Many of those children who have been admitted to the SOS Children's Village in Santo in Port-au-Prince after the earthquake still have parents who gave their children in temporary care due to desperation and lack of resources. SOS Children's Villages is seeking ways and means to bring those children back to their families - with some support they should again be capable of managing their daily life together with the children. "My home feels empty without her and I would like to have her come live with me again." Phillippe O. has no doubt in her heart that her 3-year old daughter Sterline belongs at home. But a week after Haiti's devastating earthquake she gave her youngest child to the SOS Children's Village in Santo. Her husband, who is blind, had left their family just after the quake and is still unaccounted for. With six children to care for Phillippe simply lost hope and thought it best for her youngest child to be living elsewhere.
SOS social worker Rosita Declama sits with a white sheet of paper in her lap and notes down what the mother tells her. The sun is baking down and the two women have found shade under the sheets that hang outside the cracked wall of what used to be the family house. "Since the earthquake it's not been possible to sleep inside, so we stay outside for the night," she explains.Family reunification (SOS mother left, biological mother right) The mother sells soap in the market, but there are days with few or no customers. Rosita Declama notes on her paper that "the economic situation of the family is un-stable". But she also writes that she recommends a family reunification "without any reservations" as the mother exclaims that she will go to the SOS Children's Village in Santo the day after and pick up her daughter. "I really miss her," she says. "Most cases are not this easy," Rosita explains later. "Normally it takes much more time to trace down the remaining family and often there is some reluctance that needs to be mediated, before the child can return home." Before calling on Phillippe, Rosita has been walking around in different neighbourhoods with a list in her hand. On the list are names of children and parents that she needs to investigate. Rosita Declama is a social worker with SOS Children's Villages and currently most of her days are spent investigating the family situation of children who have been admitted to the SOS Children's Village after the devastating earthquake.
The first visit of the day takes her to a campsite where eleven large tents stand shoulder to shoulder. Here she is looking for information regarding a family where both parents supposedly died during the quake. Their three children are now in the care of SOS Children's Villages and there is a need to finally determine if the children should be admitted for long-term care. Rosita asks around for a neighbour of the family, who should live here. A woman in a yellow shirt shows up. Rosita introduces herself and asks if she can take some of her time and ask her some questions. The woman agrees and the first file of the day is pulled out of Rosita's rucksack. The neighbour confirms that the father has passed away, but is not sure if the mother is also dead. She might have left for the countryside. Case not closed. Rosita Declama bids farewell and walks on through the rubble in the campsite. The next family on her list is hard to find. The address is not noted down correctly and the people she talks to send her back and forth in different directions. She is looking for a woman with four children and is finally pointed into a courtyard where children play and women soak laundry. There is indeed a woman with the same family name and four children, but it is not the one Rosita is looking for. Rosita decides to move to the next names on the list. In this case there is a mobile number she can call. A man picks up and gives directions and Rosita walks on.
The midday sun is right above the dusty road and only here and there is a mango tree with a bit of shade on offer. Rosita is pleased when she passes one of SOS Children's Villages' own food distribution points on the way. Time to ask if there are any orphaned or abandoned children on the lists of those that come for a daily meal. She is given a chair and wastes no time in probing the people in charge of cooking the meals - which here in this neighbourhood is provided on a daily basis to around 120 children, if they know of any children with no parents. Two boys are singled out. They are brothers of eight and ten, currently taken in by people in the neighbourhood, but have no parents. Another white sheet of paper is being scribbled on.
"SOS Children's Villages is focusing on children fully orphaned or completely abandoned. If the children still have family or relatives willing to care for them, we can see if we can support them. But we are not going to admit children for long-term care in our village, if they have a parent left who is capable," she explains. Much the same explanation she later gives to Romain G., who is the father of three children. He has walked to the main road to meet Rosita and guided her to the family quarters - merely an unfinished house with three walls of concrete and no doors or windows. Just after the earthquake he submitted an application to SOS Children's Villages because he wanted his children to be placed in the SOS village. "This application has been in our 'reserve' and we're just calling on people to check their situation and to see if there's any help we can provide," Rosita tells. She refers the children to the nearest food distribution point, so that they can be ensured a daily meal.
Then it is onwards to the last visit of the day, the father of two children who currently live in the SOS Children's Village. Wilfride N. is 38 years old and currently lives on open grounds near a campsite. The house was destroyed during the earthquake and both grandparents died inside the house. The mother had passed away years before. "I love my children, but at the moment I am not ready to have them back. I do masonry but it is very difficult to find work and I live in a camp and only have sheets above me at night," the father says. The next day Rosita meets his two children in the SOS family house where they have been living since they arrived in early February. "I am happy to stay here and I like my SOS mother very much and have found new friends," says Jefree, eleven years. He does not want to leave. His younger sister Manouskha is eight years old and does not speak much during the interview. "It will not be easy, but at some point soon these two children will also have to return home to their father, as he is still alive," Rosita says with a sigh. She notes on her paper that "support with a food kit for 3 months and help with expenses for education is recommended".
Once the family reunification is effectuated a food kit will also be provided to Phillippe and her three year old daughter. Since the morning the mother has been waiting for Rosita to finalise the paper works, so that she can go to the SOS family house and find her daughter. The little girl is dressed in her Sunday best and the mother wears a nice hat. Today is a special day. For the SOS mother it is also a bit of a sad day, as she has to say goodbye to small Sterline who has been with her for six weeks. "It is not so easy to say goodbye and my daughter also looks a bit sad about having to leave here, which I can understand," says Phillippe. The girl gives a kiss to the SOS mother and takes her mother by the hand. An SOS aunt is carrying the luggage and Rosita walks the small group to the gates of the village. That was one case closed.