United Nations peacekeepers have been playing the role of Santa Claus in Haiti during this holiday season, bringing gifts, warm meals and a little cheer to the least privileged children in orphanages and schools in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
Metaphorically, if not literally, exchanging their blue helmets for Santa’s red cap, members of the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) deployed in various regions from Port-au-Prince, the capital, to Cap-Haïtien in the north-east and Les Cayes in the south-west with dances, songs and general merriment.
“Christmas is above all a festival for children,” Captain Benoît Pierre, head of coordination between UN Police (UNPOL) and the Haitian National Police.
A Chinese UNPOL contingent distributed meals to 42 children between the ages of three months and six years at the Sourire d’amour (Smiles of Love) orphanage in Frères, near the capital.
“These children have no parents. We want to see to it that they can celebrate this moment and have a toy. Beyond the security aspect of our mandate, we wanted to show our solidarity,” Captain Pierre added. Apart from the songs, dances and many gifts, UNPOL officers also presented the orphanage with 700 kilograms of rice and other foodstuff.
In Tabarre in western Haiti, UN peacekeepers from Nepal added an environmental dimension to the celebrations, planting trees with the 150 students of Caradeux school as well as organizing games and distributing presents.
“We know that Christmas is one of the most important holidays for Haitians and a great moment for children,” Major Prabin Ghimire of the Nepalese contingent said. “That’s why we wanted to take part in this celebration and make the children happy.”
In Bosquet, also in the west, the UN’s Bolivian contingent brought cheer to 150 other schoolchildren with toys and cakes.
“We wanted to organize this party for the children so that we could celebrate Christmas with them,” Captain Andres Saldias said. “They have very little to rejoice about and nothing is organized for them on this great holiday.”
In Cap-Haïtien, the Chilean contingent brought in Father Christmas to distribute gifts to 60 children, who then enjoyed a warm meal and took part in games such as musical chairs and an egg race. “Children must have the chance to enter into the spirit of the holiday,” Lieutenant Andrea Fuentes stressed.
Nor was Christmas Day itself the deadline for the festivities. In the south the Uruguayan contingent scheduled a post-Xmas day of football, dance competitions, an obstacle race and other activities as well as a showing of a film on the Cirque du Soleil circus.
“We believe that the children of Haiti are the future of the country and it is a real delight to offer them a day of peace and love,” Captain Nelson Puchi said.
MINUSTAH has been on the ground since mid-2004 after then president Jean-Bertrand Aristide went into exile amid violent unrest. Currently there are more than 9,000 military and police personnel deployed and nearly 2,000 civilian staff.