Volunteers providing hope in Haiti

By Christine Decker, Caritas Germany

Today, we are heading to Léogâne. On the map, it is about 40 km away from Port-au-Prince. We leave at 8:00 a.m. The trip takes roughly one and a half hours. I have seen several other disaster areas before, but even to me, this here is a terrifying sight.

The situation is horrifying in many senses. There are endless mountains of rubble and rubbish alongside the road. People have piled up the rubble from houses that were destroyed on 12 January. It now forms a mile-long central strip on the road. Here and there, you can spot the remains of people’s property: a shoe, a torn shirt, some chair legs. It’s rubbish now.

In the slums, there are cesspits everywhere. These slum areas, riddled with tents and tarpaulins, go on for a long distance, until we are out of the city. People endure the misery, their faces remain impassive.

In Léogâne’s stadium, there is one hut next to the other. People made them using whatever they had, wood, corrugated iron sheet, cartons or tarpaulins. Approximately 5,000 earthquake survivors found a new, unworthy home here. The earthquake has left 80 to 90 percent of the city destroyed. Tens of thousands of people lost everything they had. Their existences were buried under this rubble.

We reach the St. Vincent de Paul home. Some of its buildings were destroyed. Twelve people died here. The home appears like a little green island for people who did not have a place, even before the earthquake: Elderly women and men, who have forgotten what their name is and where they are from, people with mental and physical disabilities, terminally-ill patients.

One of the few buildings that remained intact is now being used by Caritas as a warehouse. Sister Claudette, the home manager, made it available as a temporary storage place for relief goods. A few dozen tents and tarpaulins are still to be distributed in the next days. They have been reserved for those who could not help themselves until now.

A few kilometres along, in the little town Dufort, young volunteers helped distribute 70 tents over the last few days. The tents still need to be set up. We accompany the young men by foot. Even with a jeep, it would be difficult to get through here. A pebbly road leads up there, zigzagging around the local farmers houses. These people already lived hand to mouth before the earthquake. Three or four generations often live together in one small hut. No privacy, no running water, no electricity.

When we meet them around noon, Constantin, Benoit and their eight friends have already worked for six hours and set up ten family-size tents. Each tent has a floor area of roughly 16 metres square.

The volunteers wanted to set up 20 tents per day. The space next to the destroyed huts however is not always sufficient to tie the strings. They then have to come up with new ideas.

The tents are supposed to offer their new owners shelter at night. For most of them, they are a real luxury compared to what they possessed until then. One beneficiary is a 15-year-old boy with mental and physical disabilities. He is there with his aunt. His mother does not want to be seen with her son.

Then there is another family, four generations living in one hut. Their hut fell apart like a house of cards in the earthquake. The 80-year-old grandmother was hit by the collapsing walls. She had a stroke because of the shock. Since 12 January, she has been laying on a mat, barely moving with a dulled look in her eyes. Her grandson or great-grandson is in his mid twenties and already has four children. The two youngest ones, two-year-old twins Ruth and Michda, do not say a word. Their development seems to be impaired as they do not receive the stimulation and care they need.

The only hope in this misery are the young volunteers. They all grew up in Dufort and then went to Port-au-Prince to study computer sciences, telecommunications or engineering. In July 2009, they founded an association to promote the social development of their hometown. They dreamt of creating future perspectives for themselves in the town where they grew up and where they have all their family and friends.

The earthquake tore their hopes apart. All of them also had to interrupt their studies. They won’t give up though. “Do you know, if there are organisations in Germany that could give us a scholarship so that we can finish our studies here in Haiti?“ asks Benoit.

He then pulls out the list of people who received a tent. They have to confirm the reception. Most people sign with their finger print.

The ten friends want to stick to their vision of worthy conditions in their hometown. They now want to start their first social project. Caritas may help them to implement it.

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Filed under Conflicts and Disasters, Emergencies, Emergencies in Haiti, Europe, Germany, Volunteers

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