Hundreds of Haitian children are taking refuge at a prestigious high school in Port-au-Prince after escaping gang violence in the town of Cite Soleil that killed some 400 people and destroyed hundreds of homes this month.
At the sprawling campus of Institution Saint-Louis de Gonzague, which is currently empty for summer vacation, children ranging from teenagers to toddlers are sleeping in classrooms that are serving as improvised dormitories.
They chatted and joked in the recess yard on Friday, playing hide and seek or improvised football games with plastic bottles, when a Reuters news agency’s reporter arrived to ask questions about their situation.
“The kids need a lot of help,” said Sister Rosemiline, a nun with the religious community group Kizito Family, who said she stopped using her last name after taking her vows.
“The situation is really bad where they are from. We are waiting for food but what we get is not satisfactory to the kids,” she said, adding that her organisation is hoping to relocate them to five other sites.
The children are part of a group who donned school uniforms to convince gang leaders they were on their way to school in order to escape the turf war, according to a community organiser leading the effort to shelter the children.
The vast majority were there without their parents, most of whom could not leave Cite Soleil because of continuing gang violence, he said, asking not to be identified for fear of gang reprisals.
Children started arriving at the school a week ago, some of them barefoot. Most have nowhere to return to because their homes were burned during the battles between the G9 and G-Pep gangs.
The violence began just a day after the first anniversary of the assassination of President Jovenel Moise, which worsened an already fraught political situation in the Caribbean nation and sent gang violence soaring.