In most disasters the first few weeks after the event are the most critical, with humanitarian groups scrambling to find survivors amidst the rubble and get food, water and medical attention to needy people. In Haiti this has taken months and is still critical. OperationSAFE seeks to help children with emotional trauma, the hurts on the inside that can be overlooked when there are so many other needs. Haiti’s children are beautiful and resilient, but need our help.
“Pete’s Adventure” The core of the OperationSAFE program is the story of Pete, or “Pierre”, as he was called in Haitian Kreole. Pete is a playful little penguin who is separated from his parents when his ice-shelf falls into the sea. As Pete discovers that he is not alone, makes new friends, regains hope, overcomes fear and finds help, children who have suffered trauma learn right along with him. Children love the story and laugh at the funny and colorful characters, and at the same time find ways to express their own stories and find support and hope.
HUMAN IMPACT ON THE NATION OF HAITI
On January 12, 2010, shortly before 5pm, a Richter scale 7.3 earthquake, lasting 35 seconds, struck Haiti. This was the most powerful earthquake to strike the country for 200 years. The human impact is huge. About 1.5 million people, or 15% of the national population, have been directly affected. More than 220,000 people have lost their lives and more than 300,000 have been injured. About 1.3 million people are living in temporary shelters in the area of Port-au-Prince. More than 500,000 people have left the devastated area to find shelter in the rest of the country, resulting in an exacerbation of already existing problems in access to food and basic services.
PARTNERSHIP WITH LOCAL NGO
In Mizak, a mountain village on the pass between Port-au-Prince and Jacmel, we trained our first Haitian OperationSAFE team at an NGO called HAPI – Haitian Artisans for Peace International. HAPI has worked for years training locals how to produce crafts and sell them internationally to bring needed income into the village. Along with this economic work they have also established a small clinic staffed by visiting doctors. In the aftermath of the disaster we worked with HAPI to provide food, medical care and trauma care for the children of the village. The volunteers that we trained to run the OperationSAFE camp have also been certified to train others communities to run future camps in Haiti from which they should be able to obtain some income as well. In March, two week-long day camps were held at the HAPI Peace Park serving 150-180 children at each camp. In addition to the normal OperationSAFE trauma program the children received a mid-day meal, an added boost to their nutrition that they usually did not receive even prior to the earthquake. Another innovation in Haiti was the inclusion of a sanitation and hygiene component of the camp, with the children being given soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste and being taught how to use them.
With half a million people fleeing the cities to find refuge with relatives in the countryside, many of the children in Mizak were newcomers in a strange environment. Some had come with their families, but others had lost parents, or even been abandoned by parents overwhelmed by the tragedy. One of the most vital functions of the OperationSAFE camps was for these refugee children to be accepted and make
friends with the local children of the village. Each day centered on a theme, with the first one being “I am not alone.” As the children played games, made crafts and sang songs they learned that they had all been
through the same experience.
NEXT STEPS IN HAITI
There are many challenges to overcome in Haiti including making sure that physical needs are met where they weren’t before. With so much of the country directly affected by the disaster, and so many more being affected by the refugees streaming into the countryside, it is difficult to find volunteers who are not traumatized themselves. Haiti’s children need our help, and we can best help them by giving Haitians the tools and training they need to care for their emotional needs. OperationSAFE will continue to partner with local NGO’s in Haiti to spread trauma care for children. We are projecting to run day-camps for children through 2010 and 2011. International groups that would like to support these camps with volunteers, funding or donations please contact us.