With the depravity and desperation of Port-au-Prince’s homeless increasing every day, there is nothing more hopeful than the smile of a happy Haitian child in a safe and loving environment.
The Child Safe Spaces — or EZT (Espace Zanmi Timoun in Creole) — began operations immediately following the Jan. 12 earthquake, organized by UNCA Alumna Demeter “Dharma” Russafov and the Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team (AMURT).
The Spaces provide games, activities, snacks and support for 3,500 homeless children living in five of the P-au-P tent communities.
In the quake’s immediate aftermath, AMURT received publicity through a variety of Asheville media outlets. Ashevilleans donated money and truckloads of materials, which were dropped-off at 22 Ravenscroft Drive, then driven to Miami and shipped to the Dominican Republic for transport into Haiti.
The AMURT emergency-operation strategy was incredibly successful during the crucial weeks following the disaster. At the time, most international supplies were bottlenecked at the P-au-P airport.
— AMURT staff member Muriotha Joseph “Mano” and child.
By shipping supplies into the neighboring Dominican Republic, AMURT bypassed the congestion and provided immediate aid to thousands of struggling victims.
In the following months, AMURT operated through contracts from multiple major international organizations that supported their Child Safe Spaces.
AMURT recently received funding continuations for the activities in all five camps, and will turn two Spaces into certified, academic schools. Members of these teams also recently received psychosocial, child-trauma training from Project Joy, (see Mountain Xpress)
One visit to an AMURT Child Safe Space leaves no doubt about the effectiveness of the program.
Despite the loss of their homes, schools, in many cases their parents and families, AMURT kids are all hugs and smiles: happy, open and confident — at least during their few hours a day playing with AMURT staff members.
Celebrating summer’s end and the finish of the initial contracts, each of the Child Safe Spaces held a cultural ceremony where the kids performed. The celebration featured songs, dance, original short plays, and karate by the children and some staff members.
The plays held important cultural messages for the children about picking up trash and not cutting down Haiti’s trees.
The finale was a multiple-act play done by the children, telling the story of one mother and her child after the earthquake. After finding her children and shelter in the tent camp, she discovers one daughter is experiencing serious behavioral problems. After taking her to a priest, a doctor and psychologist, the little girl finally finds solace at the AMURT Child Safe Space within their camp.
And, the mother exclaims in the end, “It was even free!”
Here’s a video of portions of the performance: