PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti–(ENEWSPF)–29 January 2010 – Rodrigue wipes away his tears and carries on talking. It’s an astounding act of bravery for the 12-year-old Haitian boy, who saw his parents die in the 12 January earthquake here.
He’s telling UNICEF aid workers how he survived the quake and ended up at an orphanage, alone.
“I was playing football outside with two of my friends,” says Rodrigue, “and then I heard the earthquake and I felt the ground shaking. I ran back to my house and found it destroyed, and my parents were dead.”
Physical and emotional support
UNICEF has carried out assessments at more than 60 orphanages throughout the devastated capital, Port-au-Prince. Mobile teams are identifying and registering children like Rodrigue who have been orphaned or separated from their families by the quake.
While there are thousands of potential surrogate parents willing to adopt them, newly orphaned children like Rodrigue need physical and emotional support where they are.
UNICEF’s experience shows that such support is best provided as part of a programme that seeks to reunite children with their families.
Family tracing programme
Rodrigue has three older sisters. He thinks they are alive and wants to see them again. To assist him and other orphaned or separated children in Haiti, UNICEF and its partners have to make every effort to trace not only their parents but other relatives, too.
“We are exhausting all the efforts we have to find their parents or their extended family,” says UNICEF Regional Child Protection Specialist Caroline Bakker.
“It’s only when we have exhausted all the options,” she adds, “that we will look into other forms of alternative care for those children, and inter-country adoptions or national adoptions are options.”
While family reunification sometimes seems an impossible task, there have been success stories.
Sindy, 11, had left her family home in a rural area to attend school in Port-au-Prince. She lived with her aunt and uncle but was separated from them during the quake. Injured and alone, she found her way to a hospital.
When her parents learned of the quake the next day, they rushed to the capital to find their daughter. “But when we couldn’t find her, I was distraught, I didn’t know what to do,” explains Sindy’s father.
The hospital contacted UNICEF, which traced her uncle and then her parents, and the family was reunited.
Joy amidst tragedy
For Sindy, the relief was overwhelming. “They called my uncle and then took me to my parents,” she recalls. “I was so happy to see them. I hugged them, and they were so happy to see me again.”
In the midst of tragedy, the joy of being reunited with parents and other family members is helping many Haitian children overcome their trauma. UNICEF will continue working with separated and orphaned children to ensure that many more have the same opportunity.