The Washington Post

Haiti One Year Later: Providing relief for Haitian families

Jan 12, 2011

Heather Paul, CEO of the US headquarters of SOS Children's Villages, will be online Wednesday, Jan. 12, to discuss how the organization has helped bring homes to over 40,000 families, feed over 14,000 Haitians with food weekly, and address concerns as to how Haiti is recovering one year after the earthquake.

Hello, I'm Heather Paul, and as the CEO of SOS Children's Villages in the US, I am  proud to talk about our work in Haiti. We have been in Haiti for over 35 years, and we have  two villages right now for orphaned and abandoned children in Haiti, in Santo and Cap Haitien.  We have done extensive work since the earthquake, with a focus on  on Haiti's most vulnerable populations--its children without parental care--with no voice. We give them that voice by taking them into our villages, searching for their family members or providing them an SOS family. SOS also prevents child abandonment among those parents who desperately need a safety net--by providing food, literacy classes, and counseling--all efforts to keep families.  Here is a full overview of SOS activities in Haiti:

What is the status of the 33 orphaned children who were taken from Haiti by the American missionaries?

SOS Haiti is proud to say that we have reunified all 33 children with their families.  These partents' reasons for trusting strangers with their children are complex and tragic.  A choice to give your child away comes from the desperation of poverty and despair.  Each of these reunited families received food asssistance and other means to keep them together in the future.  This situation brought to the fore a key question:  what happens to children after a natural disaster has torn apart families and communities?  We know the answer is that children are trafficked (eg, sexually-exploited and enslaved) because they have no voice and no one to love and care for them.  That's why the principles of SOS are so important:  every child should be nurtured, protected, and given a loving family who will ensure their rights to that family, an education, and a bright future.

What are SOS Children's Villages long-term plans in Haiti?

SOS Haiti indeed has long-term plans.  We are building a new Village for over 200 children without parental care in Les Cayes.  We are also working with the Haitian government to build public schools and to provide teacher training.

How did SOS Children's Villages spend the money it raised in Haiti?

SOS knows the importance of transparency with donors and the public.  SOS has raised money from all over the world to provide for three phases of relief.  The first phase covered the first months after the earthquake.  Immediate protection of children, food, and water supplies and housing were paramount.  The second and third phases require more long-term planning with the Haitian government, which will include Family Strengthening Programs and school construction, as well as a new SOS Village.

What do you think is the "coolest" or most inspiring thing that SOS Children's Villages has done for Haiti?

There are at least two "cool" things.  We have provided experimental, mid-term shelters, polypropelene houses that have given hundreds of children a sense of family -- far better than tents.  We also have hosted Angelina Jolie in our SOS Santo Village when she came to Haiti.  The children of SOS Santo, of course, will remember her visit forever and thought it was VERY, VERY COOL.

What are some of the other things that SOS Children's Villages is currently doing across the globe?

With 500 Villages in 132 countries, our work is important and fascinating.  We have hundreds of schools in rural areas where there is no other means of education.  We have solar-powered facilities, 14,000 feet high in the mountainous terrain of Leh, Ladakh, on the Indian-Chinese border.  We have literacy programs for tens of thousands of girls in countries where gender-discrimination keeps women in ignorance and powerlessness.  We also have a 40-year track record in Africa, where education is placed as the highest priority for SOS Children and impoverished children in the community.  For this work, we have honored with Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize in 2002. 

Good afternoon, Heather- My question stems from having watched last night's FRONTLINE on PBS, "Battle For Haiti" in which some startling facts were revealed about the present state of Haiti. Here are some that I recall- of the 4,500+ prisoners that escaped one year ago, only 700-some have been recaptured. The others run ramped through the hundred tent cities that are ruled by gangs. The judicial system in Haiti is pretty much non-existent, where some inmates had/have been incarcerated for 1-4 years while awaiting their court hearing. That the person accused of stealing a chicken is cramped into an overcrowded jail cell with rapists and murderers. So cramped are the cells that the inmates are forced to stand shoulder-to-shoulder, like sardines, only to take turns laying down for 10 minutes at a time. That there are hundreds of rapes in the tent camps still occurring every month. It seems that the many NGOs in Haiti currently provide the bare minimum for the welfare of the enormous displaced population that ought to have the support and leadership from the Haitian government. If Haiti is to truly have a chance at rebuilding its country--one that was already failing before the quake--it seems to me that more will be needed than the temporary band-aid approach by NGOs we see today. The fact that so much rubble still lies in the town of Port du Prince today, illustrates the severity of a dysfunctional government currently in place. Until the rule of law is upheld and enforced in Haiti, all the lawlessness will continue, business-as-usual. Are there any significant signs of progress in the work your organization, SOS Children's Villages, is doing that may steer Haiti in the right direction?

Thanks for your in-depth question--despite the painfully slow aspects of Haiti post-earthquake consruction, ther are pockets of progress and therefore pockets of hope.  SOS is prime example of Haiti's progress and potential.  SOS Villages in Haiti now care for over 700 children without parental care and we search for their families every day.  Our school in Santo now educates nearly 1,000 students and it is Haiti's children who are the hope of the future.  SOS is also working on assisting the Haitian government rebuild its public schools.

Does Angelina Jolie help SOS Children's Villages often or in other endeavors?

Angelina Jolie has supported SOS in Ethiopia, Chad, Jordan, Haiti, and in the United States.  She is a loyal supporter -- and not only for her financial contributions.  Angelina visits our Villages and inpsires the children.  She speaks on our behalf whenever she can.  And her heart-felt commitment to children who desperately need families is real - so is her understanding of the need for child protection through legislation, enforcement, and systemic change.

The work SOS is doing is amazing! Thank you! Can you talk about some of your education initiatives for the children of SOS?

First and foremost, we commit to EVERY SOS child completing a high school education, oftentimes in countries where literacy rates are below 50 percent.  Our overall goal is to build the capacity of every country's public education system.  Examples of our schools that prepare young people to have gainful employment and give back to their communities include:

- A vocational school in Kara, Togo, for hundreds of young men and women to learn the trades, computer science, and other vocations that will provide them a sound living in the local economy.

- We also have taken up the challenge of providing nursing education in some of the most troubled areas of the world.  Our nursing program in Mogadishu, Somalia, turns our nurses under conditions of civil unrest that have disrupted classwork but never destroyed the spirit.  Nurses continue to graduate and provide sorely-needed healthcare to their communities.

- And of course, there is Haiti, where nearly 1,000 children in two shifts carry on the mormalcy of gettign an education when over 4,000 schools were destroyed or damaged in the earthquake.

Does SOS work outside of Haiti?

SOS has over 500 Villages in over 132 countries, a network that has been established over half a century ago.  Because of this track record in raising children without parental care, we have a strong expertise in child development and child protection.

Your answer regarding corruption seemed a little soft considering what is obvious to any objective viewer. Do you feel that you can't honestly discuss this issue without some sort of retaliation towards your organization? Is the Haitian government truly interested in progress or are they more concerned with become the next ruling elite that will cash out in ten years or so like all successive regimes?

There is no question that egregious conditions in Haiti include corruption.  However, there are always a number of factors that lie beneath any sweeping generalization about a society's failures.  Colonialism, misdirected foreign aid, international food policy, and historic failures in national and global leadership now must be addressed in order to make Haiti a more democratic palce.  Corruption is not unique to Haiti and comes in many direct and indirect forms around the world.  Haiti's corruption, no doubt, will be greatly minimized by the rule and force of law, an educated populace, international trade, and a democratic desire for full citizen participation.

I believe that Haitians should be rebuilding their countries themselves. What is your policy with regards to the people of Haiti rebuilding vs NGOs rebuilding for them?

I agree that the future of Haiti is in Haitian hands.  That's why SOS considers Haitian public education as a first priority for a new Haiti of the future.  SOS Haiti is managed by Haitians and has at its core Haitian SOS Mothers who give families to Haitian children who have none.  Every step of the way, SOS Haiti works collaboratively with the Haitian government to ensure that its own plans are in concert with government plans - for new public schools and better trained teachers. 


How is SOS funded and approximately how many people are served by your efforts?

Hundreds of thousands of generous individuals and corporations worldwide support SOS Children's Villages, as do governments that provide child subsidies and land for SOS facilities including homes, local schools, medical clinics, and daycare.  We raise nearly 80,000 children without parental care and nearly a million more at-risk children through our family strengthening programs.

I see Global Village Builder on your web site. Sounds interesting. What is a Global Village Builder and how does this help in Haiti?

Becoming a "Global Village Builder" means that a donor can experience all the ways in which an SOS Village serves the needs of children.  For a modest monthly donation, a person receives in-depth information on SOS Mothers, school activities, or how daycare programs change the lives of small children and their mothers.  It is a simple and interesting way to experience an SOS Village without traveling thousands of miles!  For more information, please visit our website at 

What happens to children once they leave the SOS Village?

Just as in most of our families, children belong to us forever.  We offer transitional assistance to our youth for housing, job training and placement, and advanced schooling.  After you have been with SOS, in truth, you are never alone.

I haven't heard of SOS Children's Villages before, but it sounds like you're doing great things. Is there anything your group is particularly known for?

We ate doing all we can to raise awareness for SOS in the US.  Having supporters like Angelina Jolie  goes a long way in creating this awareness.  Just as we say on our website, we are the world's largest organization that raises children without parental care.  Unlike other organizations dedicated to at-risk children, we have over 500 Villages with concrete facilities that can be visited and can be held up to high standards in positive outcomes.  We make a long-term investment in children, just as other families do. 

In closing, I am happy to have had this opportunity on the first anniversary of this terrible event in Haiti.  A year later, SOS Children's Villages is a testament to the hope,  progress, and potential of the Haitian people.  For more information, please visit our website,  Thank you for participating!

In This Chat
Heather Paul
Heather Paul is CEO of the US headquarters of SOS Children?s Villages, with its mission to support the SOS global network through fundraising and advocacy. Heather travels extensively promoting SOS villages and community-based family strengthening activities. She also works closely with major donors, foundations and global corporations in support of 500 SOS Villages. As the former Executive Director of the National SAFE KIDS Campaign for a decade, Heather has a diverse background in children?s issues, public policy, communications and research. She has lived in the Philippines where she taught and participated in anthropological fieldwork. Heather also has held other positions in Washington, DC including Vice President of the National Health Council and Senior Research Associate with the US Department of Health and Human Services. Heather holds a doctorate in American Studies from the University of Maryland, a Masters in American Literature and a B.A. in English from Ohio Wesleyan University.
Recent Chats
  • Next: