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Helping Haiti's kids cope

Haiti, January 19, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Mercy Corps  </span>
    These children in Gaza participated in our Comfort for Kids program in the aftermath of the Israel-Hamas fighting in early 2009. Photo: Mercy Corps

Watching news coverage and listening to our team on the ground in Port-au-Prince, one heartbreaking fact keeps jumping out at me: Children are at the center of tragedy again.

Approximately half of Haiti’s population is under the age of 18, and children are much more vulnerable to malnutrition and disease than adults. While the physical needs may be striking, children’s emotional needs are just as important.

Children who have been through a trauma like this week’s earthquake need special counseling and healing. Kids look to adults for stability, and their secure, safe routines are very important. When a child sees all of the adults around her in such trauma, her world falls apart.

Children, unlike adults, do not have the experience or judgment required to process this kind of upheaval. For younger kids, this can result in feeling afraid, insecure, or displaying regressive behavior. Older kids can become withdrawn, apathetic, aggressive or anti-social; they often lose interest in school, friends or sports. Intense trauma can have life-long impact.

Mercy Corps will be helping these young, fragile survivors with Comfort for Kids, a counseling methodology developed by Mercy Corps and Bright Horizons, a global workplace childcare provider. Comfort for Kids will provide psychological relief for up to 100,000 child survivors.

We know that Comfort for Kids works; it has helped thousands of kids work through trauma after 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and the Peru (2007) and China (2008) earthquakes.

The Comfort for Kids methodology combines a trauma-training workshop for adults with an interactive workbook that helps children tell their story of the disaster, plus “comfort kits” that contain items like a blanket, a toothbrush and toothpaste and a stuffed animal.

As the board chair of Mercy Corps and the chairman and co-founder of Bright Horizons, I’m so proud to be part of this work. Comfort for Kids provides hope for children in the chaos of life post-disaster, offering them a way to talk about and work through their trauma, and ultimately, regain some kind of stability.