By Pi James
NEW YORK, USA, 21 January 2010 – The death toll from the 12 January earthquake in Haiti continues to rise, despite the worldwide humanitarian efforts underway. With nearly half of the Haitian population under the age of 18, children have been significantly affected by this crisis.
Schools have been destroyed, and children are taking shelter in camps for the displaced, with many orphaned or separated from their families.
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Podcast moderator Amy Costello spoke with Chris Hondros, senior staff photographer at Getty Images, and UNICEF’s Emergency Adviser on Early Childhood Development Arnaud Conchon, on the situation on the ground in Haiti and the importance of rebuilding and restoring education.
Chris Hondros senior staff photographer at Getty Images, who has travelled the world covering humanitarian crises, says that the devastation in Haiti “is of a greater scale and magnitude” then other emergencies he’s seen.
“I can’t think of another calamity in modern history that has struck a country so small, to such a tremendous degree… The scale here is unbelievable,” Mr. Hondros says.
“I’ve seen literally thousands of children that have lost their families and parents and that have just been picked up by strangers… many (have been)… killed instantly or have been dug out from the rubble since… (and) piled into mass graves on the edge of town and buried.”
Children suffer “toxic stress”
Mr. Conchon argues that education “has to be” one of the first lines of response in times of crisis.
“It is important to think about the children that are already separated (from their families), (and assist them in) retrieving a sense of normalcy, establishing some safe and secure spaces where they can interact with caregivers and this needs to be done in a holistic manner.”
“(If the children) are facing what we call ‘toxic stress’ which is typically what happens after (disasters such as) earthquakes, this can have devastating effects for the rest of their lives. So it’s really critical to think about establishing those safe spaces for children (as soon as possible)”.
According to Mr. Conchon, this is why UNICEF is sending 1000 of recently launched Early Childhood Development (ECD) Kits for emergencies to Haiti immediately.
These ECD kits take a life-cycle approach to addressing the holistic needs of young children, providing basic services related to hygiene and sanitation, health and nutrition, and protection and education, as well as containing an illustrative activity guide in French so caregivers can immediately establish an interactive and supportive environment for children.
Building back better
Mr. Conchon and Mr. Hondros agree that that the rebuilding of schools (including pre-primary) and the education system is vital to Haiti’s future.
“School is a safe haven for children, this is where they learn, this is where they build their resilience this is where they are protected, this is where they develop, this is how you save them basically in the long run,” Mr. Conchon says.
“In a lot of ways Haiti suffered a lot before… and this is an enormous spot light shined on Haiti now, finally… (If) the international aid that comes in… is well managed and does focus on the education system, I think in fairly short orders schools and secondary education systems can be rebuilt, creating perhaps in the long run, a better Haiti,” Mr. Hondros says.