My Colour of Haiti is White.
One year on since a devastating earthquake struck Haiti’s bustling capital and surrounding countryside it is hard to identify what has changed for its residents. Tents still adorn every available space with people living cheek by jowl in amongst the ruins and debris of make-shift camps. The city is at bursting point with many of its inhabitants having moved here after the earthquake out of fear and the need for aid. Collapsed buildings are left as stark reminders of the sheer scale of the disaster along with the mountains of rubble and debris. Port au Prince, however, continues to run at a pace. The city is dusty and noisy and incredibly busy. Large colourful Tap Tap’s, (customized buses), pump out local Creole music and hoot and hustle their way around the rubble and holes in the road. The constant stream of hawkers selling all manner of items, young children wiping the dust off the essential 4x4’s, locals going about their business, washing, cooking, and repairing anything with a moving part. The traffic weaves slowly through these busy streets and one can’t help but notice that life is going on right in front of you in amongst the demolished buildings and the blue and grey tarpaulins and tents.
Léogâne, a seaside town located about 30km west of Port au Prince, was the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake. It is estimated that nearly 30,000 lives were lost and that nearly every concrete structure was destroyed. It was to this village that the dynamic head of the Haiti division of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) took me to see some of the projects they are running and to meet the beneficiaries they are working with. By far the largest hurdle faced by the aid community and therefore the inhabitants of Haiti is that of land ownership. Many of those who lost their homes and who are now living in tents don't own any land, and those that do don't have proof of ownership. LWF, along with many other Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), are working closely with the national and local governments to determine land ownership and to secure to new sites for displaced villagers. One year on, however, and the camps remain. There is some evidence of reconstruction though, mainly schools, education being of primary importance in development of local communities. Judith is 13 years old and when asked if she liked school, like many of the children I met, she said “Yes. I want to make something of myself”. Inspirational words in such hard times. She walks the 2km to school, a relatively small distance, and is immaculately turned out in her uniform as are all the school children I saw emerging from the bowels of their tented communities.
LWF are also working in the Capital. Situated on the former site of the Italian Embassy, Nerette Camp houses around 250 families. This hilltop Internally Displaced People (IDP) camp is clean, shaded, and well organised by community leaders. Latrines, showers and a day school operate as the result of collective community analysis and decision-making. Young boys were emptying the now abandoned swimming pool of water from the recent rain, as it is the only space they can play football. This was done to tunes of Christmas carols being sung, in more than one language, by the students of the day school. Across the road the houses literally tumble down the hillside, most in the same ruined state left by the catastrophic earthquake. Small dwellings left unclaimed, all having beenstamped in green, yellow or red, denoting fit, needing repair, or to be demolished. Without knowing who owns what the authorities are unable to knock down the unsafe buildings, which in turn causes problems further down the hillside. Some inhabitants are working to rebuild, and it’s with the help of organisations like LWF who are tracing the ownership and encouraging people to clear rubble to make way for new safer housing, and who are gradually repatriating the beneficiaries back to their homes. Many, however, are too scared to move the rubble there are still dead bodies lying beneath.
About 10km north east of the capital in the rural area of Croix-des-Bouquets I went to visit a CholeraTreatment Centre (CTC) built and run by the British medical agency Merlin (now Save the Children). The setting is a far cry from the hustle and bustle, noise and dust of Port au Prince. Although full to capacity it is run with quiet efficiency. Locals and expatriates are seen working tirelessly to stem the epidemic, a disease that can spread quickly in areas of poor sanitation and where water supplies can be infected. It was here I met Natalie, whose 18 year old son, Johnny, had been admitted two days previously, the first and only patient from their village just a few kilometers away. Like the majority of the patients here he had been treated in time. Whilst her son rested in the recovery tent nestled behind the treatment area, Natalie invited me to visit her home. Once we had navigated our way back through the footbaths, chlorine sprays and hand wash stations situated at the entrance to the treatment areas (to ensure no bacteria entered or left), we drove to a small hamlet just off the main road out of Port au Prince. It had not escaped the magnitude of the earthquake, as I saw the now familiar sight of blue tarpaulin covering the skeleton shell of dusty bricks. Forth coming election posters hung next to graffiti of the boys favourite band B&G, whilst a small gathering of children curious to see what was going on peered under the cloth covering the doorway. Educational leaflets have now reached this area and they are all hoping that this will be the only case of cholera for them. Back at the CTC, another ambulance arrives and relatives gather by the front gates waiting for information about their loved ones.
Like the majority of NGO’s here in Haiti, numbering over 4,000, national and international staff are working ceaselessly to ease the burden left by the destruction of that fatal earthquake a year ago.