Although many recently arrived NGOs have really struggled to work in Haiti, SOS Children has been there for thirty years and has managed to operate reasonably well in a tough environment, quietly getting on with feeding 14,000 children, running two-shift schools and taking in hundreds of newly orphaned infants. We are of course frustrated by the difficulties in getting planning permission and framework agreements to help with schools etc, but we understand the situation of officials and are prepared to move as slowly as needed.
SOS Children has raised around $52 million globally from our donors for the children of Haiti, some of which has been earmarked by donors for long term rebuild. Shorter term support is being used to provide emergency relief (hot food for 14,000 children every day, tents, water, clothes, hygiene items, medicine and trauma counselling), building and maintenance works (temporary shelters for children), logistics (lorries, cars, mopeds) and administrative costs (staff, project management).
As a charity, SOS Children mainly provide family care for orphans and also provide acute emergency assistance when disaster strikes where we have a strong base. The emphasis in all our emergency aid operations however is on long-term development and sustainable rebuilding. SOS Children's reconstruction plan in Haiti is scheduled over ten years, during which time we will fund construction projects, training for the local workforce, and the strengthening of national structures (schools etc). The emphasis is on child care and protection, support for families, education, and strengthening resources in the education and social sectors.
Although it is inviting to get frustrated with the planning process, to a degree it is inevitable in the kind of situation in which the government of Haiti operates. We realistically estimated that specific reconstruction projects will begin between 18 and 24 months after the earthquake at the earliest. The government has not yet given any permission for the construction of permanent buildings and projects, such as schools. No agreement has yet been reached with the government authorities on specific measures related to cooperation in the education and social sectors (e.g. teacher training, quality control of child care facilities). SOS Children has already submitted draft agreements on future collaboration to the Ministries of Education and Social Affairs (Memoranda of Understanding), and is still waiting for a response from the authorities concerned. This is the reality of operating in Haiti.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. Even before the earthquake the political, social and economic situation was disastrous. The earthquake struck at the heart of this small island state. All of the national authorities are located in Port-au-Prince, which was more or less completely flattened (with the exception of the better-off areas). Many officials were killed in the earthquake, along with thousands of teachers and medical workers. Thousands of files were destroyed, and even before the earthquake there was no general land register and the property situation was not legally regulated. Many NGOs are still ensuring the primary care of the population (food, medical supplies, etc), that it to say, they are providing traditional emergency aid. Many aid organisations were also forced in recent weeks to concentrate their efforts on fighting the cholera outbreak.
Public agencies and political leaders have been badly affected and swamped by the extent of the earthquake. The elections in November, the results of which will not be established until February 2011, and the violent unrest are also causing great uncertainty and mean that many important issues have ground to a halt. One of the basic preconditions for a reconstruction master plan however is a functioning government that can coordinate and drive forward the reconstruction with the UN, the international community, the relevant authorities, international and local NGOs and the active participation of the citizens of Haiti.
SOS Children has been working in Haiti since 1979. Before the earthquake, over 4,000 children were supported at our two sites in Port-au-Prince and Cap Haïtien, which provide alternative care for children, education and training, and family support through a range of social programmes. Our services have multiplied since the earthquake. In Port-au-Prince alone hundreds of unaccompanied children were taken into our SOS families and over 150 children have now been returned to their families, who now receive continued support through SOS Family Strengthening Programmes if required. SOS Community and Social Centres have been expanded, and there are now over 100 food points where as many as 14,000 children a day are provided with hot meals (at peak times the figure was 24,000). The SOS School in Santo has doubled its capacity, with over 900 pupils being taught in two shifts.