By John Kisimir, World Vision relief communicator in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
On my arrival at Terrain d’Enaf displacement camp one morning, I walk past a group of children who are playing with a pail of dirty water. I want to ask where they live, where their mama or papa is, but Port-au-Prince, Haiti, is not a good place to ask questions like that. Nine out of 10 people are said to know someone who died in the devastating January 12 earthquake.
A tall, old man stands at the entrance of a tent, sweating, possibly trying to get a feel of the breeze. Wilner Jasinthe welcomes me to what he now calls home—a tent among thousands of other tents. He offers me one of the three white plastic chairs in what looks like a two-man tent that now houses 10 people.
It takes a few minutes for me to realize that a tent is not the best place to call home on a hot day. The heat is rising; sweat drips from my face. I do not feel any circulation of fresh air.
Wilner’s cell phone rings. It is the camp leader, passing on a message. The water tanker has broken down on the way to the camp. World Vision trucks water to the camp every morning and deposits it into a tank for residents to share. But today, chances of getting water are slim. A wave of disappointment runs through the faces of the women nearby. They need five gallons of drinking water every day and more for bathing and cooking.
Wilner moves his chair toward the door in search of a little fresh air. I follow suit. “How did you come here, Wilner?” I ask.
“I had a home and a business that I ran at Delmas Road,” he says. “It is all gone now. Nothing left but a pile of stones.” He looks around the tent, and his eyes settle on an empty water bucket in the corner. “It hurts that I can’t even get drinking water when I need it. Just a few weeks ago, I had flowing water day and night,” he says, then chuckles and shakes his head in disappointment.
Suddenly there is a commotion at the door. Children—four of them. They surround Wilner, noisily pushing, climbing on him, and calling for attention. “My grandchildren,” he says.
“We dug through the rubble for two days to save this one,” Wilner says as he holds 2-year-old Erline. Like many other children here, Erline’s scars are visible. Hair on the back of her head is missing.
The eldest is Regina Castele, 6. She survived the quake because she was on her way from school. The checked blue dress she is wearing is the same she had on when their house collapsed. Her wide eyes are alert, always watching. They land on my camera bag—and the bottle of water at its side. She makes a beeline for it, urgency and thirst in her eyes.
Within a few seconds, the children have gobbled down the water. That explains why I take such a bad photo of this sudden activity—it happens too fast and is over too soon. They need more water.
Wilner apologizes for the children’s water raid. “I am not in good health, but I must line up every morning to get drinking water. The children cannot bear the thirst,” he tells me.
Children’s health is a priority for World Vision here. Volunteers visit households to teach families about basic hygiene practices and check if there are sick children who require medical attention. World Vision has installed toilets and bathrooms in many camps. Mobile health clinic also operate to treat the sick and monitor child growth and signs of malnutrition, while new mothers can ask for an extra tent to take care of their baby away from the crowds.
“World Vision is doing a lot to make the situation bearable in this camp. Life will get better someday, and we hope we will all return to our homes,” says community leader Ignance Belange.
It is 2 p.m.; the inside of the tent is inhabitable and the outside baked to a crust by the sun. “What’s the plan for drinking water?” I ask.
“We need five gallons, and it costs a dollar if the water tanks do not come. We do not have the money,” says one of the women. But eventually between them, a dollar is found or borrowed, and the water arrives to quench dry throats.
I leave Wilner and his grandchildren at 4 p.m., clustered together and looking toward another day. They are hopeful. If the tanker broke down today, it will certainly come tomorrow. World Vision will not let them down two days in a row.
I do not ask about the children’s mother. She remains unmentioned, but I can work it out for myself. Port-au-Prince is not a good place to ask questions like that.