The power of play

Haiti, December 29, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Ben Depp for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Mercy Corps’ Moving Forward mentors “are instilling good values in us,” says Herma Pierre, 13. Photo: Ben Depp for Mercy Corps
  <span class="field-credit">
    Ben Depp for Mercy Corps  </span>
    “The kids have developed a belonging to this program,” says mentor Frantz Francois. “It’s a safe place where they are happy.” Photo: Ben Depp for Mercy Corps

Herma Pierre, 13, is beating the odds. She survived the earthquake. And she’s growing up in Port-au-Prince’s toughest slum. Six years ago, Cité Soleil was a war zone. Violence has subsided in recent years, but for girls like Herma, guns and gangs still pose a serious threat.

Today, Herma is on the field of the Pax Christi Haiti youth organization, participating in Mercy Corps’ Moving Forward sports program. “I love everything we do here,” she says. “The mentors treat us great!” She grins at Frantz Francois, the program’s local Mercy Corps-trained mentor.

For both Herma and Frantz, Moving Forward does more than give kids a chance to play — it helps them develop as individuals. Games teach skills in constructive communication and teamwork. Playing builds resilience and self-esteem. The goal is to equip young people to overcome incredible obstacles — natural disaster, conflict or, in Herma’s case, both.

“After the earthquake, I was very discouraged,” says Herma, who connects her experiences and Moving Forward with surprising insight. “There’s this game where you fall down but you have to get right back up,” she says. “That’s a life lesson! They’re showing us a lot about life here, including never losing hope.”

Frantz, who grew up in Cité Soleil, notices the way Moving Forward has helped transform the neighborhood. “Cité Soleil has always been this infamously dangerous place,” he says. “But look now.” He gestures at the kids happily playing. “These activities have changed these kids.”

Moving Forward changes adults, too. “Mercy Corps gave me more [profes- sional] training,” Frantz says. “I want to say a big thank you to Mercy Corps, because this program invests in people, in children, in who they are.”

He points to a banner strung up next to a goal post. “That’s part of the positive message we’re showing them.” It says: Haitian children are Haiti.