Destroyed houses in the vicinity of the SOS Children's Village in Santo - Photo: SOS Archives
Yesterday, a team of co-workers from SOS Children's Villages Dominican Republic succeeded in flying to Haiti in a hired helicopter. It took them to Santo, where SOS Children's Villages runs one of its villages and other programmes some 16 kilometres from the heavily destroyed capital Port-au-Prince. Unfortunately, the Haitian government did not grant permission to land, so the team could only gain a general overview over the situation on the ground. We know that none of the children or staff in the SOS Children's Village itself were hurt, but there is still no word from the hundreds of families receiving support through SOS Children's Villages' social services.
It is still all but impossible to reach co-workers in the disaster area, since all communication lines remain partially or completely destroyed. There has been intermittent contact with Celigny Darius, the director of SOS Children's Villages in Haiti, even though the national office has partially collapsed. Attempts to contact other help organisations in the area have also failed, and according to reports from our colleagues, there is no central coordination body and no concerted relief plan.
Aerial view of the SOS Children's Village in Santo - Photo: SOS Archives
Since the co-workers of SOS Children's Villages in Haiti have been personally affected by the catastrophe, emergency relief work will be taken on by a coalition of SOS Children's Villages' associations from several countries. The first relief convoy from the Dominican Republic is expected to arrive in Santo tomorrow, with a rescue team of SOS Children's Villages co-workers from Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic on board. They will be accompanied by some 15 to 20 trained experts in trauma therapy to help the children and families deal with the terror they have experienced.
On 18 January, three staff members of SOS Children's Villages Peru who planned and lead the emergency relief effort there after the country was hit by a severe earthquake in 2007 will also reach the disaster area. The first delivery of goods will consist of staple foods, drinking water, medical and sanitary supplies and the likes, blankets and tents should arrive from Panama soon. According to the regional director of SOS Children's Villages, Patricia Vargas, an increasing tendency towards violent attacks and rioting among the population of Haiti make an armed escort for the convoy indispensable. As she puts it, "we have nothing".
The premises and buildings of the SOS Children's Villages Santo could serve as a base for relief work. According to Vargas, only the perimeter wall has been destroyed, with very little further damage to buildings. The facilities are situated in convenient proximity to the airport of Port-au Prince and have access to relatively serviceable roads. "We are one of the very few organisations with functioning facilities this close to the epicentre, possibly the only one", says Vargas. "We will therefore offer both our assistance and our facilities to other help organisations, too". The football field of the SOS Children's Village Santo could well become the location for a mobile hospital, a proposition to that extent has already been made by a medical institution in the Dominican Republic. Furthermore, SOS Children's Villages will meet several other help organisations for children today, all member organisations of the Global Movement for Children, in the hopes of developing a joint plan of action.
People desperately wait for food from the UN troops - Foto: REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz - courtesy www.alertnet.org
As soon as the SOS rescue teams have reached the area, a detailed rescue plan will be developed. Only then will a mid-term solution be possible. This will focus on:
1) stabilising the situation of SOS families and co-workers in Santo as well as repair work on facilities of the SOS Children's Village and the national office in Port-au-Prince.
2) localising the biological families of children being cared for in the SOS Children's Village and providing them with what they need most urgently.
3) installing temporary child care centres for children who are not accompanied by adults or who do not know where their parents are at facilities of SOS Children's Villages, especially at the SOS Hermann Gmeiner School in Santo, which has also not been damaged.