Hoping to harness the energy and enthusiasm of young people, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has recruited dozens of them to help drive the reconstruction effort in the wake of last month’s catastrophic Haiti earthquake.
One of the 66 youth volunteers, Louis Anglade, 20, was studying to be a psychologist when the 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck the impoverished Caribbean nation on January 12.
He hopes to return to his studies eventually because “as the country rebuilds, it’s going to need that kind of help,” he said, noting that for now, he is honing his ability to work with people in a time of extraordinary stress and vulnerability.
With young people between the ages of 15 and 24 comprising nearly one quarter of Haiti’s population, UNFPA believes they could be a powerful force as the country, already the poorest in the Western Hemisphere before the quake, seeks to recover.
The volunteers are working to improve the health of residents of makeshift shelters across the hardest-hit city and capital, Port-au-Prince, by providing supplementary food for 53,000 children and 16,000 pregnant and new mothers as part of a programme bringing together UN agencies, their partners and the Haitian Ministry of Public Health and Population.
Working in teams of two, the volunteers visit camps, meet with local leaders, and identify women and children in need of food supplements after the quake, which has claimed over 200,000 lives.
On the first day, they explain the program and distribute de-worming medication for young children and vouchers for food, which is supplied the following day. Pregnant and lactating mothers and children ages 3-5 receive three-week rations of high-energy biscuits, while younger children are given plumpy nut, a ready-to-eat formula to prevent acute malnutrition of vulnerable children.
The project’s success will be evaluated before the three-week mark, said Nikette Ormélus, UNFPA’s youth program manager in Haiti.