March 31 2010

Haiti's people must be made "owners" of rebuilding process

31/03/2010 - On the occasion of today's important donors' conference on Haiti, NGOs organised a side event at the UNICEF Headquarters in New York yesterday. Plan International, Save the Children, Oxfam, World Vision International, UNICEF and SOS Children's Villages International highlighted the importance of involving the Haitian public and especially children and young people in the rebuilding of earthquake-devastated Haiti.

Photo: Magdalena Krenn
The event "A Haiti Fit for Children" garnered a lot of attention - Photo: Magdalena Krenn

More than 200 representatives from NGOs, UN agencies and governments attended the conference "A Haiti Fit for Children" at the UNICEF Headquarters yesterday. In a panel discussion moderated by BBC reporter Matthew Price, representatives of the six child-focused organisations raised several crucial issues: child protection and children's needs, the urgency of strengthening the government and public institutions of Haiti, possible future emergencies and the accountability of governments and the civil society towards the citizens of Haiti.

Photo: Magdalena Krenn
Celigny Darius of SOS Children's Villages Haiti (left) with BBC reporter Matthew Price - Photo: Magdalena Krenn

Celigny Darius, national director of SOS Children's Villages in Haiti, stressed that "NGOs are under a lot of pressure to guarantee the safety and well-being of children under difficult circumstances in Haiti" and focussed on the vulnerable situation of children without parental care: "We need to take responsibility to stop the trafficking of children without parental care. Child trafficking was a problem before, but the earthquake has made it worse. We demand that the government take responsibility for the protection of children and fully guarantee their rights." SOS Children's Villages as an organisation strengthening families to prevent child abandonment, and providing care for children without parental care, was caring for 153 children in SOS Children's Village families in Santo on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince before the earthquake. Today, there are an additional 350 children in interim care in Santo until their families of origin are found and the children can be re-united. More than 50 children were already re-unified with their families. According to Celigny Darius, due to the massive strain felt by hundreds of thousands of families in Haiti, some parents feel that handing their children over to alternative care settings gives them a chance at a better life. "As a rule, the best place for a child to grow up in is with its biological family. The best way to prevent abandonment is to strengthen those families", said Celigny Darius. This is what SOS Children’s Villages Haiti is currently doing in more than 80 community centres around Santo, reaching out to 13,200 children and their families.

Photo: Magdalena Krenn
Other NGOs represented were Plan International, Save the Children, Oxfam, World Vision International and UNICEF - Photo: Magdalena Krenn

A major concern expressed by representatives of other NGOs was that young people had so far been excluded from the development of their own country, resulting in widespread hopelessness and a lack of perspectives. Having an agenda for the people of Haiti also means that Haitians should be the main actors. Haitians have never been part of the decision-making process, and despite the enormous challenges and possible new emergencies that loom ahead, there is now the unique chance to make a difference.

The closing remarks of Celigny Darius brought home the nature of the underlying problem: "The international community is enthusiastic about helping Haiti after the earthquake. In Haiti, the responsibility must be that of the Haitians, because we are the ones on the ground and in charge of reconstruction. The international community should give expertise to Haitians and has the responsibility and duty to strengthen the Haitian government and civil society. We want aid, but we also want and need help to strengthen institutions. No one has taught us how to achieve this. They give us the fish but they don't teach us how to fish".