January 4 2011

Press Release: Building a future for Haiti's children

The earthquake one year on

07/01/2011 - After a year of providing emergency aid for the victims of the devastating earthquake, SOS Children's Villages in Haiti wants to take an active part in a proper redevelopment process. A massive challenge, for the situation is problematic, and many things are not going as quickly as anticipated. But Haiti's children need security and prospects for the future.

Photo: Christian Martinelli
Photo: Christian Martinelli

In the past twelve months, SOS Children's Villages has provided food for up to 24,000 children, given medical and psychological help to children who needed it, and taken them into SOS families on a temporary basis if their family situation was unresolved. Construction is due to begin on the first permanent programmes in early 2011, such as a container school and a new site in Les Cayes for out-of-home care for unaccompanied children. SOS Children's Villages reckons its overall reconstruction programme will take up to ten years. As a basic precondition to make this happen, however, it needs the appropriate agreements to be reached with the government of Haiti.

Photo: Christian Martinelli
In Santo SOS mothers and family assistants have been caring for more than 400 children since the earthquake - Photo: Christian Martinelli

Louianne, an SOS mother in the SOS Children's Village in Santo on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, still has clear memories of Christmas a year ago: "When I began working as an SOS mother in this house in December, eight children were living here with me. The peaceful Christmas lasted until exactly 11 January." The next day, an earthquake struck the capital, Port-au-Prince, and other towns, reducing them to rubble and ashes: 230,000 people lost their lives, and the main infrastructure of a country that was already the poorest in the Western hemisphere was destroyed. After that, Louianne's SOS family increased to 29 children: children, who had lost their parents, brothers, and sisters; children, where it was uncertain whether they still had any family; and children, whose parents were for the time being completely overwhelmed by the situation. Today Louianne still has 20 children in her care.

Photo: Christian Martinelli
The impact of the earthquake from 12 January 2010 is still omnipresent - Photo: Christian Martinelli

Reconstruction is a process that takes years
A year after disaster struck on 12 January 2010, it is evident that far too little has been done to fundamentally improve the living conditions of the Haitian population. Most aid organisations, including SOS Children's Villages, are still providing emergency relief and are constantly having to react to acute situations like Hurricane Tomas and the cholera outbreak. "The people have needs, however, that go far beyond emergency aid" says Dionisio Pereira, the director of SOS Children's Villages in Haiti. In spite of intensive efforts on the part of countless international and local NGOs, governments, the Haitian authorities, and multilateral organisations like the UN, it still has not been possible to begin a systematic reconstruction process and provide economic and social security for the people of Haiti.

Photo: Hilary Atkins
More than one million people are still living in camps - Photo: Hilary Atkins

The reasons for this are diverse as well as complex. The extent of the destruction in itself, coupled with decades of political difficulties and profound poverty makes the reconstruction a huge undertaking that will take years, not just from the physical point of view. The absolute aim must be to enable the people of Haiti to take control of their own lives again. This is an urgent appeal to all decision makers and actors - from Haiti's government to donor countries, down to the level of local communities - to make serious and concentrated efforts in terms of the reconstruction process, for the sake of the common good of the people of Haiti, and the children in particular.

Photo: Sophie Molitor
On his visit to Haiti in October 2010, SOS Children's Villages President Helmut Kutin encouraged the children and staff to believe in a better future - Photo: Sophie Molitor

As Helmut Kutin, the President of SOS Children's Villages, stated after visiting Haiti in October 2010: "We have to accept that there is no quick solution to the situation in Haiti. But we must move forward, sticking to our reconstruction plan, so that it will give the people the strength to help themselves. However, this process will take longer than we would like."
What ultimately matters is that Haitian citizens become involved in reshaping their own country, with the help of the international community and led by a strong government in Haiti. To this end it is imperative for SOS Children's Villages that children’s interests and needs underlie all the major decisions.

Photo: Christian Martinelli
Far too many children in Haiti have to suffer from violence, abuse, neglect and lack access to proper education, health care and social services - Photo: Christian Martinelli

Child protection is the priority
SOS Children's Villages' primary obligation is to safeguard the welfare and protection of children, above all children who cannot live with their families and/or are forced to live in particularly precarious conditions. And this applies to far too many children in Haiti. The living conditions of thousands of children are alarming: they were already like this before the earthquake, and still are today. There have been successes, admittedly, in significantly improving the food situation, medical provision, and access to clean water. Some progress has been made in the education sector as well. Yet it is still mainly the children, especially those living in the huge camps where over a million people are accommodated, who are exposed to exceptionally high risk. Evidence is growing that violence, abuse, and exploitation against children are increasing at an alarming rate, and this in a country in which an estimated 1.2 million children were victims of psychological and physical violence even before the earthquake.

At a joint conference in March 2010 and through joint statements, SOS Children's Villages and a range of large international aid organisations like UNICEF, Save the Children, World Vision, Plan International and OXFAM pointed out the particular situation of children living in such disaster scenarios, and demanded wide-ranging measures to protect and guarantee children's rights. These organisations continue to operate in Haiti and are involved in, among other things, the so-called UN clusters in the area of child protection under the auspices of UNICEF. The "UN Guidelines on Alternative Care of Children", to which SOS Children's Villages made a significant contribution, can provide guidance and a catalogue of measures for all actors entrusted with children's needs.

Photo: Christian Martinelli
At peak times, SOS Children's Villages provided as many as 24,000 children a day with hot meals - Photo: Christian Martinelli

What has SOS Children's Villages achieved since the earthquake?
After the tsunami operation, the emergency relief and reconstruction programme in Haiti is the second largest ever undertaken by SOS Children's Villages in any country. The international donations amounting to around 52 million USD are also comparable to the level reached thanks to the generosity following the tsunami disaster.

SOS Children's Villages has been working in Haiti since 1979. Before the earthquake, over 4,000 children were supported at the two sites in Port-au-Prince and Cap Haïtien, which provide alternative care for children, education and training, and family support through a range of social programmes. This number has multiplied since the earthquake. So in Santo alone hundreds of unaccompanied children were taken into SOS families and over 150 children have now been returned to their families, and receive continued support within family strengthening programmes if required. A further 40 children were accommodated in Cap Haïtien. SOS Community and Social Centres were expanded, and there are now over 100 food points where as many as 14,000 children a day are provided with hot meals (at peak times it was 24,000). The SOS School in Santo has doubled its capacity, with over 900 pupils being taught in two shifts.

Photo: Christian Martinelli
At the SOS School in Santo, more than 900 pupils are attending classes instead of the usual 500; a container school will be built in the first half of 2011 - Photo: Christian Martinelli

The first reconstruction projects begin in 2011
SOS Children's Villages' overall reconstruction plan is fixed over ten years, during which time most of the investment will be channelled into rebuilding projects, training for local manpower, and reinforcing national structures and government authorities. The emphasis is on child care and protection, support for families, education, and boosting resources in the educational and social sectors.

In early 2011 SOS Children's Villages will gradually convert the emergency relief into permanent programmes. The plan is to close the food points gradually and instead handle family support through permanent community centres. This should reach 5,000 to 6,000 children in the long term. Comprehensive studies have shown that there is more demand for alternative, family-based care, as many children no longer have anyone to care for them long term, and there are insufficient family-based care options in Haiti. So following Santo and Cap Haïtien, a programme is being set up in Les Cayes for the children to whom this would best apply, and for whom no other alternative care can be found. This mainly applies to sibling groups who would have to be separated in other types of alternative care. In Les Cayes, as at the other two sites, wide-ranging social programmes for disadvantaged families are provided. Because of the difficulties with bureaucracy, SOS Children's Villages will take a first step at their site in Santo in June 2011 by building a container school for 450 pupils which will act as a prototype. Teaching methods and curricula are being developed in collaboration with the University of Port-au-Prince.

Photo: Christian Martinelli
For the future of Haiti's children! Photo: Christian Martinelli
Essential to sign agreement with Ministries
An application has also been submitted to the Education Ministry to build ten schools which are meant to be taken over by the state after a seven-year period. Teacher training is a key factor for any significant improvement to the educational system: here too SOS Children's Villages is offering its support to the Ministry in Haiti. Experts could be put at its disposal in SOS Schools to provide training and continuous development for Haitian teachers. If this type of cooperation with the Education Ministry could be established, it would also be possible to set up a teaching academy. The issues in the educational sector are urgent, for as one volunteer at an SOS food point remarked, "The children need more than just something for their stomachs now; they also need something for their brains".
SOS Children’s Villages would also like to sign a cooperation agreement with the Social Affairs Ministry. SOS Children's Villages has offered to evaluate the quality of care in orphanages and other care programmes, to develop recommendations for converting institutions unsuitable for children into smaller, family-based programmes, and to introduce and control quality standards on a national basis.

As the final results of the presidential election will not be known until February 2011, SOS Children's Villages is not counting on the agreements being signed in the near future. However this is a basic precondition for being able to begin the specific planning process for the school projects.

What does SOS mother Louianne wish for 2011?
"For my children to stay healthy and for us to be able to continue living here."

Press contacts for SOS Children's Villages in Haiti:

Georg Willeit
Tel. +43-699/19105777

Sophie Preisch
Tel. +509-3450 2632

Press contacts for SOS Children's Villages International:

Doris Kirchebner
Tel. +43-512-3310 5171
Mobile: +43-664-9674066