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Four children in Haiti describe harrowing stories of survival


By Caitlin Stephen Hu, David Culver, David von Blohn and Lacey Russell, CNN

Port-au-Prince (CNN) — They have the calm of people who have lived through terrible things. But they are just kids.

As gangs rampage in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince, several children and teenagers tell CNN they have been orphaned, wounded, raped and even recruited by members of these armed groups.

Some are navigating life in neighborhoods ruled by gangs, doing their best to stay out of danger. Others work for the gangs, tasked with dangerous jobs such as spying on rival groups or the gory work of disposing of bodies. All of them face the daily risk of deadly violence, with one gang leader even warning of civil war that could end in genocide.

Meanwhile, across the country, many more children are going hungry, according to UNICEF, as food prices spike amid the insecurity.

Here are four of their stories:

Shot while playing

Woodjina Cadeau’s family was forced to flee their home in Port-au-Prince two years ago, as gangs battled for control of the area, setting buildings on fire. They thought they would be safer setting up a temporary home on an abandoned airplane runway in the city, as many others had done.

But on January 30, gunfire erupted down the street while the eight-year-old was playing outside, sending a stray bullet through Woodjina’s stomach. Amid the screams of other children, Donald Saint Surin, an emergency responder for local children’s organization OCCED’H (Organization of Hearts for the Assistance of Deprived Children) found her on the ground, a pool of blood soaking into the packed dirt, he recalls.

Saint Surin rushed her to a hospital; after surgery and two weeks of medical treatment, Woodjina was able to return to her family. But her father Jonel points out that the rough shelter of corrugated metal where she is now recovering is hardly a fit home. And he doesn’t know if they’ll ever be able to go back.

Afraid to go to school

In the coastal town of Jeremie, 15-year-old Shiloh, hasn’t been to school since January, when violent protests exploded over Haiti’s deteriorating living conditions. In one incident, protesters attacked the school itself. “They were trying to break down the school gate, the kids inside were screaming, eventually the school sent us home,” she says.

Now it feels too dangerous to go back, she says, but that also means missing the free lunch that is the only meal of the day for many students.

“It’s really hard to find food to feed my kids,” her mother told CNN. “I work as a chef at the same school. Sometimes I don’t get paid but at least the director can give me something for the house. But now there’s no school, and there’s no work.”

When CNN visited their house one afternoon in February, neither had eaten that day.

Raising the son of her rapist

It was late in the evening when this 16-year-old girl found a small banknote – 25 Haitian gourdes, the equivalent of 20 US cents. She was hungry, and decided to venture outside her home in Port-au-Prince’s gang-controlled area of Martissant to buy something to eat.

She was attacked on the way and raped. She believes the perpetrator was a gang member.

In January, she gave birth to a baby boy. Caring for him is not easy, she says; “When you’re faced with a child, it’s not a game.”

Working for the gangs

This teenager was 11 years old when he started working for a gang. He was homeless and hungry, he told CNN, and the gang offered him food.

Now, when other members of the gang kill people, they make him burn the bodies, says the teen, who is now 14.

He would like to get out – but he doesn’t know how. His mother lives outside of Port-au-Prince; he’s not sure how to reach her and couldn’t afford such a trip anyway.

“I wish she could come get me,” he told CNN. “I’d like her to take me out of this place.”

Reporting contributed by CNN’s Leinz Vales in New York.

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