Although Haiti has faded from the news, the suffering I witnessed while helping with the earthquake relief effort earlier this year is still seared across my brain. I can still remember the little girl I saw who lay dying in the dirt, and I can still feel the ground trembling beneath me in the aftershocks. In one single moment, this tiny island nation lost over 200,000 lives. Yet even before the quake, life in Haiti was difficult- over half the population (54%) lives in abject poverty, and 80% of the population lives below the poverty line. Surviving in the poorest country in the Western hemisphere was hard before the quake, but the current state of affairs has made daily existence seem unbearable.
A recent article from the New York Times exploring the challenges of relocating the hundreds of tent cities illustrates just how difficult it will be to rebuild and recover in the coming years. As some in the country attempt to return to normalcy through reclaiming their property and evicting the squatters who have overtaken them, the most vulnerable people -the elderly, disabled, and orphans- become only more vulnerable.
While in Haiti, I helped relocated a small IDP camp. We worked with the camp leaders to move people who had somewhere to go back on family land so that they could begin to rebuild, and we provided them all with sturdy tents that would help them endure the rainy season. But after most of the shelters in the camp had been torn down and most of the families were gleefully setting up their new tents and making plans to build more permanent shelters, a handful of families remained behind. These families, mostly single mothers with dozens of scantily young children at their feet or fragile old men with toothy grins, had nowhere to go. They had no family land to move their tent to, and no friends willing to take them in. And as we helped them load their meager belongings into our big truck and carted them down the road to another larger camp with better facilities, I remember thinking that their suffering would never end.
There are no easy answers, and it’s not pleasant to ponder such an immense and profound tragedy, but I can’t forget what I saw. My memories of Haiti haunt my dreams at night, and although dwelling on them makes my heart ache, it also keeps me grounded. As I struggle to adjust to life in America and the stress of high expectations at work, I can almost feel myself being lulled into a numb daze by the Soma of television and consumerism. And just when I feel as though I am drifting off, I read something about Haiti that chills me to the bone, and even rain drops take on a whole new meaning.
Photos via the United Nations and IFRC