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Keeping kids happy vital as Haitians hunt a normal life

by Staff Writers
Port-Au-Prince (AFP) Feb 17, 2010
A huge challenge for Haitians seeking to regain a sense of normalcy is finding somewhere safe for children to play and simply be kids when most schools have been reduced to rubble.

Without a bricks-and-mortar building following last month's tragic earthquake, teachers and aid groups are being forced to improvise and set up impromptu playgrounds for children.

Even in a makeshift setting without real lessons, this semblance of school life helps to reestablish regular rhythms for young quake victims and provides a safe and orderly place for them to play.

Annelodie Mercuecs, 11, dressed in a spotless flower-print white dress, comes every day to the attractive courtyard of a religious school in Petionville, a smart suburb on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince.

"After the earthquake, I didn't do anything. I like to come here to play with my friends," she said.

Along with other five to 13 year-olds, Annelodie spends two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon at the playground, which is half in the open-air and half tented to offer protection from the fierce Caribbean sun.

It lies directly across from the makeshift campsite she and her parents call home since the January 12 quake.

Hundreds of people there have built shelters out of anything they can find, and survive as best they can, but it is a less than ideal place for children to spend the day.

Spotting this, the French Red Cross three weeks ago embarked on an unusual aid project and turned the courtyard into a care center for children left idle in the absence of classes.

Colette Gallay, an official with the group, says the school, with its high walls and bright green-painted doors, offers the children a "cocoon" and "a ritual that gives them a sense of 'normality'.

"There is little on the outside that is ordered, but the children come and their parents have confidence," she added, expressing surprise that the children arrived dressed so spotlessly, despite the persistent hygiene problems at the makeshift encampments throughout the city.

All the workers at the site are Haitians, in accordance with Red Cross rules, and all are volunteers, like Wesley Bernard, 29, who was finishing up his medical studies when the massive 7.0 earthquake struck on January 12.

Jacques-Solon Jean, a 34-year-old psychologist, is also donating his time, going over relaxation routines with the children to relieve their trauma and doing concentration exercises to keep their brains active.

Among his pupils was little Guy-Marie, who was afraid to join other children and tapped on the ground nervously with his feet, "for fear of making the earth shake."

Despite a rocky start with some of the children, Jean said the worst was behind them.

"They draw what they like and we haven't seen anything recently to do with the earthquake," added Fitzgerald Alexander, 24, in charge of a group of four and five year-olds who worked busily at their wooden desks.

"They are eager to come here every day. They have a hard time playing at the campsites," Jean added.

Behind him, a group of boys and girls sat in a circle singing a traditional song and taking turns to tap their neighbor's hand, until someone was out. Each round brought a chorus of laughs and squeals.

A little further away, boys jumped up and down to a rhythm laid out by an adult volunteer and a group of toddlers played.

Later, the children took off their shoes and flopped belly first on a large swatch of fabric to begin drawing, the girls taking care to keep their distance from the boys.

For Gallay, it is clear that the children who attend the play-school will suffer less post-traumatic stress.

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Rebuilding Haiti could cost up to 14 billion dollars: IDB
Washington (AFP) Feb 16, 2010
Rebuilding Haiti could cost 14 billion dollars, making last month's quake the most destructive natural disaster in modern history, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) said Tuesday. The stark assessment came after a 7.0-magnitude-quake leveled parts of the Caribbean nation of nine million, already the poorest in the Americas before the disaster. The quake killed at least 217,000 people ... read more

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