Childhood returns to Haiti

Sarah Pierre and Helen Níc an Rí of Trócaire (Caritas Ireland) enjoying an art class at the Pétionville Club. Conor O'Loughlin/Trócaire

By Conor O’Loughlin, Trócaire (Caritas Ireland)

Pétionville Club is an old golf club, and until six months ago it was the haven of Port-au-Prince’s elite who would come for a round of golf and a meal. After the earthquake, it became the centre of the global response when 100,000 people who had lost their homes flocked to its open spaces to set up camp.

In the early days, it was a scene of unmitigated chaos and squalor. Dogs ran through the dust ducking around lost children and scavenging off the waste. Today, although it is still home to many tens of thousands, some order has arrived.

Sarah Pierre Leyisha, 4, has been living in a small PVC tent since January 12,together with her parents and her two brothers. She cannot remember “when exactly” but Sarah arrived in the camp “a long time ago”. “The quake destroyed my house completely ” she says.

When asked what she remembers about January 12, cheerful Sarah suddenly shuts down and becomes distant. “It was very scary,” she says quietly. “A cupboard fell and hurt me. My mother was screaming and we couldn’t find my brother. I was very frightened,” she says. Her aunt didn’t survive, having been crushed by a collapsing wall.

Protecting children remains a priority after January’s earthquake in Haiti. It is a very young country: four out of ten people here are under 14 years old. The quake disproportionately affected a child population that was already very vulnerable before the disaster.

Caritas child protection staff working have worked with more than 2,000 children in three different displacement camps. Counselling has been set up to help children and give them back some normality in their lives.

Symptoms of childhood trauma can be acute stress, nightmares, emotional distress, behavioural disorders or attention deficits. It is vital to reconstruct a comfortable environment allowing children to find inner balance.

The programmes are very successful with the children and help them forget the terror of January 12 and the devastation that pervades all aspects of life here.

Sarah only joined Caritas centre very recently. “It is my first day”, she says when we spoken to her. “I am not shy, I am happy!” she adds with a big smile, “I want to make friends. I want to play with others and take part to all activities. Before the quake, I went to school and I liked it. But since I am in the camp, I can’t do a thing. I will go to the centre everyday!”

A version of this article first appeared on the Trócaire website

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Filed under Aid Success Story, Conflicts and Disasters, Emergencies, Emergencies in Haiti, Haiti, Latin America

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