Friday, June 18, 2010

Telling the same kind of story about Haiti

A supplemental funding bill for Haiti is stalling in the House of Representatives. Meanwhile, our governmental representatives are hearing great things about the situation in Haiti. In a Senate hearing at the end of May, the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti and USAID staff reported that because things here were always so bad, the situation is now more or less the same as it was before the earthquake.

Ben and I often struggle with how we represent Haiti on this blog. We want to tell "a different kind of story about Haiti" to counteract the negative narratives that people see and read in the mainstream news. Lately, though, we've been having a tough go of it. It's quite easy for us to disregard the stress that the earthquake has had on us and we start wondering why we're discouraged... Hmmm. Although I would like to tell you otherwise, the situation here is NOT more or less the same as it was before the earthquake.

Two weeks ago I visited a small camp on Rue Perchotte in an area in Delmas 75 called Puit Blain. MCC is aware of this camp because we have an employee that lives in the neighborhood, but the approximately 70 families living in this community have not received aid from anyone else. They have had to purchase the NGO tarps that they are living under on the black market. Large, sturdy tarps – the kind that NGOs have been distributing in preparation of the rainy season - sell for 1,500 gourdes, almost $40.00 US, apiece.
Maranatha Medna, a young single mother of a 3-year old son that lost her home and small business in the earthquake, says that she and several friends responded to a government call to register as victims. They went downtown and put their names on a list, assuming that someone would contact them with assistance, but no one ever did. “We had hope,” she says.

Marie-Carole Bellande is in her 60s. She lost her home in the earthquake – “kraze nèt (totally destroyed).” It took her ten years to build her home and although she is still running the small commerce she had before the earthquake, at this rate it will take her at least another ten years to build it again. It’s been four months since the earthquake and she has still not had the means to start clearing away the rubble. Marie-Carole has two teenage girls and with no place to live, she worries about not being able to protect them at night.

When asked about the cessation of direct food aid, she replies, “God created food before he created us. We need food to survive, but food is not everything. I can’t build a house with food. I need a place to sleep.” She adds that necessity prompted the food aid that they have received, but that Haitians would be more satisfied with having the means to buy food for themselves.

Other members of the Puit Blan community agree. They want jobs. Coeury Sonel, 37, is a mason but has been unable to find work since the earthquake. He hopes that when reconstruction officially begins he will have plenty of work, but in the meantime he, his wife and their five children (ages 12, 9, 6, 3 and 18 months) are living under scraps of corrugated tin and a tarp. He says that life wasn’t easy before the earthquake, but now his family is "not living.” “We are in the mud, exposed to the sun and the rain.” He says he doesn’t dare to hope that he’ll ever be able to rebuild his home.

It has rained hard every day this week, and for several days, it has rained all day long. When Maranatha shows me the inside of the makeshift shelter where she and her family are living, I can see the indentations in the dirt made by water running through when it rains. I ask her about privacy and she says that this is a problem. She and the other women in the camp have to seek out private spaces to bathe. Shady places where they can hang out during the day to escape the heat that gets trapped in their shelters are also limited.

No one in the immediate vicinity of the camp owns a water reservoir, so they buy and haul 5-gallon buckets of water for 5 gourdes apiece (about 12 cents). 5 gallons of drinking water costs almost $1.00.

Most Haitians put their life’s savings into building their homes and in Puit Blain, most of those homes are destroyed. None of the people I spoke to are formally employed. As is the case for most Haitians, they sell items in small quantities or do odd jobs, scraping by however they can.

Because many members of this community owned their own homes before the earthquake, they are not as vulnerable as many other displaced people in Port-Au-Prince. They are still living among their neighbors in a community structure that provides a higher level of safety and accountability. Nevertheless, the challenges that face them are overwhelming. With the world’s aid and attention slowly dwindling, it seems hard to imagine that the situation will improve anytime soon.

This may not be the kind of story that I like to tell, but it's still an important part of Haiti's story.


Pete-Cindy in Africa said...

Thanks for telling the story Lexy. It IS an important one to tell.
I doubt you know that my mission career started in Haiti first on a work trip and then living and working on La Gonave for 10 months in 1976-77. I was on an agriculture project. I could mentally picture the devastation of the earthquake before I saw pictures.
May the Lord show himself to you today and renew you in surprising ways.
Pete Ekstrand

Paul Haken said...

Thanks, Ben and Lexi, for your commentary. I was deeply touched in April when I visited Haiti and saw how people were living in tents. Yet, they seemed to have resiliency and hope for tomorrow. I long for genuine rebuilding to begin.


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