Anna Ridout, senior emergency communications officer for World Vision U.K., writes from Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
While headlines report violence and looting in Haiti’s capital and observers speak of chaos and desperation on the streets, I’m seeing another side to Port-au-Prince often lost in disaster reporting.
Young boys scramble and leap over rubble chasing their ingenious kites made of flimsy plastic bags. A dozen teenagers sing their hearts out at a spontaneous open-air church service overlooking the devastated city. Small businesses—barbers, corner shops, bars—have already sprung up in many of the haphazard settlements of tents and makeshift shelters. Children dance, sing, and laugh in one of World Vision’s safe play areas. Only three weeks after the earthquake caused catastrophe here, people are already finding ways to rebuild their lives, often with a smile.
When World Vision, the World Food Programme, and other agencies launched a city-wide distribution of rice designed to reach close to 2 million people in just two weeks, many feared chaos. Today our team was in the notoriously volatile district of Cite Soleil. We intentionally started the distribution a few days later there to give us additional time to talk to those who have influence in the community, such as leaders and local groups. This meant we were able to reach 8,500 people in the most dangerous part of town with calm and cooperation.
Incredibly poor, Cite Soleil was already a huge densely populated neighborhood of iron roofs and inadequate services. My non-existent Creole means I’m often communicating with people in gesture or expression. As the empty food trucks left the site, a young girl with confident inquisitive eyes looked at me and smiled. I scrunched up my nose and she did the same. She tried to speak to me and I shrugged my shoulders; she laughed. It’s staggering how such a spirit of tenacity can exist alongside devastation and poverty.
At all the food distributions this week the most vulnerable have been first in line. A blind man and his daughter, an elderly woman with her arm in a sling, a pregnant woman with a month to go, all left with 25-kilogramme sacks, assisted by World Vision volunteers, without hassle.
Elderly women tell me how the only way they are eating is because neighbors, friends, strangers are sharing food and water with them. Such generosity was echoed by a woman I met in a lively crowded camp, who has lost both her home and job. “When we get help here, we never fight,” she said. “We are friends, and we share our things and support each other.”
The generosity of the public all over the world in response to this disaster has been incredible. Today that money is helping provide families with food, healthcare, water and shelter—immediate, life-saving relief that is still needed for the millions of people. As we look to the long-term rebuilding of Haiti, the continued support of the international community will be vital. World Vision will continue working here beyond the emergency phase to help people find secure jobs, reliable incomes and strong community networks.
As local artists start once more to line the streets with bright bold paintings, and potters display mosaic plant pots in amongst the debris, artists and businesspeople alike need help to enable their businesses to grow and families to flourish. The evidence on the ground here in Haiti proves there is the resiliency and determination to make it happen.
Related post: Christmas in a refugee camp (Dec. 23, 2009)