Child Friendly Spaces in a hostile environment

In the white afternoon sun and dust, about a dozen children run through the barbed wire gate of the camp to one dirt hill after another, urging their plastic bag and stick kites into the air. Their numerous brothers and sisters stay behind with parents or the families living in shelters close to their own, sitting in shade where they can find it, fanning themselves in the relentless heat. Behind where they sit are five hundred families more, all sharing six latrines and with no access to water. While the rain would be a welcome relief, it would also destroy the shelters, mostly constructed of cardboard boxes and old T-shirts whose colors and designs have long since faded in the sun.

More than 60,000 people have left the Dominican Republic to live in camps like this. After the Supreme Court of the Dominican Republic agreed two years ago to uphold a law stripping citizenship from thousands of people of Haitian descent living in the Dominican Republic and an increase of acts of racism and intimidation against Haitians in the country, many Haitians and Haitian-Dominicans have settled in camps just across the Haitian-Dominican border with little water, food, and support of any kind.

It is in this environment, where children have little to nothing do all day and find their educations disrupted that AMURTEL has begun offering summer camps for youth. In two of the three camps in the southern border area of Ansapit, AMURTEL offers summer camps for about 200 young people. The camps provide children with educational activities, a hot meal and water, and time to play and be kids.

In a recent study, Columbia University and World Vision found Child Friendly Spaces like these summer camps to be effective in providing psychosocial support to young children experiencing trauma. “CFSs provide young people with a safe place to play…and experience healing from any trauma they’ve experienced. They also allow children to return to healthy routines and experience a sense of normalcy again,” says Health MacLeod of World Vision.

Child Friendly Spaces are nothing new for AMURTEL Haiti. Since 2010, after the devastating earthquake in Port-au-Prince, AMURTEL has facilitated activities for displaced children and children living in poverty. Now, as the crisis of displaced people worsens along the Haitian-Dominican border, AMURTEL, which has worked in Ansapit for almost ten years and runs schools and empowerment programs in the area reaching more than 700 families, is well positioned to support these vulnerable individuals and, in particular, children, for whom the trauma of relocation, hunger, and insecurity is most acute.

In fact, in enrolling children in the camps, the biggest challenge that AMURTEL staff faces is limiting the size of the camps to a group facilitators can manage. With more funding, AMURTEL could expand the size of these summer camps and provide more robust meals to the participating children.

Mcleod describes, “We know the long-term impact of [children’s] exposure to traumatic events can be huge if not addressed.” It is precisely as these families decide where to go next and how to manage their family’s new and uncertain future outside of the Dominican Republic that their children are most vulnerable. And it now that proven programs like Child Friendly Spaces are most important for those children’s futures.

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