"Where are your shoes? Go back and get your shoes on," Nathalie Nozile tells one young boy who is running around in the grass without sandals. She remembers from her own childhood how her SOS mother would always ensure that no child would run around the rocky paths barefooted.
Nathalie Nozile is back in house number 18 in the SOS Children's Village of Santo in the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, the home where she grew up - even though she really should be studying, as her graduation from University of Florida is only a few months away. The 25-year old Haitian woman left home at the age of 16 and has been studying law for the last three years. But ever since the earthquake hit her childhood hometown in January 2010, Nathalie has tried to find a way to come back and help her SOS family. "I had a strong desire to return and help in what-ever way possible," she says.
At first it was a challenge to find flights, as no commercial airlines was operating. Then she tried calling non-governmental organisations to see if she could volunteer, but most wanted personnel with medical backgrounds. Now, as spring break is here and commercial flights are back in operation, Nathalie finally made it back home to see for herself how the catastrophe has affected her friends and family.
Since her arrival she has made herself useful in the office of the emergency programme, where her English language skills are in high demand. She has also visited three of her SOS sisters, all of whom have lost homes. "Two have lost their homes and stay in the tent of the third, whose house is still standing but has huge cracks and it would be too dangerous to stay inside. I spent a night with them in their tent, which is right on the street in Delmar, a central neighborhood of the capital. It took some time before I felt relaxed enough to fall asleep," she tells.
Nathalie also explains that every person she talks to has a story to tell about where they where and what happened when the earthquake shook."Those are tales of how they had to flee offices, get passed blocked doors and tumbling walls, of holding wounded people. Amongst us SOS kids it's also a story of how we all try to help one another. One has an 11-year old son who has already gone through several brain surgeries in a hospital in the Dominican Republic, but he is still unable to un-claw his hands and might need treatment in Germany and we are trying to see what we can do for this family," she tells.
"Now we can begin to have regulations on construction work and to actually enforce such laws. We can improve on urban planning, widen roads and try to stem the overcrowded capital by paying attention to rural areas and agricultural development, as many internally displaced have currently sought refuge from the devastated capital in the provinces. But it has to happen quickly, otherwise people will begin to build their own homes again, like before - and many will return to Port-au-Prince for work and aid."Nathalie does not need to reflect for long when asked about what her country needs now. With an American accent to her way of talking, she explains that the need is for "a big clean up". And that both entails the rubble in the streets and in the ways society is run here. She also acknowledges the window of opportunity for change.
No doubt Nathalie has an eye for what is right and wrong; and as long as she remembers she's wanted to be a lawyer. 'I often played the devil's advocate in my communication with others and growing up amongst orphaned and abandoned children makes you reflect about the situation in Haiti. I strongly believe that this country needs much more law enforcement and respect for the rule of law, which would help in the fight against corruption, crime and think about what an enforced housing regulation could have done to prevent death and destruction," she says.
She used to say that she would like to stay and work in the US for ten years after graduating in order to pay for her student loans, but now she would like to return to Haiti right away, that is if she manages to find a position.Nathalie remains close to her SOS mother and still speaks to her over the phone at least once a month. Now she sees that those children who came to the village after the earthquake also call the mother of house 18 for "Mom". Currently 27 children are taken care of in just this one house, which has also been reinforced with two aunts and extra bunk beds and mattresses in what used to be her room.
"Some of the children tell me they still have family outside of the village. I think it will be tough for them to return to the life outside. Here they are actual kids, who can run around and play - as a 5-year old should - and they get three meals a day, a shower and much love and care. It's really not luxury, it's just what is every child's right, but for a girl who is used to toil the day away at the market where her mother sells small piles of vegetables I am sure it's quite something," Nathalie tells.
She also hopes that the extra amount of children will not hamper the sense of "family" that is the SOS Children's Villages' way. "I really did not feel that I grew up in an orphanage. To me this is my family and all the SOS mothers are so invested. That's also why I needed to come back again and support my family," she explains.