Dayle Haddon, a U.S. Fund for UNICEF ambassador, recently returned from a visit to Haiti. Here are some of her impressions on UNICEF’s on-going Haiti relief and recovery efforts.
The power of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti hit home as we arrived in Champs de Mars, the center of Port-au-Prince. The vast Presidential Palace leaned awkwardly to one side, flattened and crumbling like a giant fallen wedding cake. Everyone stood silently, awed by the power of what nature had done.
I was in Haiti with an amazing UNICEF team to see the effects of the earthquake and the UNICEF programs that are helping children and their communities with the long-term recovery efforts.
In the first days of my trip seeing the effects of the earthquake on the city and the people, it all seemed so overwhelming, an impossible situation. How could you help? Where would you even begin?
Francoise Gruloos-Ackermans, UNICEF Representative in Haiti, told us that UNICEF’s three priorities in Haiti are education, nutrition and child protection.
In a briefing we learned about some of the difficult challenges that remain two years since the earthquake devastated the country. Permanent housing is still a problem with approximately 550,000 people living in tents and semi-permanent structures. This is an acute issue since the rainy season is underway, increasing the risks of floods and mudslides. Serious health issues persist: malnutrition and lack of access to vaccinations for children, as well as high maternal mortality rates. A recent outbreak of cholera took the lives of nearly 7,000 people. On top of this the country also faces a 70% unemployment rate.
However, as the days go by, a little light starts to glimmer through. Bit by bit, UNICEF is making progress. We see it in the schools. We visited both a public and private school that were completely destroyed by the earthquake. Following the earthquake, UNICEF immediately set up temporary tents and started building classrooms. They delivered school kits, furniture, and teaching materials. Water, sanitation and hygiene facilities were set up, including hand washing stations. The classes today look clean and orderly. It was hard to imagine they had been destroyed.
As we walked the muddy streets of a slum outside Port-au-Prince we saw how UNICEF has rehabilitated the water systems of poor neighborhoods damaged by the earthquake. These systems deliver clean water at kiosks affecting more than 80,000 residents and 800,000 indirectly. A young girl slipped 1 gourde (2 cents) through a grill to a man inside a kiosk. Immediately a gush of clean water emptied into the yellow plastic bucket she had shoved under the pipe. Once the bucket was full, she deftly swung it to the top of her head and gracefully set off for home.
There were many success stories we saw and heard about. How UNICEF had set up revenue generating activities for young women so they could develop small businesses. How youth leaders help the children learn to play again. In one rural community, we were delighted to watch as the children opened a box of games and toys sent by UNICEF donors, their eyes wide with excitement.
We visited hospitals, clinics, HIV and cholera centers. In a campaign in April UNICEF is aiming to vaccinate 2,500,000 children. I was thrilled to give one baby her first oral vaccine.
It was a full trip. I returned overwhelmed with facts and images and wondered how all this was going to get done. There is one thing I can count on: the UNICEF team on the ground reassured me with their positivity, energy, hope, conviction and passion.
When I think of the UNICEF team and the hundreds of people working for the betterment of Haiti- including all those that so generously donate finances, time, and energy- and the amazing fortitude of the people of Haiti, I have hope and faith for the future.