Note: This story is an update to the one posted on 4/21/2010.
With children laughing and chasing each other, playing with balls and pet guinea pigs, the sunny courtyard could be mistaken for an ordinary afterschool daycare program. But this is no ordinary childcare program, and the children are not living under ordinary circumstances.
The Haiti earthquake injured hundreds of thousands of people and damaged hundreds of buildings throughout Port-au-Prince, including what was to very soon become one of the busiest medical facilities in the city—the General Hospital. Living in one of the wards within the hospital’s pediatric unit were 48 children—ranging from two weeks to 21 years old, some without parents, many living with either physical or developmental disabilities.
In the aftermath of the quake, it was clear that these unaccompanied minors and vulnerable children could not remain at damaged and over-crowded General Hospital. The hospital’s medical director contacted PIH and its Haitian sister organization Zanmi Lasante (ZL) to help find the group a new home.
PIH/ZL facilitated the children’s move to a new long-term care facility in Croix-des-Bouquets, a city located about eight miles northeast of Port-au-Prince. The facility, named Zanmi Beni – “blessed friends” in Haitian Creole, is the result of a partnership with Operation Blessing International—a nonprofit organization that provides disaster relief and community development in 98 countries.
With safe and sunny wards, space for the children to run and play, books and toys, and a dedicated 75-person staff to care for them, the children are happily flourishing. Some of the children who had before been bedridden are now beginning to walk—they simply needed the opportunity and a little attention to help them take their first steps. Others study their lessons in a small tent-school room. Staff ensure that each child is given special attention to help foster learning and development—from feeding themselves to speaking skills.
Zanmi Beni will provide the children with ongoing educational, emotional, and psychosocial support; and will have access to a broad range of educational, developmental, and recreational tools—including equine therapy and a swimming pool for physical therapy. In addition, pet guinea pigs, goats, birds, and a friendly little puppy named Fani help make Zanmi Beni into a home.
An experienced staff of physical therapists, occupational therapists, nurses, social workers, teachers, cooks, cleaners, and community health workers care for the children. The majority of the staff were locally hired in the weeks following the earthquake. The center also has two pediatricians on staff.
Construction and renovations on the building are still underway and are expected to finish this summer.