We all want to help Haiti. And as parents, we want to help our children learn from this devastation. “What’s happening now has to be triggering some feelings in parents and children,” says David Donaldson, Director of Education for the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. “But there are ways that you can take action."
Donaldson describes a variety of ways families can get involved in the effort to help Haiti. UNICEF works in more than 150 countries to provide children with health care, clean water, nutrition, education, and emergency relief. This is a time when emergency relief is critical, and Donaldson explains that the U.S. Fund for UNICEF facilitates this relief through fundraising, advocacy, and education.
And education plays a big role in this effort. Many people want to donate, for example, but they don’t know which organizations to trust. “Right now, what we’re doing is providing resources—linking out to other credible sources,” Donaldson says. These resources also include talking points for families. For example, Teach UNICEF online includes a link to the National Association of School Psychologists. “I think the tips we’ve posted are really solid—how to talk to children, opportunities for youth to take action,” Donaldson says. “As we continue to identify resources, we’ll continue to post them. We’re also asking parents and classroom teachers to provide tips and suggestions.”
Terri Teal Bucci, Associate Professor of Education at The Ohio State University, who has worked collaboratively with Haitian and U.S. colleagues to improve teacher training and primary education in Haiti, says what Haiti needs most right now is money.
“In a little while, they will need some educational tools, the basics—pencils, paper, things like that,” she says, “but now they need money. And even later, it will still be best to contribute money so people can purchase the materials in Haiti—that brings money into the Haitian economy.”
Teal Bucci emphasizes that people should not send care packages. After the 2004 Tsunami, concerned people from around the world sent care packages with bandages and dolls and toys, and these boxes and boxes of goods were later described as the Second Tsunami, Teal Bucci says. There were simply too many random items to sort through and figure out how to distribute.
How can you donate? You can donate online right now through UNICEF, where 100% of your donation will be used to save children’s lives. You can also text FRIENDS to 90999 and give $5 to help Haiti through the United Nations World Food Programme (see Drew Barrymore’s plea for help here).
How can your kids help? A great way for children to get involved is to write or draw thank-you letters or cards for people volunteering to help Haitians. You can mail these cards to UNICEF, and they will distribute them to people who attend local fundraisers or donate to the earthquake relief efforts. Mail your cards to:
Volunteer and Community Partnerships U.S. Fund for UNICEF 125 Maiden Lane New York, NY 10038
Many parents are wondering at what age it is appropriate to talk to children about disasters such as the earthquake in Haiti. “You have to take into account several pretty big aspects,” says Teal Bucci, “and one is the developmental appropriateness of such conversations and the ability of students at various age levels to be able to comprehend things that are outside of their world.”
Teal Bucci explains that parents need to put things in a context that children can understand. And no, you don’t want to talk about great tragedy or devastation with four- and five-year-olds. But with upper elementary-age kids and middle school kids, you can talk about things that are happening around the globe. “You can look at maps and relate what you’re trying to teach that child to their world,” Teal Bucci says. “You talk about where Haiti is with respect to where the child lives, and then you can talk about where grandma lives, for example—so they can see that relativeness of the distances compared to where Haiti is.”
Teal Bucci also suggests that parents help children look at similarities and differences between their lives and the lives of children in Haiti. What does education look like here? What does education look like in Haiti? For example, Teal Bucci explains, most families in Haiti cannot afford to send all of their children to school—they have to choose which of their children will get an education. Children in Haiti sit on benches in school. They have one pencil that they sharpen with a razor blade, and often walk as far as three miles to get to school each day. (For more details, visit Teal Bucci’s Haiti Empowerment Project.)
UNICEF offers a number of terrific resources if you’re looking to have conversations such as these with your children. UNICEF’s World Heroes game allows children to understand the value of volunteering. Parents can play the game with their children and use it as a springboard for discussion. How can we become world heroes? Why should we?
As UNICEF says, “Today it is your turn to change the world.”
Visit Teach UNICEF to find more free resources, including online games, for educators and parents to use with children in grades 3 through 12. Topics address global affairs issues such as poverty, gender equality, child survival, child labor, and water and sanitation.