Christmas came a little early for hundreds of children in Port-au-Prince, when Santa made a surprise visit to World Vision’s Early Childhood Development Learning Spaces (ECDLS).
Each week, more than 1,200 children attend World Vision’s ECDLS, located in large tents in camps for people displaced by the January earthquake. The tents provide a safe space for children aged 3-8, most of whom have no other access to education, to play and learn under the watch of specially-trained staff.
“We’ve worked hard all morning to divide up the toys,” said Valerie Noisette, World Vision’s Education Manager in Haiti. “Christmas in Haiti is just like anywhere else in the rest of the world; children like to decorate, to sing songs. They need to know that despite what happened they can still have the holiday spirit – just to give them that sense of hope again, give them excitement, happiness, peace.”
Although Santa’s traditional sleigh and reindeer had been replaced by a slightly battered white ute, the ecstatic children didn’t seem to mind when it pulled up outside the tents. “Papa Noel, Papa Noel!” they shouted, some jumping up and down with excitement.
They sung Christmas songs for Santa, and waited politely as he distributed small gifts around the tent. Santa asked the children whether they’d been good this year.
“Yes!” they called in unison.
What a year it has been. Most of these children have been living in tents for over 11 months now. Many have lost family members. All are vulnerable to a range of dangers daily, lacking shelter, adequate protection, healthcare and formal education. Yet looking around the ECDLS tents at the sea of smiles, toys and homemade Christmas decorations that plastered the walls, these kids could have been anywhere in the world.
With so many children to visit, Santa couldn’t stay too long at each location. As he drove away the children waved him off, clutching their precious gifts tightly. After a year of so much tragedy and so many challenges, it’s heart-warming to think that a little Christmas spirit can bring so much joy.