Detective Work in Haiti: Finding Families
By the IRC's Melissa Winkler, who recently returned from Port-au-Prince, Haiti
IRC caseworker Alienne Cadet scours Haiti’s camps in an effort to reunite families separated during January’s devastating earthquake. (Photo: Melissa Winkler/The IRC)
(1 Apr 2010) Centre Dadadou is a former sports complex in Port-au-Prince, but it’s now home to thousands of homeless earthquake survivors and it’s one of several settlements where my colleague Alienne Cadet is registering children separated from family members during the disaster in January. Before the quake, she was a kindergarten teacher. Now she’s a caseworker with the International Rescue Committee. Every day Alienne combs the congested sites and quake-ravaged neighborhoods that she’s assigned to, identifying children without parents, extracting critical information about their family history and pursuing every possible lead to find caring relatives. On this day, she takes cover from the brutal heat underneath a tarp and interviews more than a dozen children, including this young girl who was living with her aunt before the earthquake. The child tells Alienne that her mom died long ago. She has no idea if her father survived but would like to find him. She says her aunt was injured during the quake and is no longer able to care for her.
The IRC has 16 caseworkers registering separated children and tracing relatives in the hardest hit areas of Port-au-Prince. (Photo: Melissa Winkler/The IRC)
The IRC is one of the lead organizations coordinating a multi-agency effort to identify and register separated children and ensure their immediate needs are being met while relatives are located and families are reconnected. The registry that the IRC helps manage had nearly 600 children in it by the end of March and the IRC has been designated nearly half the cases. It’s incredibly arduous and exhausting work to collect the information and connect the dots, particularly in a disaster the scale of the Haiti earthquake. “We’re doing everything we can to help these children have a future,” Alienne told me. Some days do have happy endings. So far, our 16 caseworkers have been able to reunite nine families.
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Special Report: Crisis in Haiti