October 12 2004
SOS Youths on a humanitarian mission to Gonaives
11/10/2004 - In late September, four youths in the care of SOS Children's Villages in Santo, Haiti, embarked on a humanitarian mission to the flood-hit city of Gonaives. They were accompanying emergency relief goods donated by SOS Children's Villages.
The youths departed for Gonaives on 27 September 2004, accompanied by three supervisors of SOS Children's Villages, to help deliver the emergency relief goods provided by the children's welfare organisation. At the request of the WFP (United Nations World Food Programme), SOS Children's Villages donated much needed kitchen equipment and utensils to the region that had been devastated following tropical storm Jeanne.
The youths and their supervisors travelled in convoy from Port-au-Prince with the WFP and MINUSTAH (United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti). The journey from Santo to Gonaives, normally a two-hour journey, took eight hours due to the heavily flooded roads.
During their stay in Gonaives, the youths helped an international relief organisation with the distribution of food, before departing prematurely on 29 September 2004. The situation in Gonaives, where UN peacekeeping troops are busy preventing armed gangs from stealing the aid, was considered too chaotic and dangerous.
Read what the four SOS Youths had to say about their unusual experiences in Gonaives:
What were your general impressions of the trip and the stay in Gonaives and of the activities undertaken?
"When we arrived ... we thought we would have a place to sleep but this was not the case, we had to sleep on the floor. But we were not discourages, instead it was as if we were sharing the fate of the population of Gonaives, who are mostly sleeping outdoors without any form of shelter."
"There were no problems during the food distribution as we were joined by MINUSTAH forces ... after the distribution we were confronted with a problem: men surrounded the entrance (to the food distribution facility) and did not allow us to exit. It took them a while to understand we were volunteers."
"We would have liked to have stayed longer in Gonaives but Yves (SOS Children's Village supervisor) told us we had to depart ... due to the chaotic and violent situation."
"I was greatly impacted by seeing so many people who were virtually naked (wearing only underwear), barefoot, starving; the houses were full of mud from the roof to the floor; the streets were full of rubbish and waste ..."
"If one is not in Gonaives it is impossible to comprehend the reality there. What one sees on TV is not even a tenth of the reality."
"What left an impression on me was the devastation of the houses and schools ... I think the children on Gonaives will be unable to go to school this year."
"The people of Gonaives, even if they receive food, they have nowhere to sleep, they cannot attend to their wounds. I feel a lot of compassion for these people."
"The egoism of certain people stood out. A lot of people who received aid in the form of food were not willing to share it with others."
"The aid is insufficient ... there are thousands and thousands that are receiving nothing."
What were the experiences or situations that impressed you the most?
"What particularly caught my attention was that the distribution of food is not carried out in a manner that I consider very humane: the food is thrown to the masses of people, and they have violent disputes over whatever falls their way."
"One of the images that remained in my mind is how some 70 or more people were violently fighting over a small bag of water."
"It had a great impact on me, not only to see the people who lost everything, but to see the mothers who didn't even have milk to give to their babies. The mothers were crying together with their children."
What did you learn from this experience?
"The poverty and misery of the population led me to think about my opportunities as an SOS Youth. This experience has led me to value my personal situation."
"We were unable to go to the area of Gonaives that was most affected. When I compare what I have seen with what I was not able to see, I realise that Gonaives will never be able to return to normal."
"One of the lessons I learned is that by helping people that I don't know, I can now understand why SOS Children's Villages helps people it doesn't know."
Do you have any suggestions you would like to give to the organisation about how the population of Gonaives can be helped?
"The whole city has to be reconstructed: the schools, markets, houses. Everything was completely destroyed. I think we could participate in activities to clean the houses and the schools."
"I would like to participate in activities to help support the population (of Gonaives), which feels it has been abandoned."