By MP Nunan
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 29 September 2010 – Fifteen year-old Simeon Kenson has a lot of worries.
He worries that he will not be able to go back to school when the new academic year starts in October, because he does not know if his family will have the money to send him.
He worries that someone will break into the tent where he lives in with his aunt, in the Mais Gate camp in Port-au-Prince – one of the scores of ‘tent cities’ that sprung up in the aftermath of Haiti’s January 2010 earthquake. And he worries that there’s going to be another earthquake. “I really don’t want to go back to our house,” Simeon says. “They’re saying the earth will be destroyed in 2012, so I don’t know what to do.”
Providing an outlet
But there is one thing that Simeon has come to rely on: playing in the sports programme offered by the Haitian Olympic Committee (HOC) in the camp. HOC, a UNICEF partner, runs similar sports programmes in 52 camps around Port-au-Prince for more than 36,000 children every day.
In a single morning at Mais Gate, children can be found learning how to block each other in basketball, performing karate kicks, playing handball and taking part in a game that involves racing to pick up orange, plastic cones. It looks like a physical education class in an elementary school.
The HOC programme provides a much needed outlet for children who worry – like Simeon, one of roughly 1.3 million people that UNICEF estimates remain displaced in the aftermath of the earthquake.
‘A way for them to forget’
“After the earthquake, there was a lot of stress,” says HOC Assistant Programme Coordinator Stephane Rebu. “And what we realized when we were talking to the kids, is they say they really like this programme because it’s a way to forget exactly what happened. And it’s a way for them to forget their situation under the tents.”
That situation remains challenging. Many of the tents leak, for example – a key concern with hurricane season now bearing down on the Caribbean island nation.
UNICEF Representative in Haiti Françoise Gruloos-Ackerman says children are also sensitive to less obvious shifts caused by the quake, such as the disruption to their sense of community – another loss that sports help address.
Sports are “about bringing all these children together in the camps,” Ms. Gruloos-Ackerman says, adding that the children “do not know each other, they’ve lost everything, they’ve lost their schools [and] their peers, so they have to rebuild relationships among themselves. And sport is helping them to do that.”
Asked what he would do if the sports programme were not offered in Mais Gate, Simeon shrugs. “I would stay here because I have no other place to go,” he says. “But fortunately, as soon as the HOC monitors come in the mornings, I come here to play with them.”