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.

In Haiti, Heroes Come in All Sizes

by Anne Edgerton
ChildFund Disaster Management Team Leader

You only have to sit with someone long enough to learn of the extraordinary heroics undertaken when the earthquake struck — some by the smallest of children.

At the Child Centered Space ChildFund helped open, we asked a few children to come with their parents and talk to a media team visiting from CBM Canada.

Lorenzo tells the story of saving his sister, but losing his foot in the earthquake.

One very well-dressed young lad, Lorenzo, told me he was eight as we sat down to explore his story with his mother. She then told us that even as the ground was moving, Lorenzo had run back into their house to save his 3-year-old sister. In doing so, he lost his right foot.

Lorenzo was not smiling when he arrived at the center earlier that morning. When we asked him what was wrong, he sadly told us that he would never play football again. His mother told us he used to play every day with the neighborhood boys, and even would play ball by himself if there was no one to play with.

It’s difficult to tell a child who has lost his foot that a prosthetic will allow him to play again.

Instead, I asked him if he wanted to draw. A smile broke across his face — the first I’d seen. He played with the children for hours, then wanted to be interviewed for the cameras with his mother.

Later, as they departed, Lorenzo’s mother said they’d be back every day we were open. Lorenzo grabbed my hand, “Thank you,” he said in English.

Lorenzo’s family lives in a car on the edge of the largest camp in Port-au-Prince. I met the sister he saved and his grandmother. They all share the car — for sleeping, shade from the sun and mealtimes.

Yet, the family is grateful not to have lost a single member, thanks to the life-saving intervention of Lorenzo, a hero at age eight.

To support ChildFund’s efforts in Haiti, click here. Contributions made no later than Feb. 28, 2010, can be deducted from 2009 tax returns.

Haitian Official Recaps Impact on Those with Disabilities

by Anne Edgerton
ChildFund Disaster Management Team Leader

Last week I was privileged to join others for a meeting with Haiti’s Secretary of State for the Integration of People with Disability within the Ministry of Social Affairs.

Michel Pean (l) meets with CBM staff.

Secretary Michel Pean recapped the impact of the earthquake on those with disabilities.

“Very quickly all establishments taking care of the disabled were destroyed,” he said. “Staff died, and new people became handicapped. In addition, hundreds of thousands were displaced, without homes, in need of services, and this is a serious difficulty for the handicapped and elderly, as they have no access to this humanitarian assistance.”

ChildFund is establishing 10 Child Centered Spaces with our local partner. Our priorities are to find the former students and reach out to all children affected by the earthquake and subsequent displacement from their homes.

To support ChildFund’s efforts in Haiti, click here. Contributions made no later than Feb. 28, 2010, can be deducted from 2009 tax returns.

Post-Operative Care Critical to Injured Haitians

by Anne Edgerton
ChildFund Disaster Management Team Leader

Anne continues work in Haiti, collaborating with CBM, ChildFund’s partner on the ground.

There is so much work still to do here.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of accompanying one of the physiotherapists who has come to work with CBM after the earthquake. David, 23, from England, holds a bachelor’s degree in physiotherapy.

I watch David handle patients carefully, telling them quietly which exercises to do. The women in this ward repeat his instructions in English after David works with them. “Eat, drink, exercise!” they say with smiles. Yet, many of the women relate horrible stories, especially of the number of days it took to get treatment. But they are grateful to have received treatment at all.

Gloria, 26, tells me: “We are so grateful to the foreigners who come here. It is so nice that you are here. Thank you.” She waited eight days to see a doctor for her injuries. In this medical rehabilitation area, Gloria rests in a handmade traction kit, which David verifies is hanging correctly. Gloria is a new patient, transferred to this NGO rehabilitation space from an overloaded hospital that lacks time, staff and space to care for post-operative patients.

After studying Gloria’s X-rays, David suddenly turns to the interpreter: “What did you say — that the doctor told her she can start walking?”

David reads Gloria's X-ray.

David points out to me the fracture in Gloria’s pelvis. Two X-rays, taken three weeks apart, show that the bones are not setting properly. David says that she should not move at all, not for a while. He tells me that he needs the doctor to reinforce his instructions, as Gloria might not stay in bed if a doctor has said otherwise.

A physician is located and David shows him what he’s spotted on the X-ray. “Ah, good catch,” the doctor says, “I didn’t see that.” The doctor instructs Gloria not to walk, and to obey all instructions that David gives her.

Gloria smiles at me, “Eat, drink, exercise!” she says. The walking will have to wait, but she will heal properly with this kind of care.

Every day more patients arrive at the 12 rehabilitation areas where CBM and Handicap International have arranged for physical and occupational therapists like David to assist with the overwhelming demand.

Rest now, walk later.

Rest now, walk later.

This is David’s first emergency response. “Haitians seem so unified in helping one another; I didn’t expect this,” he says. “But everyone seems to be doing what they can to help one another.”

To support ChildFund’s partnership with CBM in Haiti, click here. Contributions made no later than Feb. 28, 2010, can be deducted from 2009 tax returns.

National Day of Mourning for Haiti

by Anne Edgerton
ChildFund Disaster Management Team Leader

Anne is in Haïti this week, working with CBM, ChildFund’s partner on the ground.

Before I left, friends said to me that they did not understand what anyone was actually accomplishing in Haiti. All one hears on the news is how little is getting done, how horrible it is.

Having been here only three days, I can only report what I witness. What I am seeing getting done looks superhuman to me.

Imagine all public buildings collapsed or so damaged that people cannot go in. Most government records are inaccessible or gone. Imagine sleeping outside because you are afraid another tremor might occur at night. Add a breakdown in water, electricity and cell phone coverage, and you have a picture of Port-au-Prince right after the earthquake.

One month on, some residents have moved to the countryside, but many remain in scattered hillsides and parcels of land in the capital. There are literally thousands of locals and foreigners who are working together to quickly supply — and slowly rebuild — areas of the city.

One month on, the emergency response includes food distribution, constructing shelters and managing the hygiene and safety of hundreds of large camps. Electric and water service is returning to some parts of the city, some hours each day. Cell phone coverage is improving.

One month on, thousands of people speaking two out of the three operational languages here (French, English and Creole) share information and learning — both by Internet and in meetings tents and hospitals. They bemoan the numbers who still need assistance and the traffic snarls they as aid workers contribute to.

One month on, schools are not open. Those with disabilities — already among the poorest Haitians receiving only the most basic of services — will have their ranks swelled by those newly disabled in the earthquake. Their advocacy network is largely gone. It is now known that the Ministry of Social Affairs, which completely collapsed, took 29 civil servants’ lives with it.

How does one recover?

Slowly, with infinite patience and grace. As one civil affairs official told me yesterday: “Thank you so much for coming to help us in Haiti. We are so grateful for the attention and assistance.”

Today has been declared a National Day of Mourning in Haiti. I am reflecting on what I’ve witnessed during my short time here, and how to best demonstrate solidarity and kindness.

To support ChildFund’s partnership with CBM in Haiti, click here. Contributions made no later than Feb. 28, 2010, can be deducted from 2009 tax returns.

Serving Children with Disabilities in Haiti

As earthquake relief and recovery efforts enter their fourth week in Haiti, ChildFund and its partner CBM are continuing to aid those with disabilities and disabling injuries.

“Children with disabilities are particularly vulnerable in emergency situations and require focused protection measures,” notes Anne Edgerton, ChildFund’s disaster management team leader.

The Haiti earthquake resulted in high rates of orthopedic injuries. Untreated for days and weeks, broken and badly injured limbs can develop gangrenous infections. The total number of amputees due to the earthquake could stretch into tens of thousands, Dr. Ronald Waldman of USAID told Reuters news service.

One Haitian physician told Reuters that the earthquake has created a generation of amputees, many of them young, who will need care for years to come.

“Attention to these issues early on is crucial,” says Edgerton, “because children who have injuries and other disabilities are more likely to be overlooked in relief efforts.”

CBM and ChildFund are coordinating relief efforts with Haiti’s Secretariat for Inclusion of People with Disabilities and other local and international humanitarian aid groups.

We are also supporting the Centre d’Education Special, which provided services to 500 children with disabilities in Port-au-Prince before the earthquake hit. “Now, with renewed attention and resources after this disaster, children with disabilities and injuries — as well as other community children in need — will be located and included in rehabilitation support appropriate to their needs,” Edgerton says.

To support ChildFund’s partnership with CBM in Haiti, click here. Contributions made no later than Feb. 28, 2010, can be deducted from 2009 tax returns.

Children’s Safety and Well-Being Top Priority for ChildFund in Haiti

by Virginia Sowers
Community Manager

As the two-week mark passes since the devastating earthquake, I want to update you on ChildFund’s ongoing efforts to help vulnerable children in Haiti.

Because ChildFund does not operate in Haiti, we partnered with CBM, which has worked there for 30 years. We wanted to support an established on-the-ground organization with staff and resources in place to immediately begin addressing children’s needs.

CBM works primarily with children who have disabilities. Our two organizations are committed to aiding these survivors and addressing their long-term care after the immediate disaster is over. ChildFund is sending a member of its Disaster Management Team to Haiti to work closely with CBM as it assesses the children’s short- and long-term needs.

“The children of Haiti, unless they get help, they will have lost their childhoods, their innocence,” said Elisabeth Delatour Préval, Haiti’s first lady in an interview with The New York Times on Jan. 27.

Together, ChildFund and CBM will

  • Reach 1,200 children with disability or injuries through our initial work.

    Children in Port-au-Prince are in need of safe environments. Photo: CBM

  • Work to rebuild the collapsed School for Special Education, providing ongoing services to the children, who need support now more than ever.
  • Establish Child-Centered Spaces, which are central to ChildFund’s program approach to reaching out to children during crises when schools are not functioning. The Child-Centered Spaces provide a place for children to play and feel emotionally safe. Ultimately, we help children regain a sense of normalcy.
  • Train psychosocial volunteers, teachers and counselors, who will work with the children to talk about the effects the earthquake will have on their lives.

ChildFund International has a long history and steadfast reputation for working with children in crisis. Our donors expressed a strong desire to support Haiti. Your generosity is allowing ChildFund experts to deliver critically needed relief to children and their families in devastated areas.

If you would like to support ChildFund’s partnership with CBM in Haiti, click here. Contributions made no later than Feb. 28, 2010, can be deducted from 2009 tax returns.

Peace Corps Volunteer Remembers Beauty of Haiti

by Wendy Hirsch
ChildFund Strategy Manager

Haiti is a place of extremes, which demands a lot of you and rewards you immensely for the effort. I discovered this while a Peace Corps volunteer from 1998 to 2000 working in and around Cabaret, Haiti.

While visiting Haiti in early January, Wendy photographed the children from her "lakou," or family compound.

I regret that most people are only exposed to the most negative of these extremes — dire poverty, environmental degradation, corruption, insecurity — and over the last week, the absolute horror that comes when you add a natural disaster to the mix. I don’t deny any of these. But I’m not going to write about them here. I want to talk about the other extremes of Haiti — beauty, vibrance, kindness, gratitude, humor and wisdom, and lots of hard-earned wisdom.

I don’t possess the literary gifts necessary to describe the grace that is Sunday morning in Haiti — regardless of religion, whether you go to services or not — it’s a quiet and comforting time. Nor can I adequately convey the gift that is Haitian drumming, or the life and energy that literally leap from the paintings. But I can share with you some Haitian wisdom, as conveyed through proverbs.

I used proverbs a lot when I lived in Haiti. They provided a bridge to understanding the culture, attitudes and thinking of Haitians — and usually got a laugh when delivered through the mouth of a small, blonde American woman. Tenacity, effort, acceptance, practicality, hope and humor are all showcased in the proverbs — aspects of the Haitian people that I treasure and am privileged to share with you.

One proverb in particular came to mind as I learned of the earthquake last week:

W’ap fè’m monte nan sièl pado.
You’re making me go to heaven backwards.

Here are a few of my other favorites…

Chita pa bay.
Sitting doesn’t get you anywhere.

Piti piti zwazo fè niche li.
Little by little, the bird makes her nest.

Yon sèl dwèt pa ka manje kalalou.
You can’t eat okra with one finger.

Men anpil, chay pa lou.
Many hands lighten the load.

Practicality…and its associated wisdom
Tout moun se moun. Tout moun pa menm.
All people are people. All people are not the same.

Ou we sa ou genyen, ou pa konn sa ou rete.
You know what you have, you don’t know what’s coming.

Wendy Hirsch works at ChildFund International headquarters in Richmond, Va. Her Haitian friends and family survived the earthquake. Some are now homeless and some hurt, but as they put it: “We eat, we sleep. We can’t complain.”

ChildFund Partners with CBM in Haiti

Given the chaos on the ground in Haiti, it is critical that organizations collaborate to meet the needs of vulnerable children.

Because ChildFund does not operate in Haiti, we are partnering with Christian Blind Mission (CBM), which has operated in Haiti for 30 years. This supports an established on-the-ground organization with staff and resources already in place to immediately begin addressing the needs of vulnerable children.

Hôpital de l'Université, Port-au-Prince/Haiti, after the earthquake. Photo: CBM/Zelenski

Funds provided to CBM through ChildFund will be earmarked specifically for children.

“ChildFund will use its vast experience on how best to meet the needs of children in crisis to ensure funds are used for child-focused efforts with great impact,” said Anne Lynam Goddard, president and CEO. “Having worked in emergencies, I know how critical it is to coordinate assistance to provide the greatest impact. We are not operating in Haiti but we are using our experience to partner with those on the ground to meet the needs of children.”

CBM is the world’s largest international nonprofit dedicated to improving the quality of life for the blind and people with disabilities. Funds raised by ChildFund will be used by CBM specifically to meet the needs of the most vulnerable – children with disabilities. CBM estimates that the number of injured children demanding hospital services because of the Haiti earthquake has increased tenfold.

Three of CBM’s projects in Port-au-Prince are dedicated to children. One, Grace Children’s Hospital, sustained damage. Patients are sleeping in the streets.

CBM has sent emergency relief specialists to assess needs, meet with partner agencies and determine immediate and long-term responses.

“Thanks to our partnerships with organizations such as ChildFund, our efforts will make sure that disabled children, often the most vulnerable after a crisis, aren’t at the back of the line for assistance,” said Ron Nabors, CEO of CBM-US.

We will provide periodic updates on the recovery efforts and rebuilding from our partners on the ground in Haiti.

For more information and to donate, click here.

Haiti’s Children Need Our Help Now

by Ellie Whinnery, ChildFund Public Relations Manager
and Virginia Sowers, ChildFund Community Manager

As the devastating impact of the earthquake continues to unfold in Haiti, we spoke with ChildFund’s vice president in the Americas Region Dula James to gain some insights from her two years spent in Haiti as director for another international NGO.

“Haiti always seemed to be in a state of transition from one thing to another,” Dula notes. “Every time progress was made internally, it seemed like another disaster hit and every group working there had to start work all over again.”

In 2008, Hurricane Ike lashed Haiti, flooding the island, claiming lives and wreaking havoc on the country’s brittle infrastructure. The basics of life — running water, food security, electricity, roads, garbage disposal — have long been scarce in Port-au-Prince, which has a population of 3 million.

Urban poverty is prevalent in the capital, as evidenced by the numerous slum areas, Dula reports. These conditions have contributed to high incidences of drug problems and human trafficking issues.

“A high illiteracy rate exists among the population, because education is not free,” Dula says. Even though parents want to send their children to school, they do not have the capability to make that happen. Jobs are hard to come by in Haiti.

With the latest natural disaster, Haiti’s children — already in a precarious position — are now at even higher risk. Schools and other community structures are totally destroyed in Port-au-Prince.

As ChildFund selects a partner organization on the ground in Haiti, we are especially focused on child protection and keeping children at the center of recovery efforts and rebuilding.

The paucity of government resources and infrastructure has slowed the delivery of aid to Haiti after the earthquake, causing frustration. Yet, there is a ray of hope in this grim situation.

“Haitians are very resilient people with a strong faith, and they love their country fervently,” Dula says. “They are hardworking people even in the midst of abject poverty.”

If you would like to donate to Haiti through ChildFund, click here.

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