Haiti six months on: “Everything was black and neither up nor down”

Jean Francoise Juliana (15) and Stacey Romain (11) smile after receiving a week's worth of food for their family. Credit: Conor O'Loughlin/Trocaire

By Conor O’Loughlin, Trócaire (Caritas Ireland)

Stacey and Jean-Francoise have been friends for years. Stacey is the younger one, a tall-for-her-age eleven year old with little pigtails tied up with orange baubles and teddy bears on her t-shirt. Jean-Francoise is a wise fifteen, with her hair pulled back in a sensible way and a demure expression on her face.

Both girls were lucky to survive January’s earthquake. When the earthquake started, Stacey said, “I jumped on the bed and covered my head with a pillow. The roof fell on my legs. I was stuck but I managed to pull myself out. My mother was still trapped under the ruins. It took us about half an hour to pull her from the rubble.” Miraculously, Stacey’s whole family survived the quake.

They fled their neighbourhood, although the skeletons of fallen houses blocked their paths. “Everywhere was a big, big mess,” she says. “There were places you couldn’t even walk because there was rubble everywhere. There were injured people and bodies everywhere. My friends and I just tried to pretend that nothing had happened but it was impossible.”

Stacey has been living in a tent now for six months. She doesn’t mind it though, saying that it’s very hot but she is still too afraid to go into a concrete house.

Jean-Francoise has a house to live in, but with her father dead and her mother forced to leave for another city to work, it doesn’t feel like a home. She remembers the earthquake, saying, “I didn’t know what was happening. I looked at the sky and everything was black and neither up nor down.”

She misses her friends, too, many of whom fled the city with their families after the earthquake and who she hasn’t been able to trace since.

Stacey agrees: “A lot of my friends aren’t here. A lot of them moved out and went to the countryside. I’ve tried to call them or get in touch with them but I can’t find out anything. I don’t know where they are.”

When we met the two girls they were sitting patiently under a blue tarpaulin waiting for a bag of food rations given to them by Caritas and the Medical Missionaries of Mary. The food is given out each Saturday and provides the basic elements of a nutritious diet for the girls and their families.

Over 1,000 young people like Stacey and Jean-Francoise are being helped, all of whom lost one or both parents, or whose parents have been left completely destitute.

Trócaire (Caritas Ireland) is also providing school fees for almost 5,000 children in this area. Only 10% of education in Haiti is provided by the state and since the earthquake few parents have been able to pay the fees required for their children to get the most basic of education.

Education has obviously worked for Jean-Francoise and her eyes light up when she talks about her plan to become an agronomist.

“I would go into every area in Haiti and plant trees,” she said. “Haiti has chopped down all its trees to make charcoal. And that makes it very vulnerable to cyclones and other disasters.”

Speaking to young people like Jean-Francoise, you can’t help but think that the future might yet be bright for Haiti.

This article first appeared on the Trócaire blog.

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Filed under Aid Success Story, Conflicts and Disasters, Emergencies, Emergencies in Haiti, Haiti, Latin America

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