Saturday, April 17, 2010

Save the Children Helps Reunite 9-Year-Old Haitian Child, Missing for Months, with Her Mother and Sisters

Marie-Ange, Believed Dead by Her Family, Overcomes Disaster

Save the Children has helped reunite a 9-year-old girl, who survived Haiti's massive earthquake, domestic servitude and a stampede, with the mother who believed her dead.

About a year before the January 12 earthquake, the girl's mother sent young Marie-Ange to live with an aunt who had agreed to look after her. The mother, Clotide, did not have the means to support her family of four children in their rural mountainous village of Cabaret. Her husband was absent and did not provide for his family. The aunt took Marie-Ange to Port-au-Prince, an unfamiliar city 50 kilometers from home. There she was made to work as a restavek (domestic servant) in her aunt's home.

Marie-Ange, age 9, survived Haiti's massive earthquake, domestic servitude, and a stampede to be reunited with her mother and sisters. April 12, 2010.

When the earthquake struck, the aunt's family fled for downtown Port-au-Prince, where thousands of people had sought haven from their destroyed homes and ongoing aftershocks. Just days after the quake, in the chaos and confusion of the overcrowded camp at Champs de Mars, a rumor that a tsunami was approaching the beleaguered city caused a stampede. Marie-Ange was left behind.

Fortunately Marie-Ange was spotted — alone, standing in the middle of a busy street and obviously in shock — by a man named Mikenson, who asked her where her family was. She replied her aunt had left her and she had nowhere to go.

Mikenson took Marie-Ange home to his wife. Despite their limited means, Mikenson and his family provided shelter, food and clothing to Marie-Ange for more than two months.

Tracing Marie-Ange's Family

Mikenson's sister-in-law works for an organization called Terre des Hommes. She asked Save the Children to try and trace Marie-Ange's family so she that she could be reunited with her mother and sisters.

Save the Children sent two case workers to Mikenson's home in Carrefour, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. They collected information about Marie-Ange and registered her in the Family Tracing and Reunification Program, which identifies unaccompanied children and works to reunite them with their family.

Save the Children is working with the Haitian Ministry of Social Welfare, the Institute de Bien-Etre Social et de Recherches (IBESR), which is the department within the ministry responsible for reunification of separated families, and other humanitarian organizations throughout Haiti to bring families back together.

"After the earthquake, many children have been spontaneously taken in by members of their community and are often fine there," said Georges J. Revolvus, Save the Children's case coordinator. "However, it is necessary to provide help to those who have nowhere to go. We follow up and check in on the children who are receiving informal foster care within their communities and continue to provide protection and help to those who have been separated."

The two case workers interviewed Marie-Ange and then visited Cabaret, where they located Marie-Ange's mother. They also met with her community, verified information they had been provided in Carrefour, and then went back to Mikenson. They explained that they had found Marie-Ange's family.

In the meantime, in Cabaret, Marie-Ange's desperate mother had tried to locate her daughter. She pleaded on the local radio station for information about the little girl. The aunt then went to Cabaret and told Clotide that her daughter had died in the earthquake. It was pointless, she said, to try and look for her. Clotide even visited a voodoo priest, who also told her that Marie-Ange had been killed in the earthquake.

Resigned to the fact that she had lost her little girl, Clotide and the village began mourning the death of Marie-Ange.

Finally, after an extensive investigation and verification process, Clotide was told that Marie-Ange was alive and well.

The Reunion

Clothide is reunited with her daughter, Marie-Ange, who has been missing for months and believed dead. April 12, 2010

IBERS Coordinator Vanel Benjamin, Save the Children case workers and case coordinator, Georges J. Revolvus, took Marie-Ange to her home village in Cabaret. The community greeted them with tears in their eyes.

After embracing Marie-Ange, Clotide said, "I can't thank you enough. You have brought my daughter to me. I thought she was dead. It is amazing to see her again. We are all so happy that Marie-Ange has returned home — we are a family again."

The community praised the work conducted by Terre des Hommes, Save the Children and IBESR in tracing Marie-Ange and bringing her back home. They were especially grateful to Mikenson, who looked after Marie-Ange in the most difficult of circumstances.

About the Family Tracing and Child Reuinfication Program

Today, 20 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are working with the Ministry of Social Welfare and UNICEF to identify unaccompanied children and, if possible, return them to their families. A lead NGO has been assigned to each department in the country, while Port-au-Prince is divided among Save the Children, International Refugee Committee and World Vision.

Save the Children has 20 case workers and two case coordinators working on 209 active cases. They follow each case from registration through reunification. In total, organizations are tracing 767 cases; thus far, 25 children have rejoined their families.

All of these agencies have teams that work from standard questionnaires, conduct interviews and then feed information into a central database.

A call center is available for NGOs to report information on separated or unaccompanied children. Humanitarian organizations and other groups can call the line when they encounter a separated child, who is then registered. They work to ensure children are cared for, usually with spontaneous foster families, while their families are traced.

Save the Children has worked in Haiti for more than 30 years and has child protection teams visiting camps, shelters and communities across Haiti's earthquake zone. These child protection specialists are working with community leaders to ensure the safety of the children during the family reunification process.

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