Port au Prince, June 1, 2012
Alma’s house didn’t fall the day the earthquake hit.
Like most of Haiti’s cheaply made homes, occupied by the country’s poorest, it was made of concrete. And, vulnerable to even the slightest seismic activity, it was nothing more than chance that kept it safe.
The small building near the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince had never been much to look at, but it was the only place 19-year-old Alma called home. And despite the fortune that kept it standing, it would be over four months until she could rest her head there again.
The Haitian earthquake of 2010 devastated a country already suffering from poverty, environmental issues and an uncertain political landscape.
And when the disaster struck, an estimated one-and-a-half million people had been made homeless in a matter of hours.
300,000 were dead by the day’s end.
Along with her sister, and their single mother who cared for them, Alma’s family were forced to leave their home village to move to a nearby refugee camp named Parc Jean-Marie Vincent. Such camps became the default residence for the vast majority of those who had found themselves homeless.
The challenges they faced there demonstrate how vulnerable the country is.
Talking to Laureus.com about her memories of the camp, Alma says: “It was dangerous, I felt it, really. There was no security. The place was full of criminals who would steal your belongings. And even rapists.”
A 2010 report looking into the conditions at the Parc Jean-Marie Vincent camp make difficult reading, and demonstrate the reality of Alma’s experience. The paper suggests that violence (both sexual and physical), food security and access to water made life incredibly difficult for those forced to live there.
It was for these reasons that Alma, along with her sister and mother, moved away from the camp as soon as they were able, even if that was not back home quite yet.
Alma says: “After a month we felt we had to move. We found a place to stay at a small church, where we slept in a tent. But it was still many months before we felt safe enough to return home.”
Amongst the hardship, the insecurity of the camps and not knowing when she would ever have a proper roof over her head again, one of the things Alma found hardest to deal with was something rather closer to home.
And that was not being able to go to school for all this time.
Despite the challenges faced by young people in Haiti when it comes to accessing education, this is one area in which Alma has always been passionate.
It is also an area of her life where she has consistently excelled.
Alma completed her Baccalaureate studies a remarkable two years early, following which she began reading for a degree in Pedagogical Studies; the science of education.
And it is this passion for teaching that found an unlikely outlet from life in the camp.
Working across Haiti is the Laureus-supported Sport sans Frontieres project (SSF) whose work can be described as the next stage of support following initial post-disaster relief.
At a time when major emergency operations in the country are beginning to slow down and, ultimately, conclude, the work of SSF involves promoting the ongoing security of thousands of the country's most vulnerable people by offering unique education opportunities.
And working with organisations in the country such as schools, the tool through which these opportunities are given is sport.
One SSF initiative being provided to the young people of the camps includes leadership education. The purpose is to encourage ongoing employment aspirations and the confidence levels of young people that had been undermined following the disaster.
During her time at Parc Jean-Marie Vincent, meanwhile, it came to the project’s attention that Alma loved sports herself, particularly basketball.
And when SSF discovered her passion for teaching as well, they were confident she could be the perfect person to benefit from this leadership training and to even help deliver their work to disadvantaged young people in the area.
And this was exactly what Alma agreed to do.
Now, directly because of Laureus support for SSF, Alma has been able to take what she has learnt to help teach two groups of young Haitian orphans, helping bring comfort and happiness to some of the most neglected and vulnerable young children of the country.
Demonstrating her passion for her work, Alma, pictured above with some of the orphans she works with, says: “It is great to give something back to children from the experience I was given. Working with children in education has always been a goal of mine.”
Alma now works in two orphanages for Sport sans Frontieres with whom she organises uplifting sports activities for children and young people there aged 3-17.
But there remains a potentially life-saving element to these games as well.
The Chef de Mission of the SSF project in Haiti, Aurelie Peter-Contesse, tells Laureus.com: “We have four different topics in sensitisation: gender, environment and health issues, but also disaster education. [With these games] we help make children and young people sensitive to how it is best to behave during a disaster.”
Despite the area’s susceptibility to earthquakes, these valuable lessons are all too frequently not given in Haitian schools. And the reason for teaching them these life skills through sport is clear for Peter-Contesse. She says: “Our methodology, based on games, helps children to better take in these lessons than when in front of a blackboard in school. Here they have to move, act and discuss the issues themselves, not just listen.”
The belief is that through the dedication of young people like Alma, other youngsters will learn how to behave in ways most likely to save their lives during earthquakes. Ultimately, the goal is to stop future natural disasters becoming humanitarian tragedies.
It is just as Peter-Contesse says: “Thousands of deaths could have been saved in the 2010 earthquake, if people had only known how to react.”
Help give more children the chance to learn the priceless life-lessons that sport can teach. Whatever you can afford to give goes directly to sports projects helping to give disadvantaged children a better life: http://www.laureus.com/donateus