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Haiti: One year after the earthquake
By Helen Burchell
BBC Cambridgeshire

Sebastian in Haiti - copyright CBM/shelley
Sebastian lost his leg in the earthquake and was helped by CBM UK

One year on from the earthquake in Haiti, not enough has been done to help those affected, according to Cambridgeshire charities working there.

The 7.0 magnitude quake struck 10 miles from the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince on 12 January 2010.

Elizabeth Tofaris is from SOS Children's Villages which runs two purpose-built homes in Haiti.

"There are still over one million children and families living in terrible tent cities," she said.

An estimated 230,000 people died, 300,000 others sustained injuries that could lead to a disability, and 1.3 million people were displaced and forced to live in temporary shelter camps following the earthquake.

'Change lives sustainably'

But, as Elizabeth Tofaris from Cambridge-based SOS explained, Haiti was already suffering before the earthquake hit.

"One child in 13 was dying before the age of five and half of Haiti's children weren't even attending school," she said.

Children in Haiti queue for food
Children holding plates, waiting for meals at an SOS food distribution point

"So even before, there was a lot to be done. We were there before the earthquake and we'll stay there."

She described conditions in the tent cities as appalling and said there was still very little available water or medicine.

"We really do need to think about long-term rebuilding, but because of the cholera outbreak and the hurricane, a proper reconstruction programme has yet to begin.

"Since the earthquake we've welcomed in hundreds more children to our two SOS villages, which provide purpose-built homes for orphaned and abandoned children, and we're now extremely crowded."

She continued: "We managed to reunite 165 children with their parents, but if we can't find the families of the rest of them, they will continue to live with us for the long term."

SOS Children's Villages has also set up 16 feeding centres and around 14,000 children are receiving daily meals there.

"We're really thinking about reconstruction though, and we've turned out a 12-year plan, which is so important because we need to change lives sustainably through education, housing and medical centres that will help Haiti in the long term. This isn't just about emergency aid.

"We've been working in Haiti since 1979 and we've got no plans of going anywhere," said Mrs Tofaris.

"In fact, we're going to be building a third village in Les Cayes, in south-western Haiti, just to help us cope with the number of children orphaned by the quake."

Debilitating injuries

Another Cambridge organisation, CBM, an overseas disability charity, initially provided food, water and emergency medical care in the days following the earthquake.

Like SOS, the charity was already well-established in Haiti.

Marevie at the SOS Santo village in Haiti
One-year-old Marevie now has a new SOS family in Santo, Haiti.

Its physiotherapists and medical staff have continued to work with victims of the quake, and to date it has helped more than 70,000 survivors, many of whom suffered debilitating injuries.

David Young was one of CBM's volunteer physiotherapists. He spent three weeks in Haiti in February 2010.

During the past year he has given illustrated talks to physiotherapists and students about his work, and the injuries sustained by the Haitian people he met.

"I have tried to keep up to date with what is happening out there," he told the BBC. "I am aware of the devastating cholera outbreak but it can be frustrating when the British media doesn't feature Haiti regularly and it can be difficult to stay on the ball at times.

"Reflecting on my time there, I find it very hard when I think about the individuals I met and worked with. Since I left I'm not aware of how the people I treated are doing, and that can be upsetting."

'Global response'

Pete Skelton, another CBM physiotherapist, spent a month in Haiti after the earthquake and spoke of the "profound dignity with which the overwhelming majority carried on their lives".

"They did not talk of their personal tragedies, but did their best to help out where they could, or simply to survive," he said.

He agreed that not enough had been done to force progress.

"The global response to the disaster was overwhelming, with endless promises of funding and aid, and teams of well-intentioned individuals arriving from all over the world to try to lend a hand.

"Forward to today, where news teams, disaster tourists and celebrities have largely left the country behind, and you find a country blighted by a cholera epidemic which has killed almost 2,000 people, where 1.3 million people continue to live in temporary camps, where security continues to worsen, many people cannot access the healthcare that they need and where donor pledges have yet to materialise."

In spite of this, Mr Skelton remained optimistic.

"In a country where everyone knows someone with a disability, discriminatory attitudes must now be challenged.

"There must be hope that as the construction efforts pick up pace, issues of access, employment, and education for those with disabilities will be prioritised, and that discrimination can be fought by Haitians at every step."

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