOS Children's Village. The primary target group is, however, the children – the ones who have just arrived as well as those who were already here before the earthquake. The new arrivals especially need all the support we can give them. With them, it is a matter of boosting their overall psychological state, but also doing the necessary registration paperwork which could potentially bring the families back together again at a later stage, hopefully.
At 9 a.m. we go to meet the children. Fortunately we found local psychologists who speak Creole, which is absolutely essential. The children are all very different: some hardly speak at all, and are very withdrawn, while there is no holding back others who are desperate to talk to us. We try to work with the children through painting and talking. We get them to draw themselves and their family. We then assess the results later and document everything. This forms the future basis for our work with each individual child. Lunch is served for the international aid team in the school between 12.30 and 13.30. Right after that, I travel into the city with Grasiella. We visit orphanages and a few emergency shelters. We have made appointments in advance with those in charge, letting them know we want to help unaccompanied children and take them into our temporary care programme. It's always depressing, even if going into these emergency camps almost becomes "routine". You don't get used to it – it is, and always will be, depressing. But fortunately we can help, and people are grateful for someone coming and asking how they are, and looking after the children. And not a day goes past when we aren't entrusted with a child. These are children who have no-one to really care for them at present; they have ended up in the camps almost by accident, somehow or other. With us they find a safe, secure place until they can perhaps get back to their families again.
Back in the SOS Children's Village, the children are accommodated in SOS family houses for the time being. The SOS mothers are totally dedicated in the support they give. Instead of caring for around six to nine children, as they have done previously, it is now up to between 15 and 20. The whole team meets up around 5 p.m., as there are always lots of organizational matters to sort out and discuss in this difficult situation, from security in the Village to the food and other relief supplies we need. Who is collecting which items from the airport, where they are to be stored, etc.
It gets dark about 6 o'clock, and then we sit down to our supper ... cornflakes and semolina pudding. After that, our last task of the day is to write up reports. Once they are done, I look forward to being able to call my husband in the Dominican Republic on Skype, if a computer is available and the connection works ... we'll see."