On January 12, 2010, a devastating earthquake hit Haiti, killing more than 230,000 people and displacing approximately 1.5 million. Children were orphaned; families were left homeless; and homes, schools and hospitals destroyed. Five years later, SOS Children’s Villages, the world’s largest organization providing care for orphaned and abandoned children, remains unwavering in its ongoing, long-term commitment to the people of Haiti.
It had been a week since Nicole Princivil began preparing all the details. Labelled boxes separating families’ belongings were piled in every corner of the house. But the large cardboard ones were special, for they contained each and every child’s toys. Finally the time had arrived: they would soon move to the brand new buildings of SOS Children’s Village Les Cayes.
Nicole is mother to nine children between the ages of 9 and 17. After four years together, this will be the first time they will enjoy being in their own house. Nicole and the kids couldn’t be more thrilled. “We feel happy because in the village there is sense of community and extended family. Outside it’s not the same. At the village, we find more support and we feel safer,” she says.
The story of Nicole’s SOS family began soon after January of 2010. In the days following the fierce earthquake that devastated Haiti, approximately 400 children arrived at SOS Children’s Villages in Santo, a province near the capital city of Port-au-Prince.
“After the earthquake, there were problems in Haiti. We had children living in the street because their parents had died, and some were living in critical situations,” she explains.
According to Mario Brusa, former SOS Haiti National Director, there was a collaborative attempt to assist every orphaned child. At that critical point, SOS Children’s Villages opened its doors and provided a safe environment to many children. “Before the earthquake,” Mario says, “Our houses had an average of eight to nine children. Suddenly there were 20 per house. The staff worked very closely together and we had a time of great solidarity”.
Celigny Darius, National Director of SOS Children’s Villages Haiti, explains, “The biggest challenge for SOS Children’s Villages during the earthquake was to find a way to welcome all the children, because the village was too small. We were able to install temporary houses to accommodate them”.
At the same time, it became important to ensure that whenever possible, kids were reintegrated to their families of origin. Unfortunately, there were some who would never see their parents again. Of the 400 children who arrived at SOS Children’s Villages in Santo, we learned over time that 106 were without parental care. And of those who could not be reunited with family, 43 joined two different SOS villages. For the remaining 63, we decided to build a new SOS village in the countryside. As a temporary measure, we rented houses in Port-au-Prince and later in Les Cayes – to provide a home until construction on the new village was complete.
Charles has just turned 9 years old. He’s shy and sweet, and can also be very naughty sometimes. Like many of his compatriots, he loves football and his favourite team is Real Madrid of Spain. Charles is capable of some marvellous mischief and of eluding a scolding as fast as he runs after a ball. When he came to SOS Children’s Villages as a victim of the earthquake, it took him awhile to adapt.
Children had a hard time at school as a consequence of the trauma. Charles was no exception. It was his SOS mother Nicole who provided his primary support, giving him extra attention and rebuilding his self-confidence. Soon after the earthquake, all SOS staff received training to enhance their support of the children.
“I used to say, ‘your life’s not over, even though your father and mother have died. You must go on,’” the SOS mother says. Today, Charles performs well at school. He’s very fond of geography. “And mom’s cooking,” he adds.
Now that the toughest days are over, Nicole’s challenge is to understand the different kinds of attention each child needs. So far she is proud of the road they travelled together. “Charles is a really sweet and pleasant child, and very thoughtful. Whenever I’m introspective, he comes and asks me what’s the matter. I say ‘nothing’ and then he says, ‘Are you well?’”
An eagerly awaited moving day
WATCH VIDEO: SOS Children's Villages Opens New SOS Village in Les Cayes, Haiti
Charles entered the house scrutinizing every corner. He noticed beds were already in the rooms and mirrors and toilet bowls were in the bathrooms. In his new home, the living room is his favorite place.
“I feel ready to move into the house. I like it because it’s big, it’s beautiful,and it can hold a lot of people. It’s big. It’s big, it’s beautifu!,” he cries out.
For Charles, moving to the new Les Cayes facilities represents the opportunity to see his SOS friends more often. They used to hang out together when he lived in Santo. However, this pleasant memory reminds him of the hard life they endured while living in tents.
Nicole is cheered by the new perspective she has as they move into the home. For three years, they have lived in rented houses, first in Port-Au-Prince and then in Les Cayes. Although comfortable, she says accommodation in the cities does not allow for a village feeling.
“What will bring the children greater happiness is to come to the village, where they can easily meet with friends to have fun -- talking and playing,” she says.