earthquake

You Made a Difference in Guatemala

By Mario Lima, National Director, ChildFund Guatemala

mother and children stand in front of rebuilt home

ChildFund Guatemala welcomes a family back home.

Last Nov. 7, Guatemala suffered a strong earthquake. Thanks to the support from ChildFund sponsors and from donors to the ChildAlert Emergency Fund, we were able to bring relief to families and children throughout the affected areas.

ChildFund Guatemala implemented a three-pronged emergency response to support children and their families in the most affected communities:

  • House repair. In our program areas, 553 houses that were damaged by the earthquake were either repaired (429 homes) or reconstructed (124 new homes).
  • Social infrastructure repair. ChildFund also repaired or restored vital social infrastructures such as schools and community-run water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) systems in 25 communities.
  • Psychosocial support. We provided psychosocial support to more than 12,500 affected children for the two months immediately following the earthquake.

According to a traditional Mayan saying: “A good planting means a great harvest.”

Thanks for your support.

Learn more about ChildFund’s programs in Guatemala and how to sponsor a child.

Returning to Joy After Guatemala’s Earthquake

By Mario Lima, ChildFund Guatemala National Director

boys at rubble pile

Children survey ruined homes.

After an event such as a major earthquake, it is very easy to see the dramatic effects of the disaster. Damaged or destroyed homes, collapsed roads, no electricity, no phones; the devastation is a silent witness of what people went through.

man and boy talk

Mario talks with Esdras.

Having experienced a major earthquake as a child, I know there is underlying damage that is not as obvious to the naked eye. The fear, anxiety and the possibility of losing your loved ones, or even your own life, is really scary. Post-traumatic stress disorder can occur after seeing or experiencing a traumatic event that involved the threat of injury or death.

In the aftermath of Guatemala’s earthquake on Nov. 7, ChildFund, through its ChildAlert Emergency Fund, began providing psychosocial support to thousands of children. Our goal was to bring happiness back to children as soon as possible.

The school year is over in Guatemala (it runs from January to October). However, after the earthquake, children are coming back to schools to play and have fun as they address their fears. A group of trained community volunteers, led by ChildFund’s team members, gather to provide children with a day full of fun and learning games.

children playing with hoops on ground

Planned activities help children regain normalcy.

mothers and children

Mothers are welcomed.

Within the space of the familiar community school, we’ve set up a series of workstations designed by a team of five psychologists from ChildFund’s local partners. The stations are designed similarly to stands at local fairs. Children walk through and spend time at each station, experiencing different moments, from telling their own stories during the earthquake, to playing musical instruments to engaging with puppets to discussing a movie to playing logic games.

The ChildFund team had a pleasant but challenging surprise, as the back-to-happiness activities took place. A large group of unanticipated participants came – mothers. They wanted to know how they could further help their children at home. So we opened a new station to teach moms how they could help their own children.

All told, ChildFund is providing psychosocial support in 25 schools reaching more than 12,000 children affected by the earthquake. All these activities have been designed with one objective in mind: kick fear out and invite happiness back!

It’s Scary When the Earth Moves

Reporting by ChildFund Guatemala

On Nov. 7, a 7.4-magnitude earthquake shook the highlands of Guatemala, hitting the communities of San Marcos, Sololá, Huehuetenango and Quetzaltenango especially hard. Thousands were injured, 44 were killed, homes crumbled and power and water services were suspended. Esdras, a 12-year-old boy, who lives in a ChildFund-supported community, recalls the day.

boy at home

Esdras recalls the earthquake

“We just saw that everything was moving around,” says Esdras, who lives with his parents and three siblings in San Andrés Chapil, part of San Marco. When the earthquake occurred, part of his house fell down.

He also recalls a small tragedy: “A hen was getting ready to lay an egg when the earthquake occurred, and she died,” Esdras says.

“I am afraid of another earthquake,” he adds. “I felt every earthquake since the first day. When the strong earthquake hit, my mother and I were here inside the house. We just saw that everything was moving around. I was worried for my family, because there was no phone signal, no water and no power. Many houses near mine fell down, too,” he says.

Boy in kitchen

Esdras in his damaged home.

Because he loves to draw, Esdras dreams of becoming a designer of houses and other buildings. Lately, he’s been drawing objects moving as he thinks about the earthquake and its aftershocks. “I wish that we do not have more earthquakes. They say in the news that there have been almost 200 aftershocks since Nov. 7, and I’m very afraid,” he says.

To support victims of the earthquake like Esdras, ChildFund Guatemala has committed up to US$250,000 to help rebuild the houses of 550 families who lost their homes. In addition, ChildFund plans to provide psychosocial support to more than 12,500 affected children in the Guatemalan states of Sololá, Quetzaltenango and San Marcos.

Post-traumatic stress is one of the most devastating impacts of an earthquake on children. By providing emotional support and safe places to gather and play, ChildFund helps children cope with post-traumatic stress, address their fears and recover the confidence needed to go on with their daily lives.

To assist children like Esdras and their families get back on their feet and rebuild their houses, please consider a donation to the ChildAlert Emergency Fund.

The Big Blue Rug in Haiti

by Jeff Ratcliffe, ChildFund Grants Compliance Coordinator

I just returned from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where I witnessed a magical moment with children.

ChildFund has been supporting partner organizations on the ground in Haiti since shortly after the destructive earthquake in January 2010. The country is working to recover, but the day-to-day reality for children remains harsh. Most children lack safe places to play. In Port-au-Prince, any open spaces are filled with rubble and children must play in concrete lots, often near busy streets.

Photo Haitian children

A surprise is in the air.

As I arrived at our partner’s office, I watched as the children were lined up. Something was up, but they were not sure quite what. As is common for 5- to 8-year-old children, they were restless. Suddenly, the children screamed with delight as two of the instructors emerged from the building carrying a big blue rug. Many of the children began to dance with excitement. The soft blue rug was spread across the hard concrete, creating a space for the children to play. They wasted no time removing shoes and scampering onto the lush carpeting. They could play freely, without thought to getting scraped or bruised. The smiles were almost instant.

Photo of children on rug

A safe and comforting place to play.

From an Early Childhood Development perspective, the rug provided three benefits:

  1. It was soft and inviting—a comforting factor.
  2. It offered a defined space that made children feel safe to relax and be themselves.
  3. It provided a bright color that made the children happy and cheerful.
Photo of children playing on rug

The bright blue color is instantly appealing to children.

The ecstatic reaction to this rug reminded me again of the importance of play in a child’s life. Playing freely without fear of being harmed is important to healthy child development.

For me, the big blue rug reinforced the importance of ChildFund’s work with our partners in Haiti. I was heartened that amidst all the post-reconstruction work we’re helping fund, we’re also supporting the equally important work of helping children play again.

Haiti: Life Interrupted, yet Hardships Met with Tenacity

Guest post by Annie LePere

Annie LePere completed her master’s of public health while working for the Child Sponsorship department of ChildFund International. She was a community educator for the Sexual Assault Response Program in Lynchburg, Va., for three years before leaving to be a full-time mother. She recently returned from a volunteer mission trip to Haiti.

We were sitting under a mango tree when a young girl came by carrying a five-gallon bucket. She walked over to the community well and filled it. Balancing the full bucket on top of her head with one hand, she walked away. Then she came back and did it again. The third time she came back, we jumped in to help.

I was in Grand Goave, Haiti, about 10 miles from the epicenter of the massive earthquake that struck in January. I had joined a medical mission team from Bedford, Va., to use my background in community health and past experience working at ChildFund.

Rubble and trash still litter the streets, bridges are still impassable and tents are still up as far as the eye can see. In a country familiar with disasters, the earthquake has become another speed bump on the road to progress. People walk around the piles of rubble, trucks drive through the river and families have turned their tents into homes.

Baby Woodley and his aunt.

Yet, sadly, for many children living in Haiti, childhood has been lost. It was lost for the 8-year-old girl carrying water. It was lost for the 16-year-old young mother bringing her toddler to our clinic. It was lost for baby Woodley, a 4-day-old infant who had nothing to drink but water because his mother was unable to care for him.

Despite all of these hardships, it’s hard to break the spirit of a child and we found evidence of that spirit. It was there in the toddlers waving and shouting “ay oo!” as our truck drove by. It was there in the group of boys playing soccer. It was there in the teenage girl studying chemistry and planning to become a doctor. Schools were meeting in tents, under trees or in a room with three walls. At night, dedicated children would do their homework under the light of a solar-powered streetlight.

The biggest need identified by the mission was sanitation. With no running water other than a community well and people living on every available patch of land, families have to work hard to stay healthy. My background is in violence prevention, not sanitation. But I knew that ChildFund has an excellent track record in this area so I called for help.

Annie demonstrates with glitter how germs are passed.

Thus, I arrived in Haiti with an instruction manual for implementing the WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) program developed to help community educators teach their peers how to treat and protect water. I had planned to teach some basic information about hand washing and walk the medical coordinator through the program to implement at a later date. But the day before I arrived, a cholera outbreak was identified. With this threat looming, I became the community educator. I was asked first thing on a Monday morning to speak to school children, and throughout the week I gave classes to parents.

A child learns about hand washing.

Without the WASH materials, I would have been unprepared. As it turns out, the way to prevent cholera is to use the WASH techniques. Cholera is a scary disease, and every Haitian I spoke with was scared. But it can be prevented by treating and protecting the water supply and by washing hands. As of the mid-November, there were no cases of cholera reported from Grand Goave. So far, this area appears to have survived another challenge.

In teaching school children about hand washing, I played a game with them to show how germs spread. I filled my hand with glitter, touched a few children and had them touch their friends. At the end of the exercise we were all covered in sparkles.

Now back home in Virginia, I recently picked up my dusty backpack from the trip and was showered with glitter. I haven’t cleaned it up yet because it reminds me of the tenacity of the Haitian people. And it reminds me of hope that can be found in disaster — hope that springs from baby Woodley and his mom, who are now in the care of an aunt and, at last report, are progressing.

ChildFund Contributions Continue to Aid Haitian Children

More than eight months after an earthquake devastated Haiti, ChildFund’s support for the country’s most vulnerable children continues apace.

In our work through CBM and the Centre d’Education Speciale (CES), we are seeing signs of progress as children return to school and families adapt new routines. Much work remains amid Haiti’s decimated infrastructure.

Yet, there are bright spots. Day care centers for children with injuries and disabilities are operating in six hard-hit areas around Port-Au-Prince. Children attending the centers now have access to therapy, follow-up care and referrals to other health professionals when needed.

Continuing care is especially important for children with epilepsy to ensure regular access to medication. Since last March, a pediatrician and a neurologist have visited one of the centers once a week. Since May a speech therapist has been available twice a week.

Lovely and her mother Evna

In addition, CES has been able to open its doors to other children without disabilities yet in need of a safe haven. Six-year-old Lovely was a student of the College Mixte Evangelique d’Haiti, which collapsed during the earthquake. She lost many friends.

Lovely’s mother Evna reports that her daughter has made academic progress at the CES center despite the sad circumstances following the earthquake. During those terrifying moments, Evna and Lovely ran out of the house and spent all day in the street.

Lovely’s father used to have a little shop, but all of his merchandise was stolen after the quake. Evna, who had worked as a street vendor, had to stop her commerce activities and devote all of her time to taking care of her three children.

The opening of the child center has provided a safe place for the children to play and learn while Evna and her husband find work and earn money for food and necessities.

It is a hard existence but Lovely and her family have hope for better days.

Haiti after Half a Year

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.

Saraudju at a Child-Centered Space

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.

To support ChildFund’s ongoing efforts in Haiti, click here.

Update from Haiti: Helping Children Recover

ChildFund’s work with CBM on behalf of children in Haiti continues.

Junie at a Child Centered Space in Haiti.

Junie is a shy 16-year-old with a smile that lights up her face. She also has a cognitive delay and learning difficulties. Junie used to attend the Centre d’Education Special (CES), but since it collapsed in the earthquake on Jan. 12, she has been coming to a Child Centered Space operating in a tent.

Because her house collapsed during the earthquake, Junie lives with her mother, father and older sister on the street, and no one has been able to help them find permanent shelter. Her mother bought plastic sheets to build their new “house.”

Junie talks a lot about her mom, whom she loves very much. She used to help her mother with household chores, like cleaning and cooking. Now that Junie’s family is living on the street, she describes everything as “more difficult” but she hopes that one day she can have a new home where she can help her mom again.

Five days a week Junie attends the programs at the Child Centered Space, which ChildFund helped establish, and participates in activities such as coloring, counting, reading and writing. She regularly sits next to her friend Viola, who is also a student of the former CES.

Junie says she is happy to come to the center, but she misses the old CES building because of its large classrooms. She also misses the large garden where she played with her schoolmates. The tent is “small and so hot inside,” she says.

Her mother confirms, “We highly value the service that CES is offering us now. They are trying to give continuity to special education for our children, but we need more space and more teachers.”

Junie loves jumping rope and playing hide and seek with her friends in the small garden adjacent to the tent. She shares that she would like to become a doctor, and she knows that she should study hard to realize this dream. She says that when she becomes a doctor she will earn lots of money to rebuild her parents’ house.

When asked what she remembers of Jan. 12, Junie’s smile disappears from her face. She recalls that when the earthquake began she was at home with her older sister. Junie was washing dishes and her sister was doing laundry.

Suddenly the house started shaking and scared them, so she started shouting, pleading for help. Fortunately, the two girls escaped from the house before it collapsed.

Junie says that her neighbors all died during the terrible earthquake and she remembers being surrounded by people crying and shouting in pain. She laments briefly that now she has no more clothes or toys because they are all under the rubble.

Her parents do not have work now. They are living with the little money they had saved from their jobs before the earthquake, as well as money they have been given by friends. Junie’s mother used to sell used clothing downtown and her father worked for a company.

Her mother explains that life was not easy before the earthquake, but now it is even more difficult. She and her husband are waiting for their home’s rubble to be cleared so they can put a tent on the land that belongs to them and to start to live again with dignity.

To support ChildFund’s ongoing work in Haiti, click here.

After the Tragedy, Smiles – Thanks to Donors

by Cynthia Price, Director of Communications

In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, a young girl named Kimberly recovers from a crushed leg.

She and many other children are forced to survive in a temporary tent as their parents forage for food and seek jobs. The children have no home and no school to go to. Their toys are gone. And they don’t know where their friends are.

But thanks to ChildFund, CBM and our donors, these children meet daily in tents known as Child Friendly Spaces.

Ron Nabors, CEO of CBM, is visiting ChildFund International offices in Richmond this week to share firsthand the work that the partnership is delivering in Haiti.

“The impact from this disaster is far worse on the child than on the adult,” Nabors says. “What we are doing is giving hope and security to these children and keeping them on track for the future.”

At the Child Friendly Spaces, the children play, learn, laugh and end the day with a smile. “The children can sit together and have some social interaction in a safe place,” he says.

The partnership between ChildFund and CBM is “fairly unusual and exciting,” Nabors relates.

“We’ve set an example for other NGOs to partner together and make a difference for those who really need help,” he told ChildFund employees gathered on Thursday.

He notes that both organizations follow a sustainability model. “We don’t want to just be a charity.”

Smiles break out at a Child Centered Space in Haiti.

That’s why the Child Friendly Spaces are so important. “They provide a safe haven during this awful chaos,” he says.

In addition to providing for children’s daily needs, CBM is maintaining a database of children in need that it shares with Haitian authorities and UN agencies. “We don’t want children to get lost,” Nabors explains.

To date, four Child Friendly Spaces are up and running, serving 450 children. The goal is to have 10 up by year’s end.

The next steps are to transition from recovery to reconstructing lives and enabling the children to return to schools. ChildFund and CBM will continue to partner in this effort.

ChildFund donors have generously donated almost $1.3 million to help children in Haiti. “It scares me to think where these children would be if we [CBM, ChildFund and the donors] had not done what we did,” Nabors says.

But through the partnership and the generosity of donors, positive signs have begun to happen at the Child Friendly Spaces, Nabors says. “Smiles start to creep onto their faces in the midst of all this chaos.”

For more information and to donate, click here.

Dedicated People Lead Haiti’s Recovery

by Anne Edgerton
ChildFund Disaster Management Team Leader

During my three weeks in Haiti, I’ve been working with Marie Marthe, an employee of the Centre d’Education Special (CES), to set up Child Centered Spaces. CES works with children who need special education and provides a variety of services based on the child’s age and disability.

The earthquake destroyed the CES building, and it will have to be rebuilt. ChildFund is supporting the establishment of Child Centered Spaces and the eventual reconstruction of the CES building. During this transition time, Marie Marthe is adapting her normal work to become coordinator of the Child Centered Spaces.

Marie Marthe at work helping children.

Marie Marthe started working for CES 22 years ago, so I asked her a bit about her job. “My first day, I said to myself, ‘This is for me!’ From the first moment, I loved it. I’d never seen such children, and it was the perfect environment in the CES classes for their development and care.”

Marie Marthe trained as an early childhood specialist while teaching, and eventually she began training new teachers at CES. She is proud of the 10 integrated schools that CES operates in partnership with the Haitian government to make sure that children of different learning abilities are cared for and can reach their full potential.

I asked Marie Marthe how the earthquake affected her and her family, “It was a surprise. No one knew it would happen. We lost a lot of people, and we love life, so to lose someone is very hard for us.”

But rather than recount the details of her personal losses, she prefers to focus on gratitude for the international response to Haiti. “I am so thankful to the world for bringing us help. I have no idea how we could have recovered without such attention, especially for the children. I am especially thankful to the children of Holland who sent the drawings for our centers.”

A nurse who worked for CBM in Haiti just after the earthquake delivered the drawings from Holland, and they now brighten our first Child Centered Space.

Drawings sent by children in Holland brighten the Child Centered Space.

Haiti is living through an overwhelming disaster that will require years of recovery. Yet, by working with dedicated people like Marie Marthe, we can help the most vulnerable survivors.

To support ChildFund’s efforts in Haiti, click here.

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