The Plight of Haiti's Children
You can turn left or right, walk straight or backward -- the direction doesn't matter. In the streets of Port-au-Prince and surrounding slums, the children of Haiti are everywhere.
Maladies that strike the children here are similar to those plaguing strife-ridden Darfur, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The main difference is that Haiti is not officially at war. Less than four hours by plane from New York and even closer to Miami, this country's next generation is in serious danger of not growing up.
The future -- and that is all Haiti has -- lies with this country's youngest generation -- and with nearly 4 million children, almost half of Haiti‚s population is under the age of 18. But children facing a serious lack of education, medical care, nutrition and housing are forced to live their lives doing nothing. Haiti is so poor that the child labor common in other parts of the developing world doesn't exist -- there is simply no work at all.
Walking through the streets, children in various states of dress outnumber those in impeccably clean school uniforms. From ripped clothing to an out-of-place Notre Dame T-shirt to wearing nothing at all, kids congregate in groups and make do playing with rocks masquerading as marbles.
Haiti is a tough place to have a childhood, but for orphans it is something unimaginable. There are thousands of children who have no one. With the help of his faith, Bishop Yves-Innocent Louis does his part running the Life is Wealth Orphanage, a 60-bed facility filled mostly with girls from 2 to 17 years old.
In a scene straight from Oliver Twist, children line up at a table eating in unison. The only difference from the Dickens version is that they smile as they eat the second of three meals that day. The orphanage is run with religious fervor and supported by Americans and the World Food Program. These children live in an entirely different world than those with families in places like Cité Soleil: They have a school, computer lessons and attend required religious services each week.
Fabienne Jean Baptiste, an 11-year-old girl with a soft voice, pigtails held in pink and blue berets and a checkered shirt, has been here since she was 2. She says she's happy and has many friends at the orphanage.
On another side of town, children are struggling just to eat more than one meal a day. Malnutrition runs rampant throughout the country, evident in swollen stomachs and the turning of hair to red. Contrast the hunger with the toy guns made of plastic and metal that can be found everywhere and the graffiti picturing the latest in weaponry that decorates many people's walls. The violence once meted out by the military is now alive and well in the minds and homes of the Haitian people.
Already, Haiti's youngest generation seems lost like so many before it, unable to lead the country out of its mess, or even to imagine a society free of violence and hunger. Then again, if Fabienne is able to realize her dreams of becoming a doctor, there just might be a chance for Haiti.
Award-winning photojournalist Ron Haviv is on the ground in Port-au-Prince documenting the run-up to Haiti's presidential and legislative elections. >>About This Blog
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