n January 12, 2010, Haiti was hit by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake, which turned out to be the worst humanitarian disaster of modern times with the death toll reaching 300,000 people, another 250,000 wounded and 1,800,000 people in need of shelter. The children of Haiti lost their childhood as they woke up in the aftermath of the deadly earthquake. They are wounded in their bones and in their souls for having been the witnesses of an unimaginable human tragedy made of horrifying scenes of buildings collapsing on loved ones, people trapped under layers of concrete, countless bodies scattered on the streets . . . The education sector suffered dearly with 4,000 children dead in their schools (in addition to numerous other school-age children crushed in their homes), 90 percent of the school infrastructure destroyed and 1,200,000 children out of school. Children are in shock and many have gone into a state of post-traumatic syndrome as they strive to survive in precarious shelters located in public squares with inhuman conditions.

Plas Timoun (A Place for Kids) was born in the aftermath of the January 12th catastrophe to provide an immediate psychosocial response to the mental despair of these children. I created these activity centers to be recreational and informal learning places that offer programs aimed at freeing--relieving at least--a child's mind from the horrors of the tragedy. The centers provide a friendly environment and offer children, ages six to ten, an opportunity to express themselves through painting, ceramics, music, theater, reading and sports, all within a psychosocial framework rooted in our national culture. The programs have a healing effect on the children's minds as evidenced by their artworks, which have gradually moved from a gloomy to a brighter outlook. With the guidance of experienced trainers, the art activities at Plas Timoun can reflect, and in fact communicate, what is happening in the minds of the children: both their suffering and their dreams for a better future.

The exhibition The Healing Power of Art: Works of art by Haitian children after the earthquake at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art gives the children of Haiti a chance to present to the world their vision of themselves and of the reconstruction of their country. Their voices, so well expressed by colors and emotions, reflect our imaginary and social reality, encouraging you to think with us of solutions to the problems facing contemporary Haiti.

I express my deepest gratitude to the First Lady of the United States, Madame Michelle Obama, and to Madame Jill Biden, both of whom modestly sat with me next to the children of Plas Timoun and participated in a painting session.

Elisabeth D. Préval

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