I was making my way through the narrow alleyways dodging the electrical wires that snaked their way through the concrete houses and house front stalls that cling to the sides of the mountains above Port-au-Prince. The kids were yelling “Good Morning” and waving as I passed, the adults eyeing me with perhaps just a little suspicion.
I was on my way to meet Adeline Eliazard and her three children, Nadine Andrice (17), Ernst Andrice (15) and Jerry Andrice (13). With the help of World Vision International Haiti and funds from World Vision Australia, she and her children have been living in a 2 room concrete bunker type house (maybe 40m2) in this densely packed community since December last year. But the four years before that had been very different and very difficult.
On the 12th day of January 2010 a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that lasted about 35 seconds destroyed her home and all that she possessed. And due to a lack of access of care, Adeline’s husband died on January 13, 2010. It was a devastating time for her and her young children. In the days before the quake, Adeline, despite a heart condition that required treatment, was just making ends meet. She sold cooking oils and made enough to keep her children in school, feed them, and together with her husband’s income they were able to afford the rent.
Following the quake Adeline and her kids, with 69 other families, moved onto a plot of land (about 400m2) bordering a ravine at the bottom of the mountain. She salvaged all she could from her home, not much, and with NGO handouts, set her self up in a tent/shack – this was going to be home for the next 4 years.
Their community was named Camp Sodom; I can imagine it being a horrible place to live. The day I visited the camp site which was now empty, it was hot, 45C; no trees, no shade, the ground is rough gravel and dirt – it is hot, very hot. Sometime time later, in the first year, an NGO built a toilet block but there were no other facilities at this camp. During the 4 years, Adeline’s sister helped her with some rice and beans every fortnight or so, but she had no other source of income and she couldn’t afford the fees to send her kids to school – the choice was food or school.
Sometime in 2013, the owner of the land decided he wanted his land back so, to encourage families to move away, he had the toilet block demolished. For almost a year, Adeline now laughs as she tells me the story, “we did the toilet in plastic bags, but not everyone was so thoughtful”. The owner also employed more direct methods to encourage the people to move.
By the end of last year, Adeline was desperate and completely demoralized. She and her kids had lost so much weight that, as Adeline thinks back, “I looked like a stick. I prayed, God deliver us from this place, show me some hope, please God do something to help”.
That same month she saw some new faces in the camp. World Vision International Haiti, with the approval of the Mayor’s office had come to her camp to ‘transition’ people out, close the camp and return it to the owner. This was a government-sanctioned approach that all NGOs are using in Haiti that provides grants for families to find and rent an appropriate rental property for one year and to set themselves up in some kind of small business.
Adeline wasn’t quite sure what it meant, but for the first time in a long time she saw a glimmer of hope. “When I saw and heard Rolande and the World Vision team, I had hope that my children would be delivered and that we could get out of this place. It was the first time I had hope in a long time.”
Today, almost 12 months later, I am sitting with Adeline and her children in the curtained of front entry of her little concrete house on the mountain, looking down on the land that was her home for 4 years; she smiles lots, despite the tears in her eyes as she retells her story, she is happy and she laughs often.
She now has a small business making and selling peanut butter; she has enough income to enroll her children in the new year of school that starts next month and to buy food. Brand new, pressed uniforms hang wrapped in plastic on the wall waiting for the day that she never dared to imagine would come.
With her sisters help Adeline has managed to get medical help for her heart condition and she is doing ok. Her children are happy: Nadine Andrice is a beautiful young woman, shy at the moment with me in the room, but she has friends in the closely packed community; Ernst Andrice is also shy but he sits protectively close to his mum – he has a look of warning, ‘don’t mess with my Mum’ in his eyes; and Jerry Andrice swaggers into the room, braided long hair and a big confident eye-sparkling smile, he slaps my hand in a high five as he sits down next to me.
A little concerned about what happens after the one-year rent grant is exhausted; I ask Adeline where she will get rent money next year. “I don’t know”, she says, “At the moment I only have enough for food and school, and without a husband to help it is tough. But God will provide, I am praying that God will provide”.
When I was here in an earthquake recovery capacity (for The Salvation Army) 4 years ago, the city was a mess, there were about 1.5 million displaced people, today there are reportedly about 55,000 people still living under temporary shelter in camps. But the majority of camps have been closed and cleared. There are public spaces once again available to and used by the people. People are living back in the communities, some in better conditions than they had before the quake. The sides of the roads are lined with smallholder stalls selling fruit and paintings.
But this 5 years of unprecedented investment at best brings Haiti back to where it was before the quake –it is still the poorest country in the western hemisphere with about 77% of people living below the poverty line. The majority of Haiti’s people are still in need of help – perhaps we should join our voices and hope with Adeline’s prayer, “God provide for your people”.