Life in Haiti's camps
In a corner of the Delmas refugee camp, a sprawling conglomeration of crude tarpaulin homes, flickers a little ray of hope.
Young children giggle as they pore over books and games in a large tent, protected both from the scorching sun and the anguish of the outside world.
It’s a veritable beacon in this ocean of despair.
Home to 17,000 people, Place de la Paix is one of Port-au-Prince’s largest tent cities.
Its safe haven for kids is one of the only places those lucky enough to work can send their children for free.
But its future is uncertain. Although charity Concern is striving to ensure its continuation, staff have been told there is limited funding to run the facility which looks after around 300 youngsters a day.
It’s an all too familiar story across the city.
In the immediate aftermath of the devastating January 12 earthquake, the international community leapt to attention.
Now, eight months later, the eyes of the world are beginning to focus on other corners of the globe.
But for Haiti’s 1.3 million people still living in roadside tents and makeshift shelters, vulnerable to the elements, the struggle is only just beginning.
Delmas was one of the capital city’s worst slum areas before the disaster, today it’s a galling testament to the way nature’s wrath can rip the heart and soul from a community.
Many still refer to that fateful day simply as ‘goudou goudou’ for fear of summoning the atrocities back.
It’s an onomatopoeic reference to the sound the ground made the day it ravaged this already suffering nation, battered and bruised after decades of extreme poverty, violence and corruption.
Entering the camp, I am greeted by tiny kids with outstretched hands who rub their bellies and tell me of their “grangou” – hunger.
Here electricity and running water are a distant memory from a former life. Johanne, who lost seven members of her family to the disaster, scrapes together a pittance washing clothes.
She has three children, the youngest of which is just five years old.
When she has money they eat, when she doesn’t they don’t.
Food distribution ceased two months ago. Hence the grangou.
Life in the open air
Homes have been constructed from wood, bits of corrugated iron and canvas, anything which could be salvaged.
Outside one, a baby takes a bath in some discarded vegetable water. Next to him a woman is having her hair braided, a little further down a man gets a shave.
Life. Played out in the open air.
Five families live squashed together in one rickety structure of metal and plywood. It can’t be bigger than three square metres.
It’s difficult to sleep because of the heat but what can you do, they say, what choice do we have?
When it rains, which it does nearly every day at this time of year, “too much water” comes inside.
People with jobs can expect to earn about H$350 (US$9) a week. Some have been employed by the aid agencies to keep the camp as clean as possible in such squalid conditions.
With 80 per cent of buildings in Port-au-Prince destroyed, shelters were hastily constructed in every conceivable space. Even the central reservations of the highways are no exception.
Many camps are on private land.
Paid to move on
At Automeca, where 10,500 people currently reside, residents are reportedly being paid to move.
One man tells me he was given US$200 to pack up and go. Where to, he isn’t quite sure.
The money isn’t enough to repair his house, or buy him a new one.
Outside another tent run by Concern, kids play with condom ‘balloons’.
Psychologist Marie Rosie Louigarde gives nutritional advice to pregnant women and counsels traumatised youngsters. Depression is a common theme, along with domestic violence.
Recovery, from the worst disaster in modern history in one of the world’s most notoriously corrupt and impoverished countries, was never going to be a walk in the park.
Many people may never be able to afford to get their homes fixed or build another.
And as international attention shifts to the next global disaster, how long they are enslaved to these putrid conditions is anyone’s guess.
After losing loved ones, homes and businesses, worldly goods and dignity, it’s as monstrous as the ‘goudou goudou’ itself.