After almost a year of providing emergency relief for the victims of the earthquake that brought the country to its knees, SOS Children is now eager to contribute to a genuine rebuilding of Haiti. The expansion of Family Strengthening Programmes will enable thousands of children to be provided for in the long term, and a third SOS Children's Village and at least ten state schools are also in planning. This represents a huge challenge for the staff in Haiti, as the situation is far from simple, and things often go slower than one might hope.
For the majority of the inhabitants of the small island country in the Caribbean, life over the last few decades was characterised by poverty, misgovernment and political arbitrariness. The state of emergency was chronic. And, as is so often the case in comparable situations, the children were hit hardest. Yet the repercussions of the 12 January 2010 catastrophe are unprecedented, and Haiti cannot be left to deal with them alone. Even now, a year after the earthquake, more than a million people are still living under deplorable conditions in temporary tent camps. Hundreds of thousands of children and their families depend on aid; access to clean water, electricity, medical supplies and education is unreliable at best.
A systematic reconstruction, which will take many years to complete, has not yet begun. Ironically, this situation actually represents a historic chance to lay aside the many social and political evils of the past and eradicate the huge shortfalls in the infrastructure of the country. One thing which will undoubtedly be required is the active participation and involvement of the citizens of Haiti - and the involvement of the children and adolescents who, for years, have been suffering at the hand of deprivation, resignation and hopelessness. SOS Children's Villages has been working in Haiti for 30 years. Before the earthquake, SOS Children's Villages helped over 4,000 children at two locations in Port-au-Prince and Cap Haïtien, providing alternative family-based care for children without parental care as well as education and training, and support for families through various social programmes. Since the earthquake, the number of children being cared for by SOS Children's Villages has grown exponentially.
The relief and reconstruction programme in Haiti is one of the largest aid projects ever carried out by SOS Children's Villages in any country, second only to the Southeast Asia tsunami aid relief effort. The amount of international donations of around USD 52 million is comparable only to the generosity shown by the world following the tsunami disaster. Yet SOS Children's Villages has also had internal challenges to tackle in Haiti as a consequence of the catastrophe. Almost all the members of staff at SOS Children's Villages Haiti and their families were themselves directly affected by the disaster. Due to the mental strain, but also because of the enormous need for aid, and in order to keep the work already being carried out on schedule, an international aid team was formed together with local staff.
The difficulties which the staff of SOS Children's Villages and every other humanitarian organisation in Haiti faces are immense. Nonetheless, within just a few days of the earthquake, relief operations had already started. The SOS Children's Village in Santo on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince was a platform for all relief efforts. In the first few months, the focus was on the admission of and care for unaccompanied children and the search for their relatives, the reactivation of the SOS Community Centres and ensuring that the basic needs of children in the catchment areas of the centres were provided for, as well as the gradual development of centres for the distribution of food.
1. Protection and care of unaccompanied children / family reunification
In close cooperation with the Haitian Ministry of Social Welfare, other NGOs and UN Agencies, in recent months, SOS Children's Villages has taken a total of over 500 children into the SOS Children's Village in Santo. These are children whose relatives' fate was unknown at the time, or whose families were/are not in a position to look after them. The first children arrived in the very first week following the earthquake. 150 children have now been able to return to their families. Today, there are three times as many children living at the SOS Children's Village as before the earthquake, and each SOS family has an average of 20 rather than the usual ten children to care for. To provide adequate housing and to relieve the SOS families, small prefabricated houses were eventually built on the village compound in Santo.
Many of the children still living at the SOS Children's Village will, despite all efforts, probably never return to their family of origin, either because they are orphans or because their parents or relatives can not give them adequate care. New children are constantly being brought to the children's village. Where necessary, the children are given psychological and medical attention. The case of the 33 children who crossed the border into the Dominican Republic and were probably intended to be taken to the USA was a drastic indication of the risks to which children are exposed, especially in the first chaotic phases of emergency and crisis situations. Unaccompanied children and children from particularly disadvantaged backgrounds are therefore dependent on special protection measures and the increased attention from the government, state authorities, aid workers and any aid organisation. All of the 33 children still had parents, and so, following a temporary stay at SOS Children's Village Santo, they were reunited with their families. The families receive support from SOS Children's Villages. The SOS Children's Village in Cap Haïtien temporarily took in an additional 40 children, most of whom have now been able to return to their families.
2. Alternative care of children / Capacity-building in the social services, knowledge transfer, and advice in the field of out-of-home care of children
In addition to those in Port-au-Prince and Cap Haïtien, a third SOS Children's Village will be built in Les Cayes, which, like the other two sites, will offer extensive social programmes for disadvantaged families. It is possible that there may be more SOS Children's Villages, if there is a need and if a corresponding basis for cooperation is established with the government. SOS Children's Villages has offered the Haitian Ministry of Social Welfare to provide expertise in the assessment of the quality of care in all the orphanages and other care programmes across the country as well as to introduce quality standards and a monitoring mechanism. The long-term aim is to create a body of experts which will be consulted on all issues to do with children and the rights of children, particularly those without parental care. An agreement to this effect is to be drawn up between SOS Children's Villages and the Ministry.
3. Ensuring the basic needs of children / Community Centres / Family support
Before the earthquake, SOS Children's Villages in Port-au-Prince ran a social centre and a number of community centres with the aim of assisting the most disadvantaged families to improve their abilities to earn an income in the long term and to ensure that children were adequately cared for within their families. Following the earthquake, these existing centres fulfilled an important function as platforms, providing for the basic needs of thousands of children. Gradually, additional centres and more than 100 food distribution points opened. Every day, children are provided with hot meals prepared by members of the community, in cooperation with SOS Children's Villages. The food is delivered by SOS Children's Villages and the distribution and registration are monitored regularly, in collaboration with community committees. At a peak period, the number of children being provided for daily was around 24,000. Currently it is about 14,000. Where necessary, children receive medical care and families in emergency situations are given support in the form of other relief supplies. Lessons and game activities are organised in the community centres. The plan is to start to phase out the food centres during early 2011 and gradually start to provide families with support from more sustainable community centres instead. New community centres will be built, existing ones expanded. The ultimate aim is to stabilise the families within the communities in self-organised groups so that they may help one another and be able to look after their own livelihoods in the long term. In the SOS Community Centres, there will be literacy, education and hygiene courses for adults, while younger children will be given food and cared for in day care centres. For the future, the granting of micro-credits in cooperation with other NGOs is planned to favour the development of small businesses.
Following the earthquake, Haiti's already-weak education system collapsed completely. Even before the disaster, only half of all children attended school, and more than half of those never got beyond sixth grade. Only 10% of schools were run by the state. Children whose parents could afford private schooling at all received shoddy lessons from poorly qualified teachers. And all that for up to 50% of the family's income. As a result of the earthquake, about 4,000 schools were destroyed and hundreds of teachers killed. The construction of schools, teacher training, good educational standards and the development of standardised curricula are all key elements of SOS Children's Villages' reconstruction programme. Providing a solution to the plight of education in the country is certainly one of the decisive factors for a better future for Haiti.
Before the earthquake, around 500 children visited the SOS School in Santo. Now, there are 900, meaning lessons must be held in two shifts and some classes take place in tents. SOS Children's Villages' plans for the coming years include the construction of ten new public schools. This would require a formal agreement with the Ministry of Education, and a request has been submitted. These schools are to be run by the state, with SOS Children's Villages covering all the costs for a period of five to seven years (construction, salaries, teacher training, teaching materials, etc.), until such a time as the government is ready to take over. As bureaucratic processes are slow, SOS Children's Villages will build a container school as a model school on the children's village grounds in Santo as a first step, financed with funding from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. Teaching plans and curricula are to be developed in collaboration with the University of Port-au-Prince. For a fundamental improvement in the education system, a focus on teacher training is essential. Here, too, SOS Children's Villages is offering the Haitian Ministry support - the possibility that experts from Europe and Canada train Haitian teachers at the SOS Schools. Should a cooperation with the Ministry of Education be established, the creation of an educational academy would also be feasible.
5. For Haiti's Children
Prior to the international donor conference on Haiti , a conference entitled “A Haiti Fit for Children” was organised in March 2010 by Plan International, Save the Children, Oxfam, World Vision, UNICEF and SOS Children's Villages International, to take place at the UNICEF headquarters in New York. The aim of this conference was to make it known once again to the international community as well as to responsible decision-makers and the Haitian government, that the Haitians themselves must be empowered as key players in the reconstruction of their country, and involved in major decision-making. From the perspective of child-focused organisations, it is essential that the voices of the children and young people of Haiti are heard, and that their needs are taken into consideration. All decisions, measures and action to improve the living conditions of the Haitian people must also ensure both the welfare and protection of children, with particular attention aimed at children without parental care. The UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children, to which SOS Children's Villages has contributed significantly, offer a framework of reference and standards (e.g. monitoring systems and strategies to combat child trafficking; quality alternative care for children who cannot live with their families of origin, and action to strengthen disadvantaged families to prevent child separation).
The unchanging problematic conditions in which over a million people in the numerous tent cities in and around Port-au-Prince must live are a real threat to the mental and physical health of children. Overall, it must be said that the situation is gradually deteriorating. Increased tensions are being observed in many places due to the poor living conditions, and increased attacks on children and adolescents are being reported. The discussions in New York focused especially on the areas of child protection and the needs of children, the urgently needed strengthening of the governance and administrative system, possible future disaster scenarios and their management, as well as the responsibilities of governments and civil society to the people of Haiti. In all the day-to-day work carried out to help the most disadvantaged children and families in Haiti, SOS Children's Villages is committed in its rebuilding projects and cooperation with governments and other organisations to making a positive contribution to the overall improvement of living conditions and future prospects of the children of Haiti.