I recently returned from my three-day visit to Haiti, where I went to visit several children’s programs, schools and homes, including those of past World of Children Award Honorees Dr. Jane Aronson and Susie Krabacher.
Throughout Haiti and Port-au-Prince, the conditions I saw were jarring. Prior to the earthquake the predicament was poor, but now Haiti has been practically pushed to the brink of the Stone Age. Piles of rubble are everywhere, serving as constant reminders of what took place nearly a year ago. Roads, pocked with crevices and holes that will jar your teeth, are barely passable. Sanitation is fundamentally absent, with rubbish strewn everywhere and animals of all sorts and sizes feeding on the garbage.
Conditions for the children of Haiti are particularly challenging. I visited several schools which have, for the most part, reopened. Children who attend school often walk an hour or more to attend classes. The children with families supporting them seem to be somewhat safe, albeit undernourished. The number of orphaned and abandoned children spiked after the quake, and there are unfortunately not enough quality facilities to care for them. Then, of course, there is the Haitian version of child slavery, known as restavek, which has always existed but is now a plague in the island nation. Children are either sold or stolen, then sadly put into forced labor in domestic situations where sexual and physical abuse is the standard order of the
day. This horrible fate, which primarily affects girls 9 years old and younger, leaves children diseased, disfigured pariahs of their society.
During my visit, I spent the bulk of my time visiting orphan programs and schools. Contrasts between programs were, quite frankly, stark. Visiting the Branchizio school run by 2006 World of Children Winner Susie Krabacher was the most positive experience of the trip. Well over 500 children, mostly orphans from the slums of Port Au Prince, were dressed in neat uniforms and studying in real classrooms with books. The children were well behaved and eager to learn, the teachers attentive and caring. The kitchen was clean and well staffed.
At the other end of the spectrum, I visited a program, whose name I won’t mention but which would be well known to all readers, where the children were terribly
unkempt. There were not enough adults to control the children and where the children acted in a “mob mentality”. The scene was chaos and very, very sad.
I also visited two programs run by Kathi Juntunen, who is partnering with World of Children Honoree Dr. Jane Aronson. Both of these programs sustained total devastation during the quake, yet they have managed to recover and there is now proper adult supervision and the children were well behaved. Construction here was moving along nicely on a new school and orphanage, which could be completed in a few short months.
After completing the visit and taking inventory of my experiences I have come to these conclusions. First, all Americans who donate to Haitian relief for children MUST ask for accountability. My sense is that a great deal of funding is not reaching the children and there is not a great deal of oversight where many Americans have placed their trust. As noted above the programs of Susie Krabacher, a World of Children Award Winner, and of Kathi Juntunen in cooperation with World of Children Award Winner Dr. Jane Aronson were clearly safe, effective and efficient. Others that I did visit would make their American donors cry.
Second, aside from a safe environment, food is a major problem. Most children get barely enough food for sustainability. Third, there are many children with very treatable diseases such as ringworm, malnutrition and infections, but there was no medication available on site to treat them.
Finally, from speaking with local Haitians, I concluded that this is a country without a functional government and the recent elections did not help. Until there is a respectable and functioning government (and that could take a decade to establish) the children will be dependent on non-governmental organizations for support.
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