Haiti camps: dignity despite misery
Thursday, March 11, 2010
By Greg Jackson
Port-au-Prince - A shanty town for survivors was the ACT Alliance General Secretary’s first sight of earthquake-ruined Port-au-Prince.
In Haiti on a fact-finding mission, John Nduna said he was torn between sorrow at prevailing conditions and admiration for the spirit of the people in the Petionville, Port-au-Prince, camp.
“I was very moved by the reality of their lives and the dignity they manage to maintain despite the conditions,” he said.
John Nduna is perhaps uniquely placed to assess camp conditions after spending much of his life running such camps throughout the world. The overall conditions of the spontaneous post-quake camps were among the worst he had seen.
Nevertheless, he was impressed by the lengths people had gone to try and maintain dignity and adequate standards of living. In the camp, mothers washed clothes spotless in shallow plastic buckets. The residents were clean and able to prevent their clothes becoming rags.
One of the most encouraging signs he saw was evidence of how well and quickly the Haitian people themselves moved to organise their own affairs after such a huge catastrophe. “I was hugely impressed with that ability and spirit,’’ said John Nduna.
Food for 8000 people
The Petionville camp gets support from ACT Alliance members, which provide food for 8000 people a day. A week’s supply of food for a family fits within a large plastic bucket which can then also be used to collect water.
Program supervisor Pierre Faleboi said that without support from ACT Alliance residents would “find survival very hard indeed”.
Two million homeless
On the day of John Nduna’s visit, the camp committee was organising distribution of new tents to selected families, particularly those with mothers and very young children. Some of these mothers were living under inadequate shelters.
The fragile, ramshackle shelters the families had made would be hugely unpleasant when the impending rainy season began. Families picked for new tents presented special cards which allowed them to collect their new temporary shelter, a prized item.
A priority for John Nduna was to see living conditions and advocate more effective shelter for refugee families before the rainy season.
The UN estimates two million Haitians are homeless after the earthquake.
The scale of need and the desire to get the full picture of such huge displacement was another reason he came in person.
People’s needs were immediate. As well, there was need for locally-brokered medium to long-term housing solutions for the two million Haitians who, for now, have nowhere to really call home.
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