The Long Road Back for Haiti's Children

It was 13 weeks ago, just before 5 in the afternoon, when the earth shook violently under the feet of some of the poorest people on the planet -- the people of Haiti.

Two hundred thirty thousand died. Three hundred thousand more were injured. More than 2 million lost their homes or were forced to leave them.

Among them was a 13-year-old boy we first met shortly after the quake hit. For him, and the entire nation of Haiti, it is a long road back, CBS News Anchor Katie Couric reports.

Haiti's Long Road Back

Three days after the earthquake, the boy's screamseemed to capture the anguish of an entire nation.

It's hard to imagine what was more difficult for 13-year-old Pierre Larousse to bear: the doctors trying to set his broken leg or the knowledge that both his parents were dead.

(Scroll down to see how Katie Couric met Pierre Larousse)

After the earthquake, Larousse ultimately ended up in one of the 26 makeshift hospitals set up by Doctors Without Borders. With the help of our colleague in Haiti, Sebastian, we found Larousse last week in surprisingly good health and good spirits.

"How are you?" Couric asked.

"I'm fine," Larousse said.

"Does your leg still hurt?" Couric asked.

"No," Larousse said.

Larousse's nurse said there are no lasting effects of the head injury he sustained, and the cast he's wearing comes off Friday.

Katie Couric in Haiti Photos

Brigitte Guerber-Cahuzac of Doctors Without Borders said she believes he is doing very well.

"You believe he'll be like a normal 13-year-old boy?" Couric asked.

"I'm sure," Guerber-Cahuzac said. "He wants to play football."

But where, and with whom, Larousse will live is uncertain. His grandmother, already caring for two older children and a niece, lives in a tent. When we asked if she could care for Larousse, she offered an unassuring yes.

"Oui, oui," the grandmother said.

And school? Larousse said he wants to go back, but his was destroyed, so this year is lost.

Larousse's plight is all too common throughout this ravaged country. Some 2 million children were traumatized, injured or left homeless by the quake, according to Save the Children.

Thousands have been separated from their families, according to the International Rescue Committee. With as many as 4,000 schools reduced to rubble, nearly 3 million children are being deprived an education, according to UNICEF.

Some believe the earthquake might actually change Haiti for the better.

"Hopefully now they will build more schools, and we'll be able to learn a profession," Ganahelle Pierre, a 10-year-old displaced student, said through a translator.

At Sacre Coeur, or Sacred Heart, it's the first day of school for hundreds of students, at least since the earthquake. Last week, classes resumed under tents next to the vacant lot where the school once stood.

"It's a little sign of hope," UNICEF's Eddie Carwardine said. "We're not claiming this is going to change the lives of everyone. There are huge challenges here, but it's the little steps that you take, which for young kids are big steps and changes in their lives."

Carwardine said one big change is this: Sacre Coeur was once exclusively private, but not anymore.

"They've invited kids from public schools here free of charge, so they can also learn in this temporary environment," Carwardine said. "That's a sign of Haitians helping Haitians. That's a positive symbol for the future."


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But it also highlights a blemish on Haiti's past.

Even before the earthquake, Haiti was a country in which nearly half of all children never attended school. There aren't enough public schools, and 85 percent are private. With most families earning less than $2 a day, education in Haiti has been a privilege, not a right.

"Can the public school system be bolstered somehow so that children who can't afford to pay for a private school can at least get some kind of an education?" Couric asked.

"I think that's a question for the government here," Carwardine said. "They have to make that decision in terms of their education policy. I think what we have now though is the opportunity of international attention on Haiti, international interest. The challenge is how do we make sure the voice of children and the face of children is really in the middle of the development agenda and the reconstruction agenda here?"

EDEYO Foundation-from YouTube

Making the most of an opportunity is a lesson the high school seniors Couric met seem to have already learned.

"We're the future of the country," student Annie Coutard said. "We're like the next prime ministers, presidents, big lawyers of the country, so we need to have big ambition."

Yet for so many of Haiti's children, the goal is simply survival, which means grieving has to wait.

"Part of what they have to do, in order to keep living, is to shut down a lot of the feelings, a lot of the grief especially," said Dr. Jim Gordon, a psychiatrist.

Gordon has seen his share of post traumatic stress working with children in wartorn areas like Bosnia, Israel and Gaza. He's in Haiti trying to literally draw out children whose feelings are buried as deep as Haiti's landscape.

"Do you find that many of these children draw a house that's been destroyed?" Couric asked.

"Yes," Gordon said.

When they're not drawing, Gordon's got them dancing, but one boy named Rinaldo refused to participate and not even his drawing revealed the extent of his loss.

"I lost my aunt," Rinaldo said through a translator.

"In the earthquake?" Couric asked.

"Yes," Rinaldo said.

Rinaldo is 10 years old. His parents live in Guyana. His aunt was his caretaker.

"How does going through this experience make you feel, Rinaldo?" Couric asked.

"I don't feel anything," Rinaldo said as he cries. "I keep thinking about my aunt who passed away."

For Larousse, that January afternoon, when his world literally came crashing down, is simply too painful to think about.

For now, a tented community is providing a safe haven, albeit a temporary one where the staff tries to encourage friendships among the people living here, bonds they hope will continue once they leave.

It will be a long road back for Haiti and its children and hardest of all for those who will have to walk it alone.
  • Katie Couric

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