Haiti: Focus on Children

In our earlier posts, we discussed the various steps in the transition from immediate relief to recovery to longer-term impact (See: Haiti: “Cutting Through the Noise” and Haiti: Jumpstarting the Recovery).  For any donor concerned with addressing immediate suffering while also keeping an eye on Haiti’s longer term development, understanding the needs of Haiti’s children is key.

In the immediate period following emergencies, the physical safety and psychological health of children are paramount.  Veterans of disaster relief know all too well that children are vulnerable; post-disaster situations are often rife with child abduction, trafficking, sexual violence, and other physical dangers.  Equally important is the psychological toll. Aside from the physical risks, children tend to suffer more psychological trauma than adults and are often just as frightened by the reactions of the adults as they are by the actual events they have witnessed.  If not properly dealt with, this psychological trauma can have adverse affects throughout their lives, impacting their families and communities.

What is needed

For younger children, the first task is to provide safe, child-friendly play spaces.  In the case of Haiti, this involves identifying and securing areas adjacent to settlement camps where children can play safely away from adult concerns, interact with each other, and regain a sense of normalcy.  These spaces also offer opportunities for targeted post-traumatic healing, either through one-on-one interactions with counselors or through group activities. For slightly older children, it is important to set up emergency education facilities as soon as possible.  Getting school-age children back to a school-type routine is crucial for their physical safety and mental health.  Education facilities also double as places for post-traumatic healing activities and distribution points for other forms of aid, such as food/water, vaccinations, and health education. They can also serve as community centers where people gather for political and social events.

Two organizations that philanthropists can support

  1. Save the Children (see also Haiti and Katrina: Difference Donors Should Know): Successful models of emergency education and child protection involve comprehensive plans for the transition to permanent schooling. In addition, effective models plan for the sustainability of the program beyond the initial recovery phase. They do so by building local capacity and partnering with the government and organizations that will be there long-term. Save the Children is currently tasked with providing the majority of these programs in Haiti as well as developing the long-term plan for rebuilding the schools.
  2. International Rescue Committee (see also Haiti: “Cutting Through the Noise”): One example of successful emergency education took place in Aceh, Indonesia following the 2004 tsunami. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) implemented a comprehensive plan to provide immediate child-friendly spaces and tent schools, rebuild permanent school structures, and rebuild and improve the human resource capacity of the local school district.  In its long term recovery programs, the IRC usually employs local people for 90% of its staff requirements, thus providing employment and training, building local capacity, contributing to the local economy, and ensuring greater sustainability of its programming.  In Aceh, the IRC partnered with the Indonesian government and the local university to hire replacement teachers, develop appropriate curriculum, and conduct professional development training for both veteran teachers and new recruits.  The end result is that the school system in Aceh today is much stronger than it was before the tsunami.  They are currently making plans to adapt this model to Haiti.