February 22 2010

Emergency aid efforts up to speed in Haiti

22/02/2010 - Now providing temporary care for around 290 unaccompanied and orphaned children, the capacity of the SOS Children's Village in Santo is nearly exhausted. On 17 February alone, 126 children from emergency camps were taken in, and 100 more may follow. Currently 66 community centres are supplying over 9,000 children with food, and medical treatment if required, every day. The aim in the coming weeks is to ensure that the basic needs of around 40,000 children are met.

Caring for unaccompanied and orphaned children

Photo: Louis Klamroth
Every single child is registered in detail before being admitted to the SOS Children's Village in Port-au-Prince - Photo: Louis Klamroth

On 17 February, 126 children arrived in the SOS Children's Village in Santo; in total there are now 287 children who have been taken in, and that number is growing daily. For many of the children, it is still not clear who will take care of them in the future, whether or not they have any relatives who can take custody of them, or whether anyone from their families survived the earthquake. For some of the children, it is certain that they have no relatives left; the disaster has orphaned them completely. Some children on the other hand were brought into the SOS Children's Village by their relatives, because they are currently not able to provide adequate care for children in the terrible conditions of the tent cities. In the SOS families, up to 20 children are looked after (instead of the usual nine), and each family has one SOS mother and two family helpers. All other unaccompanied children who arrive in the coming weeks and months will be accommodated in stable, lightweight prefabricated houses, which are currently being built on the football field of the SOS Children's Village.

Photo: Robert Gasteiger
The living conditions in the huge tent camps are live-threatening to especially vulnerable children - Photo: Robert Gasteiger

The children who have arrived most recently - 62 girls and 64 boys - were registered in emergency camps, where they had to live in what were sometimes life-threatening conditions. Not all these children are unaccompanied or orphaned, but all of them desperately need a safe and secure environment, and adequate nutrition. Of the 126 newly-arrived children alone, 25 had to be treated in a nearby Brazilian hospital, and many children will also receive psychotherapy. In their visits to the tent camps, the SOS teams register many children who are seriously malnourished and dehydrated, a great deal of whom are so ill that it is feared that they will die. Yet in certain districts, community leaders have stopped taking children into temporary care because there would then be fewer food and water rations for their communities. Alongside the children who were already living at the SOS Children's Village in Santo in the outskirts of Port-au-Prince before the earthquake, 437 children are now being cared for at the location in Santo.

Guaranteeing basic supplies for up to 40,000 children

Photo: Georg Willeit
Warm meals are daily distributed to over 9,000 children - Photo: Georg Willeit

Before the earthquake, SOS Children's Villages provided family assistance via 16 community centres. On the one hand, these centres rely heavily on the self-organisation and self-help of districts and local communities, and on the other hand SOS Children's Villages is there to give advice and support, and also offers assistance to families via a social centre. After the earthquake, the number of these centres dramatically increased and now there is a total of 66 such sites, which cater for the needs of 9,000 children every day. When the SOS Children's Villages emergency aid programme has reached its full extent in the coming weeks, there will be around 266 centres, providing around 40,000 children with basic supplies.

Every one of these centres has its own committee of up to seven people, which acts as an SOS Children's Villages contact point. A written contract is drawn up with the committees which governs the responsibilities of both parties. SOS Children's Villages assumes responsibility for the food supply, provides advice and support, and networks with other organisations - for example when medical intervention is required. The committee in turn guarantees the food that is delivered is used appropriately, i.e. that the children receive enough food every day. The committee organises a collection and issuing office as well as cooking facilities, keeps detailed records with the data of all the children (name, address, age, family status), and ensures proper hygienic conditions and their safety.

Photo: Georg Willeit
Many children often unpatiently wait for food - Photo: Georg Willeit

One SOS employee is responsible for multiple centres and ensures relief efforts are being carried out correctly. Centres are visited everyday and supplied with food for several days. The community meets up and everyone cooks and shares the food out among the children. If SOS teams are there, there is the opportunity for individual attention and conversations, and if a child is in need of medical care, SOS Children's Villages sees to it that he or she receives it. Through this networking and shared responsibility it is also possible to identify those children who have no direct carer and/or are particularly in need of help. If necessary, SOS Children's Villages puts children like this in a temporary protection programme in Santo.

Photo: Georg Willeit
Photo: Georg Willeit

On many visits to the centres, after the food is given out, the Teams play, sing and dance with the children. Even on the days when the SOS teams aren't present, the process remains the same. This participatory approach has proved a success in the past and in many other countries. In the context of the emergency aid programme in Haiti, this approach will ensure that the aid goes directly to the child, that relief goods aren't used elsewhere, communities develop a structure, and shared responsibility is taken. In the medium and long term, social services are to be further expanded and developed.

Rebuilding with provision for children's aid

Photo: Georg Willeit
Nearly the whole infrastructure of Port-au-Prince has to be rebuilt; child protection and child care have to be widely considered in the reconstruction process - Photo: Georg Willeit

After the acute emergency and the medium-term aid phases, which are to guarantee the provision of materials to meet children's basic needs (fixed for a period of two years), SOS Children's Villages is planning a comprehensive reconstruction programme over a period of ten to twelve years. The main focus areas are: family-based alternative care models and facilities for children with no parental care; the building of family houses and the creation of child-friendly spaces (playgrounds etc.); the construction and commissioning of schools as well as the development of expertise in the education sector; health care centres, with particular emphasis on mother-child-care; knowledge transfer and training in the public sector in the field of children's rights and child protection, supportive measures for children, and law in consideration of children's rights.

Cooperation with other organisations and authorities

Photo: Georg Willeit
Nearly every day, relief items are received at the SOS Children's Village in Santo - Photo: Georg Willeit
SOS Children's Villages participates in countless partnerships and joint initiatives with other aid organisations (for example, UNICEF and the Red Cross) and the local authorities. SOS Children's Villages also regularly takes part in the UN's "cluster meetings", where all the large aid organisations coordinate their activities. SOS Children's Villages has received donations in kind from other organisations many times, such as the supply of food to children in the SOS Children's Village, as well as for aid measures in various locations in the surrounding districts, from water to medical help, to tents. Regular deliveries of various relief supplies come to Haiti from many countries, which are either generously funded by companies and private donors, or which can be purchased by SOS Children's Villages with monetary donations. Most of the supplies are food and water, but there are also tents, medicines, blankets, mattresses, hygiene items, cooking appliances, building materials, and so on.
SOS Children's Villages also participated in a big meeting in Panama, with representatives from UNICEF, Save the Children, World Vision and Plan International, where the main focuses were the issue of child protection, and measures for securing the future of children in the context of the reconstruction of Haiti.