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The violence in Haiti traumatizes children. Now the helpers want to break the taboo and talk about mental disorders

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Jadlenzky Louis shows a drawing he made of an event he witnessed. A gunman attacks a police station. The young witness to violence drew his traumas in a class where parents learn how to deal with their children’s experiences. Photo: Ramon Espinosa/AP/NTB

Of NTB | 16.05.2024 06:09:35

Education: The only way principal Roseline Ceragui Louis manages to calm the students is to make them lie on the classroom floor while she sings softly to them.

– It is not possible to work in such an environment. It a disaster. The students are traumatized, says Ceragui Louis to the news agency AP.

An organized attack on the airport, several police stations and two large prisons was the trigger for the new widespread violence. More than 4,000 prisoners were freed, and Haiti’s largest airport has been closed since the February 29 attack. In addition, around 900 schools are closed. It affects 200,000 pupils.

– The children are left to themselves. Without help and without protection. More than 80 children have been killed or injured in the first three months of the year. It is the most violent period we have recorded, says Unicef’s representative in Haiti, Bruno Maes.

Among the many victims, we find two boys who were hit in the head on the way to school and an eight-year-old who was shot in the stomach while she was playing at home.

– My heart is broken, but I see the students smiling every single day, she says.

But there are many students who fall asleep in class without the ability to focus after sleepless nights with the sound of gunfire. Others have more important things to think about than a good night’s sleep.

– It’s hard to concentrate on school or play when the rest of your body worries about whether mum and dad are alive when you get home from school, says Steve Grossom. He is the founder of the American voluntary organization Life is Gérye Playmaker Project.

One of the founders of Gérye Jwa Playmakers, Jean Guerson Sanon, emphasizes how important it is for parents to interact with their children to improve their mental health.

– Sometimes that’s all we have. Conversations about mental health are still taboo. If you go to a psychologist it’s because you’re crazy. Crazy people are discriminated against in Haiti, says Jean Guerson Sanon to AP.

A 24-year-old man says he was in a gang for five years. For security reasons, he will only give his surname Nornile. For him, it was about the gang giving him the money he needed to get more food for his family.

In the evening, he could work as a security guard for the gang leader. During the day he ran errands. He felt proud of the trust, but decided to quit when his brother was killed by gangs in 2022.

– In the ghetto they don’t fight for education or hospitals. The gang members fight for territory. They only think about themselves, says Nornile.

Criminal gangs now control most of the Haitian capital. Since the unrest began on February 29, more than 2,500 people have been killed. In an effort to save the youngest generation, Haiti is now attempting to break longstanding taboos against seeking therapy and talking about mental health.

Unicef ​​states that at least 360,000 people have left their homes as a result of the violence. Most are women and children. In addition, children make up at least a third of the estimated 10,000 victims of sexual violence.

Principal Roseline Ceragui Louis says that her 10-year-old son tells her every day that she is going to die. The son is unable to eat or sleep, but the principal knows that she must be strong for her son and her students.

With hundreds of schools closed, great poverty and traumatic everyday experiences, the children also become easy prey for the criminal gangs. Unicef ​​estimates that children make up around half of the armed gangs.

(© NTB)

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