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Children struggle in make-shift orphanage

IDP camp in Port-au-Prince
They should be in class (Tamar Dressler/IRIN)

Mami George, a retired teacher, sits in a courtyard at the small orphanage she manages in San Marie, Port-au-Prince. The area, once home to 2,000 residents, now accommodates some 6,000 people who lost their homes in the January earthquake.

George began feeding the orphans living on the streets near the site and within days found herself caring for more than 50 children aged between three and 15.

Only 500 orphans have been registered with the different local and international agencies in Haiti since the quake, not including the ones living in orphanages before the disaster. According to local caretakers, most children who had one living relative were taken in by them, explaining the relatively low number of orphans. The children in George’s care, however, have no one.

In a small compound, living in tents donated by French volunteers, these children are cared for by a team of local helpers. Food is distributed daily by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) kitchen in the camp, with 1,300 calories crammed into each serving of porridge or rice and beans - enough to keep these children alive but not enough to drive away the hunger pangs.

Another 900 meals are distributed to school children on the site as part of a WFP food distribution scheme. It plans to provide hot meals to some 170,000 school children nationwide. State schools are closed until 1 April, but local NGOs operate makeshift schools in some areas. In the interim more than one million children remain without access to classes.

Stressed children

More than two months after the quake, nobody has come to claim any of the children in Mami George’s care.

The children are stressed, says George, pointing to several mattresses drying on a nearby roof. Some of the children have gone back to bed-wetting following the quake.

Volunteers from different countries visit the orphanage compound once or twice a week and are an instant attraction for the children. With no toys or playground, every visitor is a welcome distraction. “We cope with what we have, but we need plastic bed sheets, clothes, snacks, toys,” George told IRIN.

Nineteen volunteer caretakers work in 12-hour shifts, every day of the week, but are unable to address the children’s psychological needs, and local Haitian psychologists are a rarity.

The International Organization for Migration has opened a psycho-social cluster for NGOs dealing with post-traumatic stress but it is difficult to access 1.3 million people living in 400 temporary sites. The children will have to wait - for assistance, for clothes, for schools to re-open.


• This article was amended on 22 March 2010. The original version erroneously reported the number of children not in school as some 2.5 million, which has been corrected to reflect estimates as of 19 March.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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