Six months ago today, the unthinkable happened to a city where chaotic conditions were already the norm. On Jan.12, a 7.0 earthquake wracked Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, killing more than 200,000 people and leaving about 2 million homeless.
Within days after the quake, ChildFund partnered with CBM, whose particular focus is on people with disabilities. CBM has worked in Haiti for 30 years, and some of its efforts in Haiti are specifically geared toward children, who are doubly vulnerable. One of these, the Centre d’Education Speciale (Center for Special Education, or CES), was destroyed in the earthquake. ChildFund and CBM immediately planned a six-month project in which the partners would set up and run Child-Centered Spaces, providing child-friendly spaces around the city. Additional services include maintaining medication of children with epilepsy, medical assessments and physical therapy. The first Child-Centered Space was up and running in February, and six more were added in the spring and early summer.
Ten-year-old Saraudju had been a student of the CES for three and a half years when the quake struck. The school had become an important touchstone for this shy little girl who has a hard time making eye contact.
“Before the quake, the school was really helping Saraudju,” says her mother, Guilaine, a single parent with three other children. “She was becoming more and more interested in learning names, and she was asking more and more questions. Her confidence was growing, and she was specifically asking for things she wanted, which she never used to do.”
But then the school was gone, and, with it, Guilaine’s ability to tackle the tasks of rebuilding the family’s lives: finding food, work and a safe place to live. Her older three children could take care of themselves, but there was nowhere for Saraudju to go – until the Child-Centered Spaces opened.
Now, Guilaine reports that when she picks Saraudju up after activities, the little girl is full of excited chatter about what they did that day and what she looks forward to on the next.
If the images of the devastation were hard for us to look at on screens or news pages, imagine what Saraudju – and all the children who survived the quake – saw on a daily basis, especially in those early days. It’s remarkable that children have the capacity to rebound, to be “full of excited chatter,” no matter how dire their circumstances or how enormous the trauma. ChildFund seeks to support this kind of resilience.
Psychological trauma is a huge issue throughout the city, so the psychosocial support services provided in the Child-Centered Spaces since their inception has been integral. Beginning in April, CBM added psychosocial support for the staff as well.
ChildFund and CBM further adapted their plan by extending it another three months. The CES has yet to be allocated land for rebuilding, and school vacations run from August through October, so an added infusion of children needing the Child-Centered Spaces is likely.
Recovery is slow going. The quake turned some 200,000 buildings into 17 million cubic meters of rubble. The AP news service reports today that only 2 percent of debris has been cleared. “Reconstruction is still mostly a concept,” they write.
But the epidemics that many feared would follow the quake didn’t happen. Schools have opened. Children are playing together in Child-Centered Spaces. In one of them, sheltered by a tent amid the rubble, Saraudju smiles.
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