Carmen Charles: Haiti will live again.

Carmen Charles and her family survived the earthquake and are now receiving help from Caritas. Credit Conor O'Loughlin/Caritas 2010

Available in Spanish

By Conor O’Loughlin, Trócaire (Caritas Ireland) in Port-au-Prince

The camp is chaos. What little grass remains has been tramped down by the tens of thousands of homeless, most of it churned by now churned to dust and floating around the stifling air.

Two weeks ago this camp was a golf course, one of the few escapes of Haiti’s well-to-do. A lot has changed in two weeks.

50,000 people live here during the day now, and by night as many as 100,000 crowd together in huts made of ripped curtains and plastic sacks. There are few facilities. The noise is deafening – the public volume of every day living but mixed in are the occasional sobs of the injured or the alone, the hyperactive squawking of stray dogs or the constant fly over of helicopters delivering aid to another desperate part of this stricken city.

Carmen is 36 but proudly tells us that people think she looks younger. She had it all: a job in a communications company, a nice house, even a woman to help with the housework once in a while.

Now she lives with 14 other people in a tent fashioned from branches and old patterned sheets. She came here after the earthquake. Her house fell apart around her. She had to go somewhere.

“I was at home when the earthquake came.” she said. “My children had just come back from school, and I was getting them changed and washed. I felt something very violent, a shaking. I grabbed the children, the whole house was falling and starting to lean. I cried out to God, and ran from the house.

“I can’t tell you what I felt, I can’t find the words. It wasn’t shock exactly, or fear. I was struggling to understand what was happening.”

Carmen ran outside with her three children.

“All around there was crying,” she said. “There were so many people injured. There were people dead. I saw things I don’t want to talk about.”

Since the earthquake struck just before 5pm in Port-au-Prince, Carmen’s husband was still at work when the earthquake struck.

“I did not know what happened to him. I was worried, very worried, anything could have happened but I had hope.”

Five hours later, he made it home. The joy she felt, she said, “was something I don’t think I will ever forget.”

But their house was ruined. Carmen brings her daughters back to wash once a day but they cannot stay in the crumling building for long. She says the girls find this very traumatic but they have no choice.

As Carmen talks, two of her children, Corielle and Marielle, display worrying coughs. She tells us that they now have diarrhoea. Such is life in the camp.

Her husband has spent the day queueing to try to get some money from the banks that have just begun to re-open.

“If you have money there is food to buy in some places,” she says, “but we need the supplies we are given here. It is so important. We are so happy to get it.”

On the day we visited Carmen, she had just received two weeks of rations from the Caritas response. The sacks, containing lentils, vegetable oil and bulgur, a high protein wheat grain, are being distributed to over 50,000 people in the camp.

With devastation as massive as in Haiti it is sometimes difficult to find hope. But Carmen displays an incredible resilience that the international aid workers are slowly learning is a trait of the Haitian people.

“As long as you are alive, you always have hope,” she said. “I still have my children, that is a blessing for me. And Haiti will live again.”



Carmen Charles: Haití vivirá de nuevo

de Conor O’Loughlin, Trócaire (Caritas Irlanda) en Puerto Príncipe
El campamento es un caos. El poco césped que quedaba ha sido aplastado, por las tiendas de campaña de las decenas de miles de personas sin techo. Ahora está casi todo machacado, hecho polvo y flotando en el aire sofocante.

Hace dos semanas, este campo era un campo de golf, una de las pocas evasiones que disfrutaban los adinerados de Haití. Las cosas han cambiado mucho, en dos semanas.

Ahora unas 50.000 personas viven aquí durante el día y por la noche llegan a ser hasta 100.000, todos aglomerados en cobertizos, construidos con cortinas rasgadas y sacos de plástico. Hay pocos servicios higiénicos. El ruido resulta ensordecedor, es el volumen público de la vida cotidiana, pero mezclado con sollozos ocasionales de heridos o de quienes se quedaron solos, con los hiperactivos ladridos de los perros callejeros o el ruido constante de los helicópteros, que siguen distribuyendo ayuda en alguna otra parte desesperada de esta afligida ciudad.

Carmen tiene 36 años pero, con orgullo, nos dice que siempre le echan menos años de los que tiene. Ella lo tenía todo: un trabajo en una compañía de comunicaciones, una bonita casa, incluso una señora que la ayudaba con las tareas domésticas, de vez en cuando. Y ahora vive con otras 14 personas, en un cobertizo construido con ramas de árboles y sábanas viejas. Ella llego allí, después del terremoto. Su casa se derrumbó a su alrededor. Tuvo que irse a otra parte y ella nos cuenta: “Yo estaba en casa cuando llegó el terremoto. Mis hijas acababan de volver del colegio y yo las estaba lavando y cambiando. Sentí algo muy violento, un temblor. Agarré a mis hijas, la casa se estaba derrumbando y empezaba a inclinarse. Llamé a gritos al Señor y salí corriendo de la casa. No puedo decir lo que sentí entonces, porque no encuentro las palabras. No era exactamente conmoción, ni miedo. Me esforzaba por entender lo que estaba pasando”. Carmen salió corriendo de la casa, con su tres hijas, y añade: “Todo a mi alrededor eran gritos. Había mucha gente herida. Muchos muertos. Vi muchas cosas horribles de las que no quiero hablar”.

Como el seísmo se produjo antes de las cinco de la tarde, hora local, el marido de Carmen estaba todavía en el trabajo. “Yo no sabía lo que le había pasado a él. Estaba preocupada, muy preocupada, por lo que le hubiera podido pasar, pero no perdí la esperanza”, recuerda. Cinco horas más tarde, él llegó a casa. Ella dice ”¡creo que nunca olvidaré la alegría que sentí al verle!”.

Pero su casa está en ruinas. Carmen lleva a sus hijas allí, para lavarlas, una vez al día, pero no pueden quedarse allí porque es peligroso. Ella dice que resulta traumático para las niñas, pero que no le queda otra que llevarlas allí. Mientras Carmen habla, dos de sus hijas, Corielle y Marielle, tosen de manera preocupante. Ella nos cuenta que ahora también tienen diarrea. Así es la vida en el campamento. Su marido se ha pasado el día haciendo cola, para poder conseguir dinero de los bancos, que están empezando a reabrir sus puertas.
“Si tienes dinero, puedes comprar comida en algunas partes, por ahora necesitamos la ayuda que podemos recibir aquí. Es muy importante y somos felices porque podemos conseguirla”.

El día que visitamos a Carmen, acababa de recibir de Caritas raciones de comida para dos semanas. Se han distribuido sacos con lentejas, aceite vegetal y bulgor, un alimento elaborado a partir del trigo y rico en proteínas, a más 50.000 personas.

Con la devastación generalizada de Haití, a veces resulta difícil encontrar la esperanza. Sin embargo, Carmen demuestra una capacidad de recuperación, que los cooperantes internacionales están empezando, poco a poco, a aprender. Es una característica típica de los haitianos.

“Mientras haya vida, hay esperanza. Todavía tengo a mis hijas, que son una bendición para mí. Y Haití volverá a vivir de nuevo”, concluye Carmen.

3 Comments

Filed under Conflicts and Disasters, Emergencies, Emergencies in Haiti, Haiti, Latin America

3 responses to “Carmen Charles: Haiti will live again.

  1. It’s really an encouraging and inspiring story.

    Alauddin
    Caritas Bangladesh

  2. As we give our money to disaster relief it is important to realize that after the news cameras are gone there will still be a tremendous amount of suffering and misery to deal with. The long term effects of a severe earthquake on a poor nation is more pronounced. The country will have to be rebuilt. They will need infrastructure as well as homes, hospitals and schools. There will be hundreds of thousands who are without shelter and who are forced to live in close quarters in unsanitary conditions which will spread disease. Orphans will need to be taken care of, and there will be severe mental health problems that will linger. All of these issues will need attention and financial assistance even after the celebrities have moved on to the next great cause. The work of helping Haiti will once again be done in obscurity without press coverage. There will be no more outpourings of love and sympathy because the public’s attention will be diverted elsewhere. However, there will still be many dedicated organizations who will stay behind and do the difficult unglamorous work of fighting poverty under the most trying conditions. These are organizations we need to continue to support with donations. By providing them with a steady stream of funds we can allow them to operate at their full capacity. This will enable them to slowly improve the living conditions of the Haitian people. But it takes money…a lot of money, month after month and year after year. Dramatic improvement does not happen overnight. It requires a long-term financial commitment on our part. We must have the resolve and the passion to consistently try to improve the lives of those who are suffering.

  3. We just started to donate 1$ from each purchase to Haiti quake survivors.
    Thanks to all good people.

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