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Haiti Earthquake Orphans: update on SOS Children strategy

SOS trucks have been arriving regularly

This update is to explain how our program is evolving, given our expertise and realities on the ground. We remain committed to the overall direction, however we are not overplanning in details as conditions on ground are evolving rapidly. This update is intended to provide an overall framework for understanding the details of what we are doing. Over time the framework will adapt depending on how the situation evolves. 

Phase I – Surviving in Port au Prince, mobilizing

Immediate relief effort is needed to ensure the survival, the protection and the well being of the most vulnerable children and their families in the aftermath of the earthquake. This includes the provision of safe drinking water, food, emergency health care, minimum requirements for sanitation and the establishing of a safe haven for children and families. To ensure our ongoing work, the immediate well being of our own staff from Haiti is also a central concern. Children and adults cope in different ways as things recover after the earthquake, and for effective trauma counselling this is not only early but also there are not sufficient qualified experts available. However the feeling of not being alone, not being forgotten is a central element in the process of coping with trauma– as important as food and water. Therefore our team will work on establishing safe spaces, where children and their families can find shelter as well as people who are there for them to rely on, who comfort, listen, provide, reassure and give emotional security amidst chaos and disaster.

This is reflected for example in our decision not to distribute our food aid at the large distribution points but at a small number of local community centres where we are sure they will get to the most vulnerable children.

Phase II Giving Hope 

Identifying and caring for children separated from their families, and most vulnerable families (e.g. very young mothers, mothers with small children, pregnant women etc) is a next step in the emergency programme. Safety and child protection is our main concern. We will focus on:

  • Keeping children with their mothers/families by providing food, emergency health care (e.g. drugs, disease prevention measures, immunisation); safe drinking water; (temporary) shelter and ensuring a safe space for children and mothers (or other carers)
  • Ensuring separated children and families are traced and reintegrated with their parents or the extended family or family friends who can care for the child
  • Providing children separated from their care givers with temporary care (e.g. within the SOS Children’s Villages, in short term foster families or through small short term care units, e.g. in temporary shelters, schools etc) 
  • Giving children and their mothers/carers washing and sanitation facilities with some degree of privacy
  • Allowing children to establish a sense of normality through play and recreational activities (e.g. role play, paintings and drawings, puppets and story telling, singing, group play etc.) or the introduction of temporary school and learning activities 
  • Providing children with age appropriate counselling and trauma treatment where necessary and to help them cope and recover
  • Ensure carers and SOS staff including relief workers have access to counselling too
  • Giving pregnant women have access to prenatal care, and mothers with babies access to mother and baby health services,

Children in temporary care will be assured a child friendly environment as close as possible to normality. They will only be handed over to other persons, institutions following clear legal procedures and in the best interest of the child.

Phase III – Rebuilding

After the first weeks our goal is to work towards establishing a sense of normality. Children and their families, as well as local staff, will receive support and encouragement in rebuilding their lives, so that they feel capable and active members of their community, able to take up the threads of their former lives. We will  encourage and facilitate local self help groups and initiatives, e.g. (re-)building or farming activities as a means of livelihoods to enable families to become again active instead of passive recipients. We also will

  • support the building or reconstruction of necessary infrastructure (e.g. schools, community centres, mother and child health services etc.) and the establishment of community services around schools or other public services (e.g. drinking water supply and sanitation)
  • support school feeding programmes
  • introduce micro-credit systems for re-building activities initiated by families/women making use of their abilities (e.g. child day care initiatives, food production etc.)
  • facilitate or provide trauma counselling and psycho social support, mental health counselling and strategies to cope and recover for children and families
  • support families and carers emotionally so that they understand how to help their children cope and recover
  • build necessary child protection in families close to the edge e.g. parenting skills, coping skills, de-escalation of violence and neglect
  • make use of everything available to support a sustainable recovery
  • co-operate with other NGOs and organisations in building local community structures relevant for families and children (e.g. child and family services, child protection services etc.)

After a maximum of one year in temporary care, we will ensure decisions are taken on every individual child with regard to long term placement if no other solution could be found. SOS Children in Haiti are then prepared to admit children for whom it is the best solution into its families.