January 12, 2010, the day a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, is still fresh in the memory of Renold Telford, Haiti’s Director of Basic Education. Report by Mariana Palavra, PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti.
VIDEO: UNICEF reports on the situation for children two years after Haiti’s 2010 earthquake.
The education system – like many of the country’s essential systems and infrastructure – was crippled by the disaster.
“I was overwhelmed by the destruction and by the daunting task we had before us,” he recalls.
But two years later, UNICEF Representative in Haiti Francoise Gruloos-Ackermans has no doubt that the situation facing children is slowly improving.
“There is evidence of little victories everywhere, although serious gaps and inadequacies in Haiti’s basic governance structures remain,” she said.
And with continued efforts, these victories offer the promise of lasting, meaningful progress – even surpassing pre-earthquake conditions.
“There is clear evidence of healing and progress for children, particularly in the areas of education, health, nutrition and child protection,” Ms. Gruloos-Ackermans said.
Victories for children
“By planning together with UNICEF, children were able to go back to school shortly after the earthquake. The Ministry was able to move quickly to start up schools in tents and then in semi-permanent structures,” said Mr. Telford.
Since the 2010 catastrophe, UNICEF has helped more than 750,000 children to return to school. Some 80,000 of these children now attend classes in 193 safe, earthquake-resistant schools constructed by UNICEF.
In addition, with UNICEF support, over 120,000 children are enjoying structured play in 520 child-friendly spaces. More than 15,000 malnourished children have received life-saving care through 314 UNICEF-supported therapeutic feeding programmes. And 95 rural communities have launched programmes to improve sanitation.
Recovery efforts have also helped the Government of Haiti commit to improving protective environments for children.
“Prior to the earthquake, the government did not know how many children were living in institutions – or even where they were,” said UNICEF Child Protection Officer Christina Torsein. “Now, with UNICEF’s support, the first-ever directory of residential care facilities has been launched. So far, more than half of the country’s 650 centres have been assessed, and over 13,400 children, out of an estimated 50,000 living in residential care, have been registered.”
In fact, UNICEF is working with a network of child protection partners that has never before been as extensive, cohesive or powerful. One of these partners, the local non-governmental organization MOSAJ (‘Mouvement Social pour l’Avancement de la Jeunesse’), was one of the first groups to offer psychosocial care after the earthquake
MOSAJ Director Alexandre Clarens Jr. suffered his own losses in the disaster. “I lost everything in the earthquake,” said Mr. Clarens. “But what is important is what is in my heart. UNICEF supports me to do what is really important, and that’s helping these children.”
A long road ahead
Nevertheless, there is a long road ahead.
A report released on 9 January 2012 about the disaster’s lingering after-effects notes that more than 500,000 people are still living in displacement sites in quake-affected areas. The country’s cholera epidemic also continues to burden Haiti’s limited infrastructure.
And despite recent progress, the most vulnerable and hardest-to-reach children are in danger of being left behind, particularly those living in camps, residential care centres, on the street or in rural areas far from the earthquake zone, where access to health, nutrition, sanitation, education and protective services are limited.
“Make no mistake: The country remains in a fragile state, beset by chronic poverty and under-development. Its weak institutions leave children vulnerable to shocks and the impact of disaster,” emphasized Ms. Gruloos-Ackermans.
UNICEF will continue its efforts with the government and other partners to ensure that children not only recover but thrive.
“Each of us has a role to play,” Ms. Gruloos-Ackermans writes in report. “And in Haiti, it is a long-term commitment.”
Mr. Telford couldn’t agree more. “The work was enormous. But actually, the easy part is behind us,” he said. “Now the hard work begins.”