In Haiti, helped by religious communities, children flee the violence

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By Redaction Réforme with AFP

Temporarily separated from their parents, children try to forget the violence of the Haitian gangs with the help of religious communities.

Jump rope, dominoes and manual labor: At the Saint-Louis de Gonzague school, which has been converted into a refuge, more than 300 Haitian children are trying to forget, at least for a time, the gang violence that forced them to flee their home. Temporarily separated from their parents, they pass the time by resting on the fine foam mattresses installed on the concrete floors of this establishment in the capital, Port-au-Prince, between two activities organized by monitors.“They are traumatized, but if they start playing football, they become children again”explains to AFP Sister Paesie, director of the Kizoto organization responsible for their accommodation in this school run by Catholic brothers.

“But when you start talking to them, you realize they’ve seen terrible things”, continues the French nun who has lived in Haiti for twenty-three years. Almost two weeks ago, in the town of Cité Soleil where these young people lived, in the suburbs of Port-au-Prince, the violence grew again. The municipality has become a battleground between rival gangs. More than 471 people were killed, wounded or missing between July 8 and July 17, according to the latest UN tally. And many had to flee. The vast majority of rescued children have lost their homes to arson by gang members, according to Sister Paesie. “A mother had her little baby inside her house: He was killed by being burned in the dwelling. A little girl saw her father burned in front of her”she lists.

A very risky evacuation

Among the inhabitants of the Saint-Louis school is Dieula Dubrévil, a refugee with her four children. This woman with a fragile silhouette and drawn features had to immediately flee the scenes of violence. “Bullets landed inside my house,” she recalls with dread. “My husband came out, they beat him. They martyred him and wounded him in the head”adds Dieula Dubrévil, who has not heard from her husband for more than two weeks.

“Everyone helps us here in Saint-Louis”, for her part, Nicole Pierre, mother of nine children and one of the rare adults who was able to escape from the confrontation zone at the same time as the youngest, testifies. His brother was not so lucky. He was killed, shot in the stomach, while trying to leave their neighborhood. In total, more than 800 children and twenty adults managed to escape from Cité Soleil thanks to religious communities at the cost of a very risky evacuation operation.

Food aid

“The principal of one of our schools was very brave because the guys (gang members, editor’s note) had their guns pointed at her”says Sister Paesie. “She spoke to them and told them they were only children and she managed to lure them”, the nun remembers. The evacuees were gradually distributed among six accommodations, including the Saint-Louis de Gonzague school.

The school children’s chairs and desks have been pushed back along the walls, staff have turned a classroom into a depot for storing clothes and hygiene products donated by NGOs and individuals. Humanitarian organizations have provided assistance: the World Food Program has delivered more than 10,000 hot meals in all the places where unaccompanied minors have settled.

leave their refuge

Enjoying this respite from the violence, the families know that the welcome is only temporary. As the start of the school year approaches, they must leave their refuge in a few weeks. “People who have family outside Cité Soleil will go to the relatives”, but half of the refugees have “no alternative reception solution”cares about sister Paesie.

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