PORTLAND – The devastation caused by the 2010 earthquake in Haiti has been overwhelming.

The news reports and photos streaming from Haiti left many with feelings of despair.

The earthquake killed an estimated 200,000 Haitians and left tens of thousands of children orphaned.

In addition, many children were seriously injured or traumatized by the earthquake.

An estimated 2 million children were affected by the earthquake, and many remain at high risk for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Since the earthquake, the plight of the people of Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, has greatly worsened.

Many Haitians, including a large number of children, have died or become seriously ill from the cholera outbreak sweeping the country.

Currently, Haiti has been inundated by heavy rains triggering floods and mudslides. It is predicated that many more Haitians will die or be seriously injured from this severe weather.

The cholera epidemic and floods have greatly exacerbated the traumatization of the children of Haiti. A major casualty of childhood trauma is an inability of children to engage in childlike play, or play that is creative, imaginative, engrossing, all-consuming and almost always active.

While many may view play as less life-sustaining than the primary needs of foods, shelter and sanitation, researchers have found that the inability to engage in childlike play prevents the brain from developing essential factors related to resiliency and trauma recovery.

Thus this is a “Catch-22” phenomenon; the higher-ordered brain functioning that would allow children to overcome future traumatic events are underdeveloped due to the trauma they experienced in their early childhood.

While most adults assume that play comes naturally for children, those who have been traumatized in their early years must be provided with the opportunity to learn or regain a childlike sense of play.

Without this opportunity, the impact of childhood trauma worsens and children become isolated and depressed.

Researchers have determined that the inability to develop childlike play leaves the brain vulnerable to debilitating traumatic stress that seriously inhibits enjoyment and lasting friendships.

In addition, the lack of childlike play gives life to unremitting fear that overtime has been linked to autoimmune disorders and physical disease.

Since 2004, the International Childhood Enrichment Program has sought to provide safe opportunities for Afghan and Haitian children to engage in childlike play.

ICEP is a nonprofit organization that has been building safe playgrounds in Haiti and Afghanistan.

The organization hires local laborers to coordinate, build and install low-cost playgrounds in secure, accessible places such as schools, health clinics and orphanages.

Since its inception, ICEP has constructed seven playgrounds in Afghanistan and eight in Haiti.

ICEP’s U.S. operation is run by volunteers, and it has essentially no overhead.

During my May 2010 visit to Haiti, the administrators and priests at Bethlehem Orphanage inquired about the construction of an accessible playground for the children who reside there.

Many of the orphans have severe physical disabilities, thus requiring accessible play equipment.

All of the children residing at the Bethlehem Orphanage, however, also suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

In the past, ICEP has used salvaged materials to construct the playgrounds in Afghanistan and Haiti.

For this orphanage and the needs of its children, ICEP needs assistance in raising funds to obtain accessible play structures.

Additionally, a large number of orphans have disabilities that are so severe that they are confined to the interior of the orphanage.

Thus, they are not able to access the play structure.

For these children, ICEP seeks additional monetary contributions or donations of appropriate developmental play items.

– Special to The Press Herald