In the midst of the upheaval in Haiti, our staff there continue to reach vulnerable children and families. They have helped provide food, supplies, educational support and more in the midst of unprecedented chaos. The following update on Holt Haiti programs shows that despite the hardships, there is hope.
“Our staff stay inside as much as possible, for their own safety,” says Beverly Sanon, Holt Haiti’s country representative. Beverly lives in the capital, Port-au-Prince. “Holt Haiti continues to operate with caution, working remotely when there is civil unrest, and avoiding areas with gang violence.”
In the past year especially, this unrest in Haiti has captured the world’s attention.
The Human Rights Watch World Report 2023 says that Haiti is undergoing “a long-standing political, security and humanitarian crisis.”
Armed gangs have taken over two thirds of Port-au-Prince, social services have crumbled and a deadly outbreak of cholera threatens lives even further. In addition, half of the children in Haiti are now relying on humanitarian aid to survive. This number is expected to grow in the coming months. Among the most vulnerable are the children and families in Holt’s programs.
“The violence is compounded with a fuel shortage and political unrest,” says Malia Robello, Holt’s Haiti program manager. “There’s an underpinning of political instability to everything that’s going on in Haiti.”
Traveling even short distances in Haiti has become difficult and dangerous. There have been severe fuel shortages and it’s risky just to walk outside your home. In many areas of Port-au-Prince, rates of kidnapping and disappearances have skyrocketed.
This started three years ago in the spring of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools around the country. While many children finally returned to school for the 2021-2022 school year as pandemic restrictions eased, they were disrupted again this past fall with the upsurge in instability.
“The children’s lives have been so disrupted,” says Beverly. “It is unsafe for them to walk alone in the streets. They haven’t been able to go to school consistently for several years.”
Children in Haiti are facing extreme hunger and danger due to this volatility. But with the help of Holt sponsors and donors, our team in Haiti is doing all they can to provide them with food, safety and education. And recently, there has been heartening news for the children in Holt’s programs.
School & School Lunch is Back in Session
School is finally back in session this year, with the school year having started back up in January 2023. Over 961 children began attending our five partner schools in Haiti in January, equaling a full enrollment! This is incredible news. It means a return to some stability for almost 1,000 children whose education has been disrupted for three years. Holt sponsors and donors have helped provide teachers and school materials to help supplement children’s education during this time. But there’s still nothing like being in a classroom for a child to learn!
Our school breakfast program has also resumed, which for many of the children is the only full, nutritious meal they receive all day.
“We pray this will continue, because especially the school breakfasts we know are a great help to families,” says Beverly. “Food is so expensive now.”
“Our main concern is how the orphanages will be able to continue feeding the children. Everything is so expensive now, and the orphanages have so many mouths to feed. This is why our services are becoming more and more important.”Beverly Sanon, Holt Representative in Haiti
The school breakfast program is running for now, but it is still threatened by the rising cost of food in Haiti. Food is 30 to 40% more expensive than it used to be, and rising. Holt Haiti is working with suppliers and caterers to meet nutrition standards of the program, but it is an uphill battle. The price of food also affects children in the three orphanages Holt supports there.
“Our main concern is how the orphanages will be able to continue feeding the children,” says Beverly. “Everything is so expensive now, and the orphanages have so many mouths to feed. This is why our services are becoming more and more important.”
One site that Holt Haiti has taken extra efforts with is a government group home for children in crisis. These children are waiting for reunification with their families or more permanent care like a foster home. Government funding in recent years has not been enough to provide these children with basic necessities, so Holt Haiti stepped in to make sure they had enough to eat and had access to education.
“We were finding kids without much enrichment or socialization,” Malia says about this particular site.
Thankfully, Holt sponsors and donors provided chairs, desks, activity books, workbooks and scholastic materials to children in this group home. Now these children have a conducive and comfortable learning environment for their education!
With generous gifts from Holt sponsors and donors, Holt Haiti provided five of our partner schools and orphanages with “mini libraries.” Now, they have shelves full of picture books and short chapter books to help children learn to read and learn about the world around them.
With the country in lockdown, the orphanages we work with had shuttered many of their programs. This left the children with little to do except watch TV and sleep. However, since receiving books and participating in reading activities, many of the children’s reading skills and moods have improved!
“Many children are learning to read better and getting more interest in reading,” says Beverly. “It’s very therapeutic for them to feel like they’re learning and engaged in something. So many things have improved for these children just because of a few books and shelves!”
Children in the schools we partner with are more engaged and positive since the mini libraries were installed! Holt Haiti has also provided a trained facilitator at two of the larger schools to visit weekly and lead reading activities for the kids. This is helping to improve literacy rates and get children engaged with the books!
“One of the things we’re hearing is that kids who had no interest in reading are enjoying it and teaching the younger kids!” says Malia.
Malia hopes that in the future Holt Haiti will have the resources to facilitate events like reading competitions. The goal is to further promote literacy and children’s rights. When children learn to love reading, this can change the trajectory of their education and their life!
In a country like Haiti where children do not always have access to consistent education, the simple addition of books is making all the difference.
Looking Ahead With Purpose
Our staff don’t know how long the unrest in Haiti will last. They don’t know how long it will be unsafe to walk their neighborhood streets, how long the cost of food and fuel will continue to rise or how long the lives and education of the children they serve will be disrupted.
They wonder, they worry and then they push on with their important work, because it is helping children who desperately need an advocate.
“Sometimes we feel we can’t take it anymore, but then we think about the children who are waiting for our help and we continue,” says Beverly. “We want them to be able to continue being kids. It’s good for them to have a chance to be in school or go to a library. They get to play together and be children. This is how we wake up every day and feel like we have a purpose!”
With this purpose in mind, Holt Haiti staff is persevering to protect and care for children and families in need. Despite the circumstances, Holt Haiti has even more exciting and critical developments in the future.
The team is in the process of contracting with a doctor to oversee much-needed medical check-ups for 700 children in our care. They also are continuing with an economic empowerment program for women in the community of Bigarousse, far south of Port-au-Prince but still deeply affected by Haiti’s instability.
Against all odds, children and families in Haiti are persevering to learn, grow and continue their lives as normally as possible. We are so thankful for and humbled by the Holt Haiti staff and their incredible, faithful work.
Learn more about Holt’s work in Haiti!
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