Haiti (BCS/MNN) — Kristi Gleason is an International Services Manager with Bethany Christian Services. She works in Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. The following is her update on tent cities in Haiti and what Bethany’s new program, Operation Exodus in Haiti, is hoping to accomplish. The work of Bethany is an answer to the call to exemplify Christ’s love and compassion all around the world.
Bethany Global Services and its partners offer a myriad of family preservation services around the world to help ensure that children grow up in safe, loving families. Nowhere is help of this kind needed more, we believe, than in Haiti. This impoverished nation is still recovering from the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that four years ago destroyed much of the city of Port-au-Prince and killed 200,000 people.
Bethany has been in Haiti with programs for families since 2006, and expanded its services after the earthquake. Operation Exodus in Haiti is a new program, however, specifically focusing on the plight of those still living in “tent cities.” According to a recent NPR article, approximately 150,000 people are still being “housed” in such places. As I know from my own work for Bethany in Haiti, these cities are no place for children. Not only is there no running water or electricity, but families suffer violence and the threat of fires every day. Children can at any time be separated from their families and physically or sexually abused. Mothers and their children have no resources to safely get out, and they need help now.
The same NPR article suggests that outside agencies and organizations should now leave Haiti so the country will continue moving forward with solutions to their needs on its own. But we at Bethany respectfully disagree. Haitians have long struggled with poverty, inequality, and lack of opportunity. Even before the earthquake, an estimated 225,000 children worked as domestic servants (restavek in Creole), more than 50,000 children lived in residential institutions, and close to 3,000 more lived on the streets (UNICEF 2012). Now the continued effects of the earthquake on top of that poverty–especially for those who remain in tent cities–have added to the vulnerability of Haiti’s children.
Operation Exodus in Haiti is designed to get mothers and children safely out of the tent cities and into sustainable housing of their own. Six pilot “tent city” families will receive help with food, schooling, housing, and psycho-social support. We will also provide support meetings, personal and vocational training, the help of a social worker to plan and work toward self-sustainability, and assistance identifying economic enterprise opportunities. The average length of stay in the program will be 36 months.
At the end of May and again in July, I will personally return to Haiti to launch Operation Exodus but also to launch our One Family sponsorship model. You will be able to partner with us by sponsoring one of our Operation Exodus families this summer.
Yes, Haiti needs to learn how to sustain itself. But we at Bethany want to help them preserve their families and learn how to sustain themselves. Our job, therefore, is to put ourselves out of a job in Haiti. Until we accomplish that goal, we will be there. To learn more about how you can partner with us through training or funding, please e-mail us at [email protected].