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Children drawing in one the 3 Caritas child-friendly spaces in Pétionville Club, where over 1200 children have joined the programme. Credits: CARITAS/MathildeMagnier

Children drawing in one the 3 Caritas child-friendly spaces in Pétionville Club, where over 1200 children have joined the programme.
Credits: CARITAS/MathildeMagnier

By Mathilde Magnier, Communications Officer in Haiti

Protecting children remains a priority after the 12 January earthquake in Haiti. Four out of ten people are under 14 years old. The disaster threatens a child population that was already very vulnerable before the disaster.

Caritas child protection staff reach more than 2,000 children with counselling in five locations in Bureau des Mines, Solino and Pétionville Club camps. Counselling has been set up to help children and give them back some normality in their lives.

“After an incident as traumatizing as this earthquake, it is essential to offer counselling to the children,” said Caritas counsellor Joseph Vilton. He worked as a psychologist in Port-au-Prince before the earthquake, and is now working in the children centres Caritas set up in different relief camps in Port-au-Prince.

The symptoms can be acute stress, nightmares, emotional distress, behavioural disorders or attention deficits. Specialists believe that it is urgent to reconstruct an environment allowing children to find a mental balance. Almost 1.5 million children have directly been affected by the earthquake.

“Most of the time, it is difficult to get the children to talk directly about what they have gone through. When we first see them, they are shy and silent. Often, they will stand in the background,” says Joseph Vilton. He is looking at the painting a young girl Sabrienta is about to finish. Very focused, she is drawing the outline of her house.

The little makeshift building with  the bright orange roof recalls the tarpaulins Caritas distributed in the camps. In front of the entrance, there are two people. One is a child and the other one is a taller, more imposing figure. “My uncle and I”, explains Sabrienta, without saying a word about her parents or her story. She does not look up from her drawing while talking.

“Through activities that are playful and therapeutic at the same time, such as educational games, sports like yoga or karate, breathing exercises, songs, poetry, drawings or modelling clay, we help the children express what they would not be able to say otherwise”, said Suzanne Thalek, in charge of the Caritas child protection programmes.

“And then , these activities also allow us to stimulate the children in a physical and intellectual way”, she said.  This isn’t hard to believe as you watch a group of children, kicking in the air, following the karate teacher’s instruction this afternoon.

“What I like best is the shouting ! Most of all when it is really loud!” said Meralda, a young girl with shining eyes. She has been in the programme for several weeks now. At the beginning, she did not take part in the activities so much, but now she is there all the time, “building her muscles” as she says. Maybe the daily distribution of snacks are also an attraction.

The programmes are very successful with the children. “I am here all day. It is much more fun than at home! Whenever I am at home, I have to do the cleaning”, says five-year-old Simona.