November 5 2010

SOS Children's Villages President visits Haiti

05/11/2010 - The President of SOS Children's Villages International, Mr Helmut Kutin, recently visited Haiti, spending five days in the country severely affected by an earthquake in January 2010.

Photo: Hilary Atkins
President Kutin at a food distribution point in Santo, Port-au-Prince - Photo: Hilary Atkins

This was Mr Kutin's fourth visit to the island, which also incorporates the neighbouring state of the Dominican Republic, and his first since the earthquake. His time was significant in that he felt that his presence soon after the earthquake would not help the people who most needed it. "Visitors put tremendous pressure on the people we should be helping” he explained, “the victims of this horrible earthquake". Instead the Secretary General Richard Pichler visited the country to give guidance to the emergency relief effort.
SOS Children's Villages and the Haitian government to jointly run schools

Photo: Hilary Atkins
A rose as welcome greeting at the SOS School in Santo - Photo: Hilary Atkins

Ten months on Mr Kutin was in a position to assess the work done so far and to consider the best way forward. He also hoped to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Haitian Ministry of Education and SOS Children's Villages for the construction of ten schools, which would be run jointly by SOS Children's Villages and the education ministry and after some years, would be handed over completely to the Haitian government. Over 600 teachers were killed in the earthquake and many schools destroyed. Thus, education is considered a priority in the reconstruction process.

During his visit Mr Kutin toured the emergency relief programme which includes feeding centres for children, extended community centres where children under six are cared for and fed five days a week, temporary shelters constructed to house orphaned, abandoned and lost children cared for by SOS family assistants, and an expanded SOS Hermann Gmeiner Primary and Secondary School which includes classrooms in tents. In addition the family houses in the village now care for up to 19 children each.

The President also visited the site of the former national office of SOS Children's Villages Haiti to see the damage caused by the earthquake. The original old house was left standing but the concrete extension collapsed. During this trip to the centre of Port au Prince he was able to witness the extensive earthquake damage and to see the many displacement camps that have sprung up all over the city.

Impressed by achievements

Photo: Hilary Atkins
At one of the SOS Community Centres in Port-au-Prince - Photo: Hilary Atkins
President Kutin was impressed by the achievements of the emergency relief team, some of whom came from the Dominican Republic and Latin America. He gave them much credit for working under very difficult circumstances in a programme that, at its highest point, reached 24,000 beneficiaries. However he felt that the time was right to end emergency relief and begin a long-term plan that would assist the Haitians to help themselves.

As for the schools, pending the signing of the MOU, Mr Kutin felt that it was necessary to start the first school within the large children's village compound and to use it as a model for the others. The school, to be financed by the Government of Germany, will be prefabricated and teaching methods and curricula will be developed in partnership with the University of Port au Prince.
During his time in Haiti Mr Kutin also visited the second SOS Children's Village at Cap Haitian.