Mercy Corps joins forces with Haiti’s First Lady to help children recover from earthquake trauma


February 11, 2010

Port-au-Prince, HAITI – The global relief and development agency Mercy Corps is partnering with Haiti's First Lady, Elisabeth Delatour Préval, to help heal the children of Haiti. Mercy Corps' Comfort for Kids training for adult caregivers will complement the First Lady and UNICEF's arts and play activities in Port-au-Prince tent camps.

“This partnership is the manifestation of the First Lady’s and our mutual concern for the emotional well-being of Haiti's children after the devastating January 12th earthquake,” said Linda Mason, Mercy Corps board chair and the co-founder of the global workplace childcare provider Bright Horizons. “Children’s physical health is critical, but their emotional needs are just as pressing.” Mason met with the First Lady last week.

The partnership will kick off with pilot projects this coming week. The First Lady and UNICEF will organize “safe spaces” in camps to run arts, sports and music activities for children. Mercy Corps will run simultaneous sessions – in French and Creole – to educate parents and caregivers about child symptoms of trauma and how they can be address.

“Comfort for Kids training for adults is the perfect complement to our work with children,” explained First Lady Elisabeth Delatour Préval. “While children gain positive outlets for their energy and build self esteem through structured play, parents will learn how they can best help their children work through earthquake-related trauma.

The trainings will eventually include carefully devised workbooks tailored to the language and culture of Haitian children. These will help caregivers talk to children about the disaster they witnessed, and address difficult questions regarding death, grieving and related issues. Mercy Corps will also distribute “comfort kits” that contain soothing, age-appropriate items such as blankets, stuffed animals and sippy cups.

Comfort for Kids adult trainings started last week in Port-au-Prince and were very well received. Two trainings in the Tabarre section of the city drew nearly 100 teachers, nurses, day-care providers and others. Participants discussed children’s signs of trauma and how these can be treated, as well as their own emotional health since the quake.

“Children in the earthquake zone are in desperate need of help. Their worlds have fallen apart and they are deeply afraid – of another earthquake, of being alone, of being inside buildings. Unlike adults, children do not have the experience or judgment to process trauma,” said Griffen Samples, Mercy Corps technical advisor for Comfort for Kids.

According to Samples, untreated children can develop serious, sometimes life-long problems: regressive or anti-social behavior, depression, aggression, and difficulties in school.

Comfort for Kids was originally developed to help children in New York City recover from the emotional scars of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The program has subsequently assisted thousands of children in post-disaster environments including New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and following severe earthquakes in Peru (2007) and the Sichuan province of China (2008).

“Comfort for Kids empowers local caregivers – parents, older siblings, teachers, family friends – to intervene, end a child’s cycle of trauma, and pave the way for these children to be a positive part of Haiti’s future,” explains Mason.

Comfort for Kids is just one aspect of Mercy Corps’ comprehensive response to the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that rocked Haiti last month. The agency’s team of expert emergency responders is addressing the immediate humanitarian needs on the ground, providing food, water and sanitation services. Mercy Corps is also working to boost economic recovery through cash-for-work programs that provide earthquake survivors a daily wage to perform essential tasks like clearing debris and water drainage systems.