Save the Children UKs Chief Executive, Jasmine Whitbread, reports back from a devastated Haiti
Save the Children UK’s Chief Executive, Jasmine Whitbread, reports back from a devastated Haiti
“The first evidence I see of the earthquake is the huge cracks that run right through Port au Prince airport. Save the Children is on the ground in one of our largest emergency responses ever. As we drive through the town it becomes clear why such an enormous response is necessary.
Schools have been reduced to piles of rubble and dust. Open spaces are now covered with tents and plastic sheeting as families try to find somewhere to live. We pass one of the largest informal settlements and I’m told there are literally hundreds of thousands of people there who have been left with nothing.
When we reach our office, it seems like the only building standing in the centre of town. Our own staff too have been terribly affected. Talking to them it is amazing to hear how they are coping, with many of their own homes crushed.
Right next to the office is a huge space packed with makeshift tents.
Only a third of the 1.2 million people who need shelter have it so far. But I’m impressed and moved by the spirit of the Haitian people. It is hot and dusty but everyone is busy trying to find a way to rebuild their lives. And Save the Children is here to help them do it. During my two days here I see for myself how enormous the needs are: shelter, medical care, food, water and, crucially for children trying to recover a sense of normality, schools.
We hike up a path through a stinking rubbish dump to visit a school that we have supported for two years. Incredibly, it has survived the earthquake.
The children I meet have all lost somebody. We think one million children have been separated or lost at least one parent – it’s heartbreaking. But being in school is really important for these children to recover and so their long-term education prospects aren’t damaged.
They perform a play for us that is a based on their experiences during the earthquake. Save the Children has worked with children traumatised by disasters for decades and we know that using drama in this way helps them deal with their feelings rather than bury them.
Watching them, I feel humbled by their resilience and think about what they must have endured in the last few weeks. I say goodbye to the children at the school and we head to one of our clinics in a camp that is home to around 40,000 people. Diarrhoea and pneumonia are the biggest problems for kids. We have ten mobile teams in Port-au-Prince and in the last two days alone they saw 1,257 people.
One of the message we have to get across to people is that sometimes the simplest things can make a difference. We hear children singing songs about washing their hands. On the second day we head out to Léogâne – much closer to the epicentre of the earthquake. The road, which runs along a fault line, is now visibly cracked. We are heading to a child friendly space, where I sit down with toddlers in a playgroup that is helping them overcome their trauma.
We have 12 of these spaces now and they help 3,000 children.
But so much more needs to be done. Business as usual is not enough for Haiti. We’re currently working flat-out and have reached 300,000 people so far. We are here for the long haul – the children of Haiti deserve no less. ”
To read more of Jasmine’s blogs go to: savethechildren.org.uk /blogs
For more information about how you can help children in Haiti visit Save the Children’s website.