HAITI Field Story: Tamar Hahn
HAITI Field Story: Tamar Hahn
One week has gone by since an earthquake turned what was already a desperately poor part of the world into a full fledged humanitarian emergency and the race against time to bring relief to the people of Haiti continues.
Supplies continue to arrive daily by land and by air and distribution of clean water, food, hygiene kits and other life-saving provisions has greatly improved. Still, every day continues to bring new challenges. Hundreds if not thousands are leaving Port au Prince, their belongings tied up in bundles or squeezed into suitcases which they carry on their heads as they make their way to the countryside.
|UNICEF Communication Specialist for Latin America and the Caribbean Tamar Hahn, on the grounds of the residence of the Prime Minister where thousands are temporarily encamped. Ms. Hahn is presently the lead UNICEF spokesperson in Haiti.|
But thousands still crowd together in spontaneous camps in squares, schools, even a golf course. These camps have become microcosms of survival. A man has brought a generator which he uses to charge hundreds of cell phones, women cook whatever food they manage to forage over open fires, some camps have even set up a committee to coordinate their needs. Despite the looting and violence that is taking place in some areas what I have mostly witnessed is enormous resilience on the part of people here.
UNICEF and its partners dispatched 140 water trucks today which delivered water to over 140,000 people despite fuel shortages. Supplies were also delivered to an orphanage where 50 children are living and 50 more are expected to arrive shortly.
Today we went out to try an ascertain the situation of separated and unaccompanied minors who will be taken into the interim centers being set up by UNICEF to house, feed and care for 900 children who have found themselves alone in the midst of this emergency. It is a time-consuming task as just getting around town takes hours but a clearer picture of the situation is emerging and UNICEF is taking action to provide a solution.
The first place we went to now that the interim centres are up and running was the tent hospital where we first met Sean and baby girl. I came here again with our regional Child Protection adviser, Nadine Perault, to take these two children as well as nine-year old Sandie and six-year-old Medoshe to the centre.
But doctors advised us that Sean and Medoshe were not ready to leave, their wounds still not healed enough and at risk of infection. Sean and Sandie have become fast friends and a woman whose 15-year-old son was lying by Baby Girl has become her surrogate mother. She feeds her, rocks her and tickles her and Baby Girl is smiling for the first time since she came in. We felt that it would be cruel to separate Sean and Sandie and that it was best to take all of the children together.
|A girl who was injured during the earthquake rests in St. Catherine's Hospital, which is presently being run by the international NGO Médecins sans frontières, in the Cité Soleil neighbourhood in Port-au-Prince, the capital. Due to overcrowding, a ward has been set up on the hospital grounds. It has been covered with a tent canopy.|
For the next couple of days, until they are all ready to leave the hospital, the children will all be together at the far end of the tent, right by the resting space for the doctors and nurses. The reason for keeping them here is that it enables the medical personnel here to keep a close eye on them as several people have attempted to take the children out of the country.
Illegal adoption was an issue of concern before the earthquake. Amidst the chaos that followed it has become a concern for Haitian authorities who fear children may be taken out of the country without proper legal procedures being followed.
While adoption can be a viable option for many children who have lost their parents only seven days after the earthquake it is still reasonable to think that many people are still out there looking for their children or the children of their relatives. To prevent the illegal departure of many children UNICEF is deploying two specialized staff to control documentation at the airport.
Nine-year-old Marie Yolene Milord arrived at the hospital yesterday with a broken arm and she is a good example of why we need to ensure that we do what is best for children who are without parental care in Haiti. Marie is a restavek, one of the almost 200,000 children who were given away by impoverished parents to relatives or to unknown families hoping that they will be able to provide them with a better life. The reality is that these children are forced to work as domestic servants, kept out of school and subjected to violence and abuse.
Marie Yolene was out fetching water when the earthquake struck. When a falling slab of concrete broke her arm the family she was staying with brought her to the hospital and left her here on her own. Now all she wants is for us to take her back to the village of Les Cayes in the south of the country where she was born. "My mother is dead, but I think my father is still alive," she says. "If you take me there I could recognize my house. I just want to go home."