By Jill Van den Brule
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 21 June 2010 – Over the buzz of children chatting excitedly in Creole, nine-year-old Marie-Ange hunches over her poster paper, meticulously tracing the outline of a school. “This is the school of my dreams,” she says.
Marie-Ange was out of school for nearly three months following the devastating earthquake of 12 January. She resumed school on 5 April in a tent serving as a temporary classroom.
“I want to have my school back, but one that is safer and won’t collapse if there is another earthquake,” she says. “Too many children died, and children are not supposed to die.”
Children’s voices heard
In the cavernous convention centre in Port-au-Prince, the capital, Marie-Ange and over 100 other children from various socio-economic backgrounds – and from communities across the country – have come together to discuss how their voices can be included in the reconstruction process in Haiti.
The Global Movement for Children – led by UNICEF parters World Vision, Plan International, Save the Children, SOS Children’s Villages International and CARE – organized the event.
The common vision of UNICEF and it partners is to build ‘a Haiti fit for children,’ and they are working with the Haitian Government to put children’s issues at the core of post-earthquake reconstruction.
Ideas for improving security
Youth facilitator Emmanuela, 21, is from Jacmel, one of the cities worst affected by the earthquake. She explains how the children’s drawing are being used as a tool for developing proposals. Some of the children suggest projects to clean up the trash in camps for the displaced, while others want to band together to improve security where lighting isn’t adequate for girls to feel safe at night.
Josette, 14, suggests that giving children flashlights is a good way to protect them from gender-based violence.
“Children’s suggestions have proven to be effective, and some of these proposals are already being put into practice,” says UNICEF Child Protection Specialist Virginia Perez Antolin. “UNICEF is following up by distributing more flashlights and mobile lights for the latrines in communities.”
Education and reconstruction
Here, children not only learn what a vibrant civil society is but also get to put their vision on paper. And new schools are what children ask for most, recognizing that education is the most sustainable path to rebuilding Haiti.
“The entire reconstruction of Haiti is not something that is possible in just a few months or a few years,” says Widmark, 17, from Cap Haitien. “The reconstruction will happen in the future, but the children need to be educated first.”
The link between lack of educational opportunities and delinquency is all too familiar for many Haitian children.
“We have a lot of insecurity, because after the catastrophe, we have a lot of people who are doing bad things in the streets,” says Oberson, 15, from Milot. “I would tell kids they have to continue their studies so they can be somebody.”
‘Help us realize our dreams’
The children are aware that the international community is following the situation in Haiti very closely.
“I would like to tell children all over the world that our country, Haiti, has suffered a great deal because our country is really underdeveloped, and we don’t have all that we need,” says Rose, 16, from Port-au-Prince. “I wish for you to understand us, and if you do, that you help us realize our dreams, so our country can be an advanced country.”
The Global Movement will hold additional consultations with Haitian children to ensure that their needs and views are incorporated into the Post Disaster Needs Assessment, a multi-sector survey of damage, losses and needs that is being implemented by the government with support from the international community.