As Haiti's government raised the confirmed earthquake death toll to 150,000 earlier this week, warning that figure could double, there is particular concern for the well-being of the country's most vulnerable — its young people.
Up to 3 million people are estimated to need aid following the January 12 earthquake. The situation is particularly critical for youth, says UNICEF, since nearly half of all Haitians are under 18 years old and almost 40 percent are under 14. Of the survivors, many thousands of children have been orphaned, lost or separated from their families, leaving them open to health risks, abuse and exploitation. However, young people aren't passively watching the catastrophe unfold. Those within and outside of Haiti are contributing to efforts to raise aid and awareness.
In Jacmel, on Haiti's southern coast, the film school Ciné Institute continues to provide Haitian youth with film education and technical skills training. Despite losing film equipment and having their school reduced to rubble, the students have been documenting the quake's aftermath through photos, Twitter and eyewitness accounts. Here's an account from student Marie Lucie Dubreuse:
“This is the first time I am seeing the damages of an earthquake. I was at Ciné Institute when everything started rolling under our feet. Thank God I wasn’t alone on this unforgettable day. One of my classmates took my hand and ran to the streets with me. That’s when I understood what happened.
I ran home to get my daughter that was home at the time. This has traumatized everyone. We are all alive at Ciné Institute and we are doing our best to inform you of the situation in Jacmel.”
The students are also posting videos. The blog Barking Robot, by Derek E. Baird, calls the captured stories and images “heartbreaking and hard to watch.” This video, for example, compiles the students’ earthquake coverage:
The blog Go Green Toolshed discusses another initiative called Nouvelle Vie *Haiti,* an ongoing project of the International Association of Human Values. The project plans to mobilize 50 Haitian youth who will commit to serving their country for two years. During this time, they will develop skills in trauma relief, food and water security, as well as technology and construction. Meanwhile, Rick Perera, blogging for the humanitarian group CARE, shares stories of how the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Girl Guides have been helping in the city of Léogane. In this post, he talks about a 22-year-old named Joanie Estin:
“Joanie was enjoying the early evening socializing with neighbors outside, as was the custom on the Rue de la Liberté in Léogane, when the unthinkable happened.
Her father was the only one inside the house when it collapsed. They never saw him again. The surviving family members – Joanie, her mother, and six siblings – have been living at a local school, the Écôle des Frères, ever since.
“I was so overwhelmed at first. My mother and I stood still in the middle of the road for about 15 minutes, until the earth calmed. Then we went home, and our house had been completely destroyed.”
Joanie coped the way she always has: by getting down to work. As soon as she could, she found her way back to Ste. Rose de Lima and, with some 50 boys and girls who had survived the earthquake, started rallying.
As many of the local Scouts and Girl Guides who could find each other in the aftermath – 94 in all – began volunteering their services to humanitarian groups, including CARE, that bring critical supplies to survivors in central Léogane.”
Outside of Haiti, youth are also taking steps to help raise money and awareness. In Los Angeles, “Youth Run 4 Haiti” brought together around 3,000 people, youth organizations have posted tips on how to help, youth are being encouraged to send text messages to raise funds, and numerous multimedia initiatives are connecting young people with ongoing relief efforts. Another example: venezuelanalysis.com says that the youth wing of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela is showing solidarity:
“The youth wing of Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) has set up a collection point in central Caracas, for donations of food, medicine, clothing and shoes to send to the people of Haiti.
Heryck Rangel from the PSUV youth said, “We young people want to deepen the internationalist character of the Bolivarian Revolution and highlight solidarity as a socialist value. The Venezuelans have to understand that Haiti is a country that has suffered much and now needs our urgent support.””
Even fashion is playing a role in helping Haitians. The Teens for Jeans drive in the U.S. and Canada is expanding its mission to help homeless Haitian teens. Once the jeans arrive in Haiti, the YMCA Haiti in Port-au-Prince will distribute them, as well as provide other services. The blog Fashion Fling elaborates:
“Want an easy way to help out the teen victims of the Haiti earthquake? Aéropostale and Do Something are teaming up to donate jeans, and you can join them! For every pair of gently worn jeans you donate to the Teens for Jeans program, Aéropostale will donate a brand new pair of jeans to Haiti victims (up to 100,000 pairs). This initiative is part of Do Something's “Teens for Jeans” campaign that's going on now, which raises awareness about the youth homelessness epidemic.”
Various writers and bloggers caution, though, that while short-term relief efforts are important, there must also be an eye towards long-term solutions and rebuilding efforts. Still, Steven Culbertson, blogging on The Huffington Post, says that youth should be acknowledged for their efforts so far:
“Students in schools and universities immediately planned fundraisers in order to send money and supplies to charities providing aid to the earthquake victims. They became a wealth of knowledge, helping to spread the word about ways to provide support through social networking sites. They helped set a new record for money raised by mobile phones…
…We sometimes forget when planning our professional lives around engaging and supporting youth in service that, when the moment comes, children and youth are already poised for action. Thank you to all of the amazing youth out there, around the world, who continue to answer the call to serve.”