PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (November 15, 2011) — Children run after a small truck winding its way through Centre d'Hebergement Tabarre 23, a crowded camp where hundreds of people live in tents of plastic sheeting and shacks of wood and tin.
The truck stops outside a child-friendly space — a safe, supervised place for children to play — where boxes are slowly unloaded, revealing a wealth of toys, art supplies, soap and other materials.
Five-year-old Aliya Nissa Charlite peers eagerly into the boxes, spying colorful plush animals, crayons, paper, scissors and towels, items she and other children will be using here in the weeks to come, all thanks to a partnership between IKEA, UNICEF and a local NGO.
IKEA, the international Swedish furnishings company donated the toys, valued at about US$140,000. UNICEF added hygiene kits to the delivery to encourage recipients to wash their hands.
During the first phase of the distribution, supplies are being delivered child-friendly spaces operated by UNICEF partner Heartland Alliance, in 30 camps around the country. Some 20,000 children will be reached over 15 days. A second phase of distribution will focus on residential care centers.
For Haiti's children — who continue to be affected by the devastating 2010 earthquake, an ongoing cholera epidemic and persistent poverty — these materials are not just diversions from their daily routine. The toys offer important opportunities for play and creative expression, and the hygiene kits will help protect them from cholera and other dangerous diseases.
Children are not the only ones to benefit from this partnership. The supplies are being prepared for distribution by members of Solidarité des Femmes Haïtiennes (SOFA), a Haitian association that advocates on behalf of women, including victims of gender-based violence.
"Our organization is a very strong community of women helping each other," said 53-year old Yvose Edouard, a member of SOFA. "We provide women with medical assistance, we organize workshops on how they can protect themselves, and we also provide short-term housing for women who don't want to return home because they are afraid of being abused," she explained.
SOFA's role is helping empower women through economic independence. For packing the toys and kits, SOFA members earn 500 Gourdes per a day, or about US$13.
"Involving women of SOFA in this initiative demonstrates just how much of a win-win project this is," said Françoise Gruloos-Ackermans, UNICEF's Representative in Haiti. "Women have an opportunity to earn an income by preparing the distribution of donated toys for children in IDP camps, all of which is made by possible by the UNICEF-IKEA partnership."
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