April 15 2011

SOS Children's Villages opens third location in Haiti

15/04/2011 - SOS Children's Villages Haiti will implement new programmes for child care, community strengthening and education in Les Cayes in the south of the country.

Photo: Sophie Preisch
Living conditions in and around Les Cayes are harsh - Photo: Sophie Preisch

Haiti was considered the poorest country of the American continent even before 12 January 2010, when an earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale hit the country. Ever since, Haitians have had no peace from disaster and chaos.

During the past 15 months, the country has been struck by a cholera-outbreak, by hurricane Tomas and by political instability during complicated presidential elections. All of this with immense international attention and a lot of foreign helpers, missionaries and organisations in the country. Unfortunately, not everyone has been able to contribute to the stabilisation of the country.

SOS Children's Villages: Temporary home for 500 unaccompanied children

SOS Children’s Villages has 30 years of experience in Haiti, working in family-based care, community-based services and education from two locations in the centre and the north of the country. During the difficult time after the earthquake, the organisation opened the doors of all its programmes to more beneficiaries. Over 500 unaccompanied children have been given a temporary home in the two existing SOS Children’s Villages in Santo and Cap Haitien. Furthermore, thousands of children participated in the emergency nutrition programme, where SOS Children’s Villages was distributing food in the capital Port-au-Prince. Now that the first emergency phase is over, new projects are being developed.

Photo: Sophie Preisch
A family in a neighborhood of Les Cayes is selling oil, rice and coal on the street - Photo: Sophie Preisch

From emergency aid to sustainability

Since the end of March 2011, SOS Children’s Villages is purchasing rights to buy land in Les Cayes. Haiti’s third-largest city will be another base for SOS programmes. About 70,000 people live in the city-area of Les Cayes and according to USAID, the population has grown rapidly due to a lot of post-earthquake migrants.

Main problems in care, education, health

SOS Children’s Villages has talked to some community leaders in the area as well as the official authorities and other organisations to find out about the situation children and families are living in. Community leaders named insufficient parental care and lacking infrastructure in education and health as the main problems children are faced with. Extremely high unemployment rates and absence of support against domestic violence were also discussed.

Photo: Sophie Preisch
Most of the children growing up in La Savane (Les Cayes) don't get the chance to go to school - Photo: Sophie Preisch

Increasing social and economic independence

This is what the SOS Family Strengthening Programme addresses; supporting families and communities in order to increase social and economic independence. Community centres in various areas of Les Cayes will function as day-care-centres for children and offer further training, psychological and social support and in some cases a place of work for parents.

Ilu Valenzuela, programme coordinator of SOS Children’s Villages Haiti, reports: “We have visited a zone called Savane where highly vulnerable families live. Children grow up in inappropriate homes, are often malnourished and without access to health, food and education and there are a high number of unemployed parents. We want a space to work with those families to increase their capacities for caring for the children and to improve conditions for the children’s development.”

New SOS Children's Village for 135 children in Bourjolie

Another important programme will be the SOS Children’s Village, which will be built on the land in Bourjolie. 15 family houses, each lead by an SOS mother, will give a home to approximately 135 orphaned or abandoned children. Numbers of unaccompanied children are very high in the area. A representative of the IBESR (Institut du Bien-Etre Social et Recherches) talks about two to three children who have been abandoned by their mothers being found each day in the hospitals. Currently, there are hardly any alternatives to orphanages and adoptions in Les Cayes.

Photo: Sophie Preisch
In the "streets" of Les Cayes - Photo: Sophie Preisch

Investing in education is one of the main issues

Education is the third big field of work for the new programmes of SOS Children’s Villages in Les Cayes. Difficulties in attending a school explain the high rates of illiteracy in Haiti. There are not enough public schools to enable all children to attend school. For instance, the area of Mercy, where the children’s village and the SOS School will be built, has a population of about 15,000 habitants.

Only one public school in the area

There is only one public school in this area which offers classes from first to ninth grade. Private schools, apart from the financial burden to the families, often do not meet the needs of the communities in their capacities and education quality. The school constructed next to the SOS Children’s Village will provide free education to over 700 children from first to ninth grade. Furthermore, SOS Children’s Villages is planning on constructing an autonomous community school in a neighbourhood called Delmas, where the community will organise and maintain the school itself.

Reconstruction and construction phase has started

Having completed the initial aid measures, SOS Children’s Villages in Haiti is now in the reconstruction and construction phase. The programmes in Les Cayes will strengthen the children, the families, the communities ... and in the end, the Haitian society. Therefore, SOS Children’s Villages is cooperating with other organisations, with the government and - most importantly - with the local communities to find out how we can unify our forces.