Putting children first in response to the Haiti earthquake

“I am very happy that my family now treats me with understanding. I look forward to going to the center as much as possible to learn a lot of beautiful things and help other children younger than me.” – Carlangy

Nine-year-old Carlangy lives in Torbeck, a poor, rural area in the south of Haiti, with her mother and extended family. In all, eight people reside under the same roof: Carlangy’s mother, Ketlaine, and three of her other children, Carlangy’s grandmother, Ketlaine’s cousin and a family friend. Ketlaine, a single mother, provides for the whole household.

On August 14, 2021, a devastating 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck southwestern Haiti. More than 2,200 people died and nearly 13,000 were injured. Schools and other vital infrastructure were destroyed and an estimated 130,000 houses collapsed.

The Center for Disaster Philanthropy awarded AVSI a grant from the CDP Haiti Earthquake Recovery Fund to mitigate the harmful effects of the earthquake on children by providing physical and psychosocial protection, promoting child development through informal education programs, and reactivating child protection networks.

With the grant, AVSI immediately sought to bring relief, build resilience and address the grave child protection needs in remote coastal communities. The project centered around child-friendly spaces where children could feel safe, reunite with family members, have psychosocial needs assessed, and engage in playful, therapeutic, healing activities.

Carlangy was referred to AVSI’s Child-Friendly Space in Torbeck by Association des Citoyens Engages pour le Développement de Ducis, a local community partner. At first, Carlangy was very shy and unsociable. She had difficulty expressing herself, was often withdrawn and lacked confidence. After several weeks, staff saw that Carlangy’s behavior was not progressing. They decided to take a more systematic approach to her psychological care and involve her in small group therapy activities where she could be more closely monitored.

During personal counseling sessions, Carlangy opened up about how family members mistreated her. According to Carlangy, the situation at home worsened after the earthquake. Despite socioeconomic hardships, she had been doing well in school and getting good grades. Still, after the earthquake, she became afraid to go home, lost her appetite and had difficulties studying.

AVSI staff knew it was time to meet Ketlaine and the family in person. A team of professionals led by an AVSI psychologist, along with a social welfare officer from the Haitian Central Authority and a member of the local organization that first referred Carlangy, went to visit Ketlaine. When they arrived at the family’s home, the team found Ketlaine in a distraught and angry state. They listened patiently to Ketlaine and offered advice. Soon, Ketlaine agreed to participate in counseling sessions. She understood that she had to take care of her own psychological needs first to secure the well-being of her whole family.

Later, the team also met Carlangy’s father. Both parents agreed to attend parenting education sessions on the role of the family in child development and protection.

The first session was a beautiful experience of community dialogue and growth in awareness for all the participants, especially Carlangy’s parents, who expressed immense gratitude.

Since then, Carlangy’s behavior has noticeably improved. She participates more readily and energetically in learning activities, often volunteering to help the younger children. Most telling, she smiles a lot!

With the continued support of local social workers and other staff members, the family is getting back on track, even raising awareness in neighboring families about the importance of child well-being and protection. Carlangy’s future looks bright. She told a friend, “I am very happy that my family now treats me with understanding. I look forward to going to the center as much as possible to learn a lot of beautiful things and help other children younger than me.”

With support from AVSI and CDP, local specialists have improved the lives of more than 1,200 children in La Cayes, Chardonnières, Roche-à-Bateaux and Torbeck in Haiti. In addition, nearly 300 adults have participated in sessions that raise awareness of the risks children face every day and ways to create more protective environments for children, ensuring the project’s impact well into the future.

CDP is proud to support AVSI’s efforts to help children in Haiti by providing child-friendly spaces, addressing psychosocial needs and promoting child development.

*This impact story was adapted from content submitted by AVSI.

(Photo: Carlangy at her home during a family visit. Credit: Elize Mizaine, AVSI employee and social worker.)