Adam Fifield is the deputy director of communications at the U.S. Fund for UNICEF.
Haiti’s earthquake was a children’s emergency — and the needs of children must be central to the country’s reconstruction and recovery.
This was one consensus of a panel that met yesterday at UNICEF House to discuss the challenges and opportunities of the country’s rebuilding process, on the eve of today’s international donors’ conference for Haiti. Save the Children, SOS Children’s Villages International, Plan International, World Vision International, and Oxfam joined UNICEF for the special event.
All aid agencies, donors, and others involved “need to project the face of the Haitian child on the discussions,” said UNICEF’s Director of Programs Nicholas Alipui. Panelists also agreed that the agenda for recovery must be driven by the Haitian people.
|Left-right: UNICEF Haiti Acting Representative Francoise Gruloos; World Vision Haiti National Director Frank Williams (speaking); Plan International Haiti Director Jo-Ann Garnier-Lafontant; Oxfam Great Britain Mainstreaming Coordinator Marie Soudnie Rivette; SOS Children’s Villages Haiti National Director, Celigny Daruis; Save the Children Haiti Child Protection Monitoring & Evaluation Senior Specialist Cynthia Koons and Moderator and BBC Reporter Matthew Price.|
Panel moderator Matthew Price, who is the BBC’s World Affairs Correspondent, noted that some of those in the audience had braved the rain to attend. Reminding everyone of the current reality for many in Haiti, he then added: “Just imagine what it would be like living under a sheet strung between two branches… in the rain.”
Among the 3 million people affected by the January 12 disaster, half are children. Over 1.5 million people are homeless. Though UNICEF and its partners have been able to provide lifesaving aid to hundreds of thousands of children and families, many still live in tents and still struggle to find adequate food and clean water. And many children yearn to go back to school.
|Haiti Minister of Youth and Sport Evans Lescouflair speaking at the panel discussion, “A Haiti Fit for Children” held at UNICEF House.|
Several panelists highlighted the importance of the participation of Haitian children and youth in the rebuilding process. “They want to contribute actively,” said Jo-Ann Garnier-Lafontant, National Director of Plan International Haiti.
Earthquake survivor Rachel Lunique, 17, whose story was featured in a short film shown before the panel discussion, put it this way: “It’s very important for young people to participate in Haiti’s rebuilding because the way the country is right now, it is not good.”
Rachel’s hand was crushed after she survived for two days, trapped by hundreds of pounds of concrete. She lives in a tent with six other people — a tent that does not do a good job of keeping out rain, or the heat from the sun. “And it is difficult to find food,” she said.
She wants to become a doctor, inspired in part, by her injured hand. But she knows that she cannot realize her dream without school. “I wish everybody could go back to school, because without school, you can’t do anything.”