PORT-AU-PRINCE -- Beside what was once Notre Dame de la Nativité children’s home in Port-au-Prince, women stir big vats of food as lunchtime nears. The week after the quake, WFP delivered rice, beans, oil and sugar. “The kids have enormous appetites,” the director, Eveline Louis-Jacques, tells us.
“You’ve no idea how helpful it’s been getting this food,” she says, sitting surrounded by the possessions that she and colleagues have salvaged from the rubble.
There are more than 300 such institutions in Port-au-Prince and by Day Four food had been delivered for nearly 1,400 children. The initiative is being conducted in co-operation with UNICEF and UNPOL, the U.N. police force.
When the children ask about little friends whom they haven’t seen since the quake, the carers here tell us they simply don’t have the heart to tell them the truth. Fifty-six children and one nurse died on 12 January and most still lie in the pile of rubble which was their home (photo below right).
Equally distressing are the long-distance telephone calls from couples in France who had been hoping to adopt these children and who, after completing the first stage of the lengthy bureaucratic procedures, had been assigned a child.
“Of course, I have some good news for some couples,” says the Madame Louis-Jacques, referring to the 78 children who survived. “But for the others, it’s heartbreaking. They cry down the phone and then I cry. I can’t face taking these calls any more."
Too young to understand
As we’re talking, two French government officials arrive to enquire about the fate of one child on behalf of his prospective adoptive parents in France. The news is good. The little boy is unharmed and playing in the garden of Madame Louis-Jacques’ nearby home where the children now reside.
An aid worker with an American organisation helping out with the children says most of them are fine despite superficial wounds and the odd broken leg. The children, mostly aged between six months and six years, are too young to understand what has happened.
One little girl, rescued after four days trapped in the rubble, may have to have a leg amputated. A few of the children, says the aid worker, are withdrawn and lethargic. Others sleep on a groundsheet in the garden while a bunch of older children play noisily, 50 yards from the ruins.