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January 10, 2011

'Children of Haiti': A Picture of Survival, Hope

'Haiti must change,' says one teen boy in new documentary. 'Then God will bless Haiti.'

A new documentary, shot before last year's massive earthquake, puts the number of orphans in Haiti at about 500,000, a number that has gone way up since the January 12, 2010 quake.

Alexandria Hammond's Children of Haiti, airing on PBS tonight at 10 p.m. (check local listings) offers the survival stories of three teenage street boys, also known as the sanguine ("soulless"). Shot in the northern city of Cap-Haitien, the film captures the different factors that create obstacles for the boys, such as scarcity of jobs and education.

The documentary offers a stark contrast between Haiti's beautiful landscape and its urban counterpart. One of the boys has been sleeping on streets since he was 8, one abuses paint thinner, and the other boy sometimes stays with his impoverished mother and stepfather, but often survives on his own.

In Creole, the boys often offer their analyses of the Haitian political leadership, expressing simultaneous dismay and hope in the government.

“We don’t have any type of relationship with the foreign world,” Denick says. “And now our president, who is supposed to be helping us, is the one who’s throwing us into a hole.”

Because the film was shot before the earthquake, we can imagine that the issues the street boys were facing have only multiplied for the children in the country's capital. The United Nations estimates that the earthquake left more than 220,000 people dead and more than 1.5 million homeless in Port-au-Prince. Many of the children lost parents in the earthquake, struggling to find basic resources like food and clothes in makeshift tent cities.

When the documentary follows the same children over three years, we learn that two of the boys enrolled in a school for street children but eventually dropped out. Another boy had a son with his girlfriend, suggesting that abortion was briefly up for discussion.

The film offers a glimpse of Haitians' religiosity through scattered quotes or songs referencing God. Before the earthquake, the State Department estimated that about 85 percent of Haitians practiced some form of Christianity, most commonly Catholicism.

"Haiti is going to change. Haiti must change. But we have to put our hands together," Antoine says. "It's then that we'll honor ourselves as people with liberty, equality and brotherhood. Then God will bless Haiti."