A network of agencies is registering lost children and trying to reunite them with their families. One of the organizations involved is the International Rescue Committee (IRC), which shared these stories and photos with Need to Know. The names of the children have been changed for their protection.
Reuniting Haiti’s lost children with their families
By Melissa Winkler
Since the January 12 earthquake in Haiti, thousands of children are estimated to be orphaned or separated from their families. Some are living in the hundreds of makeshift settlements scattered across Port-au-Prince and other devastated cities. Others have been placed in orphanages.
Pascal’s mother dropped off her only child at the home of his babysitter, Santsiane, the morning of January 12 before heading to a house where she worked as a maid. Hours later, that house collapsed and Pascal’s mother never returned home. Santsiane says she loves the little boy, but she also lost her home and can’t afford to care for him much longer.
Pascal is one of more than 1,000 children who have been registered by aid agencies, including the International Rescue Committee, working to reunite family members. IRC child protection coordinator Rebecca Chandler and database specialist Clavens Jean-Marie attend a training session in February.
IRC caseworker Margareth Bien-Aimé boards a bus at 5 a.m. from Leogane to Port-au-Prince, where she registers lost children and looks for clues about the whereabouts of their families. She returns to her quake-damaged home at 8 p.m.
Several days after the earthquake, Georges was found wandering alone, distraught and hardly speaking, in this dense settlement in Cité-Militaire.
A street vendor working nearby took Georges in to live with her and her three other children. “I live here with my auntie now,” Georges tells Bien-Aimé.
Georges’s caregiver Loomil sells items like batteries and chewing gum on a busy street corner. Loomil tells Bien-Aimé that she couldn’t bear to see the child homeless and hungry when she still had a roof over her head.
Working to reunite families is both tedious and mentally and physically exhausting. Some destitute parents say they can’t afford to take their children back, while some relatives say they don’t have the means to take additional children in.