December 19 2014

How Haiti's earthquake made strong families

When Haiti suffered a catastrophic earthquake on 12 January 2010, thousands of children were orphaned. SOS mothers in Santo opened their arms to hundreds of babies and children in need of love, care and security. Here are three SOS mothers' stories of growing through disaster.

19 December 2014 - Almost five years ago on 12 January 2010 an earthquake with a 7.0 magnitude literally turned life in Haiti upside down. In the days following the disaster, 400 unaccompanied children arrived at the SOS Children’s Village in Santo, a province near the earthquake-destroyed capital of Port-au-Prince. SOS mothers who already had as many as nine children each in their care, opened up their homes and arms to as many as 30 girls and boys each.

Luiane's story

After the earthquake, SOS mother Luiane cared for 29 children, including three malnourished babies who are now her much bigger children. Photo: Danielle Pereira

Luiane became an SOS mother shortly before the tragedy. Before the earthquake, she cared for 8 kids between the ages of 6 and 15. Suddenly, she found herself responsible for 29 children with a range of histories and ages – the youngest just 8 months old. Caring for all of them demanded more time and commitment. “I did not have time to sleep. It was a very gruelling time. But thanks to teamwork, and with the help of our aunts, we succeeded,” she said.

For this former teacher, the increased number of children was not the biggest challenge: it was the three babies, all of whom were malnourished, suddenly in her care. "They demanded more attention; needed special feedings. Every two hours they needed to eat," she said, remembering how the little ones arrived wounded and extremely weak. Five years later, these three children still live at the SOS village, and Luiane is still their SOS mother. All three are healthy and active. Looking at them with tenderness and admiration, Luiane admits she never thought they would grow so much.

Edline's perspective

"...all the time I was thinking that I had in my hands the ability and capacity to save lives," says SOS mother Edline about the time after the earthquake. Photo: Danielle Pereira

Edline’s house sparkles with the bright colours of the artificial flowers she crafts. This was her occupation before she became an SOS mother. “I started [being an SOS mother] 13 years and 7 months ago,” she declares precisely. She also remembers the day of the earthquake vividly. She was in the bathroom, when a child rushed in, scared of the tremor. For Edline, those hard times offered her an opportunity to make herself useful and help children who were enduring terrible pain.

“This way of looking at it and facing it was the tool that allowed me to move on. It was difficult, but all the time I was thinking that I had in my hands the ability and capacity to save lives. I was caring for 30 kids, as if they were 10,” she explains.  
Just as she does with her plastic flowers, Edline knew exactly how to transform the situation to the benefit of the children. She tells how she gave the children tasks and she could count on their help, especially during mealtimes.

Marie Jocelyne's vision for Haiti's future

Marie Jocelyne has raised five generations of SOS children. She proudly celebrates the accomplishments of her SOS children throughout the years: “They are lawyers, accountants, electricians, plumbers and builders.” Today, a fifth generation of children are growing up with her and are on their way to success. “I expect the same as the previous ones."

Marie Jocelyne has raised five generations of SOS children. She was a cook before she became an SOS mother; she loves to spoil her children with delicious meals. Photo: Danielle Pereira

For this SOS mother, the major challenge after the earthquake was taking care of 35 kids: "We had never experienced caring for so many children. So, at the time, the hardest part was the lack of sleep, because of the amount of work," she tells.

After the earthquake, there was a great feeling of insecurity. The children were often frightened, particularly during the aftershocks. They were afraid the house would collapse. But Marie Jocelyne reassured the children that everything would be fine, even when she herself was not entirely sure.

Marie Jocelyne says she tried to teach all the new youngsters how to love each other, and to accept and respect their new SOS brothers and sisters. She also taught them to appreciate having access to education. In Haiti this basic right is still a privilege.

Stability through unstable times

Five years have now passed since the earthquake and life in the SOS Children’s Village in Santo has moved on. Some of the children who came to SOS Children’s Villages during the emergency continue to grow with SOS Children’s Villages or receive help through other SOS programmes.
SOS mothers are not only key witnesses to how the earthquake affected their children, but also a crucial source of stability and support in the process of recovery.