Friday, January 29, 2010

New life in a shattered community

Less than two days after the earthquake which devastated Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, Marguerite Ulysse gave birth to a baby girl, Neika.

The nearest hospital was destroyed. Marguerite’s home had collapsed. The family had nothing with them. So she gave birth at night on the grounds of what was the neighbourhood footpall pitch, which now serves as a camp for families who’ve lost their homes.

“My daughter is a blessing from God. We lost everything. But as long as God can help us, I know it will be OK”, she said, holding her young daughter in her arms.

“My hope is that we can get some help from the international community. We don’t have anything at all. Nothing. And now my daughter has a cold but we cannot get any medicine.”

Marguerite and her family share a small makeshift tin shack on the football field with nearly 30 others. More than a thousand others are also camped out around them.

Camp manager, Widelson Pierre-Louis, told me that more than a thousand people died in the neighbourhood of Baillergeau, in Carrefour Feuille suburb, and that 99% of homes, more than 2,000 buildings, were completely destroyed.

“Only one house is left in this area - mine”, he said, gesturing down the narrow mountain road which is lined with collapsed houses everywhere you look. While Widelson’s single-story home still stands, there are cracks in the walls – some caused by neighbouring houses coming down; and the staircase leading up to the rooftop is full of building rubble.

It’s one of the most devastated communities I’ve visited in the last two weeks. Densely packed, it’s also an extremely poor neighbourhood. Around 85% of the community is unemployed; and gang violence has been a problem.

The needs are evident. Clean water is being distributed thanks to aid agencies; and latrines are being installed.

Oxfam worked in the neighbourhood before the quake, helping people access food when prices sky-rocketted. It has now begun a new project this week – paying community members to start cleaning up the area; removing rubbish and waste.

The cash-for-work programmes mean that not only do communities begin to improve their living conditions, but people can earn desperately – needed money so they can buy food and other

It can boost a local economy and the money helps those who need it most. People like Marguerite, who struggles every day and is praying for a brighter future for her new-born baby girl.


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