A mother and child receive vital heath care from The Salvation Army
Salvation Army projects cater for even the youngest chidren
A Salvation Army school
Older children can benefit from Salvation Army assistance
At the time of writing, Julie Monteith worked in the UK Territory’s Projects Office
Haiti: A Better Future
by Julie Monteith
Funded through UK
Haiti was once one of the top tourist destinations in the Caribbean. Cruise ships regularly stopped at the capital, Port-Au-Prince, allowing visitors to admire the Roman Catholic Cathedral and other sights. Tourists would browse for paintings and hand-crafted sculptures or simply relax on one of the many beautiful beaches.
In the past 20 years, though, everything has changed. Perhaps because of political instability or even the cultural practices of Voodoo, tourists have stayed away and the resulting effect on the economy has been devastating. Around 80 per cent of the population lives in abject poverty, almost one in every hundred children won’t make it to adulthood and the average life expectancy is 47. It is often referred to as the poorest country in the western hemisphere.
In the midst of all the gloom there is good news. The Salvation Army has been working in Haiti since 1950 and continues to have a huge impact on the lives of some of the world’s poorest people.
One of the programmes on Haiti deals with the problem of restaveks – children who have to work as domestic helpers. Sometimes they are referred to simply as slave children.
The children often come from poor rural families and are literally given to wealthier families with the hope that they will receive care. In return, the child does menial tasks around the house such as sweeping, cleaning and carrying water. Often they are not educated or even allowed to eat with the rest of the family. They are not offered a normal childhood and very seldom are they allowed time off to play and enjoy their young lives.
Most slave children are treated with indifference at best and often with extreme cruelty. If they do not work hard enough or misbehave they can be beaten severely. They have no recourse.
The Salvation Army in Port-au-Prince provides 50 such children with a daily break from their dreary existence. They go to the Army clinic, enjoy a meal, learn simple first aid and health fundamentals, make crafts and share in playtime. Since none of these children go to school they also have the opportunity to take part in simple literacy classes.
The time is invaluable in developing their social and life skills for later life. The time they spend in the programme not only helps them to survive their years within a home but also prepares them for the time when they will stand on their own feet.
One aim of the domestic children initiative is to bring children together for teaching on health issues. Children are taught to take the messages they learn to other children so they in turn learn to care for themselves.
An expansion of this initiative is planned and young children will be encouraged to pass on messages about basic health to their family and the wider community.
Using comic books developed in a French University the course content includes information on diarrhoea and oral rehydration, parasites such as worms, hygiene, the growth of a child, vaccination, malaria, coughing and accidents at home and around the house.
After following the first three months of a three-year after-school programme, children are awarded a badge and become ‘scouts for health’, making a pledge to share their new knowledge. The older children will also benefit from a 10-week course on HIV/Aids.
During the course the children are encouraged to gain knowledge of how to treat common conditions within their own community. They are taught, for instance, how to prepare a simple oral rehydration drink and teach others how to prepare it. In the long term, these basic health courses could save many lives.
In many areas of Haiti the problem of Aids orphans is equivalent to that found in Africa. Care for children within and by the community is the key objective of many programmes The Salvation Army has developed.
In Fond-des-Negres and other areas, Wesley Noel (HIV coordinator) has established a programme for Aids orphans. The programme involves bringing together orphans in an after-school club. There they receive a healthy meal, followed by help with homework and psycho-social support through games, counselling and advice. This bringing together of children helps them to understand better from each other how to deal with their specific circumstances. It also reduces the sense of isolation and stigma which can sometimes be associated with HIV/Aids.
Another important aspect of the programme is the development of skills in agriculture. To that end, agricultural coordinator Francis Hansen (UK) has developed vegetable gardens at each centre that not only provide nutritious food for the groups but also train them in vital income-generating skills for later life.
The Salvation Army in Haiti is seizing opportunities to work with the young people of Haiti to build a better future. Little by little it is having a major impact on many young lives – but there is no doubt that there is still much to be done.