The day after the disaster, the world was mobilised for Haiti. International aid to the tune of $10 billion was pledged. Over 200,000 people had died, and over one million left homeless. Three years on, most of the rubble has been removed and an estimated 300,000 people are still living in makeshift shelters. So what’s it like to live in Port au Prince today? Eve Irvine and Alexandra Renard went to find out.
It’s the anniversary of the earthquake and Nicole has been struck once again with the loss of her home. This time it is a tent that has been taken from her -- and not by a natural disaster but the authorities who are working to clear the cities streets of the tents that have carpeted the squares since 2010.
Nicole, along with her three children and some six hundred other families, had been camping out on St Anne’s Square. Nicole lost her husband and her home on January 12 2010, the day she moved here. At first, NGOs provided food and sanitary facilities, but they have now gone. The police rarely if ever patrol the camp where robbing is rife. Nicole’s tent was targeted one night by a group of masked men. Both Nicole and her daughter were raped. Others in the camp say that sadly this is not an uncommon story.
Left with nothing, Nicole is told that the authorities will give her the equivalent of 350 euros. That sum is given per family and not per person.
Similar donations were given to clear camps across the city. In Port au Prince today the parks have regained their original function. Most of the rubble has been cleared, but in the centre of town, at the main market, shopkeepers are still working under badly damaged buildings. One seamstress sits beneath a two story building now held up by two rickety pillars and two deeply cracked walls.
“We are conscious of the danger but I’m told that brick is less dangerous than concrete and in any case I can’t work under the direct sun,” she tells Mona. Mona was lucky enough to live in an apartment that was unscathed by the quake but says the earthquake is still very much a part of her life. “When we walk down the street we have to pass by these ruins, it’s like the earthquake happened yesterday,” she laments.
Both Mona and her husband work in education and make enough money to run a car, take the odd day trip to the beach (Haiti boasts over 1500 kilometres of coastline, but it attracts only a fraction of the tourists that throng to neighbouring Caribbean countries), and send their three-year-old son to a private play school.
With a family income of 2,600 euros a month, Mona and her husband spend 62 euros of that on the kindergarten for Cedric. It’s privatised, as are 80% of schools in the country. “Everyone here speaks Creole, he speaks Creole too but we want him to have a good level of French too to have a second language fluently. So that is why he is here, to help him learn that,” Mona explains. The playschool also teaches the preschoolers English and computer studies. Mona herself works in a government run secondary school. Like some 4,000 schools around the country it was badly hit by the quake. The disaster killed over 1,300 teachers and 38,000 students. In Mona’s school, none of the girls were killed but their classes were crushed and the precarious walls that remain still gape with wide cracks.
Despite promises from the State, the school has yet to receive money to rebuild. Classes are now given in hot thin-walled prefabs set up in the courtyard. “There are no doors, we’re open into the courtyard so there is noise coming from everywhere. Sometimes we have to knock on the walls to tell the class next to us to be quite,” says Mienta Pierre Vincent, a social sciences teacher.
Conditions that make it difficult to study -- but with a lack of free education only half of the country's children get to go to school at all. The girls at this school remain motivated and determined to improve their lot. Valencia Ulysee says she would like to study medicine but knows she won’t be able to afford to go to university. Yet she continues to concentrate and works hard. “Hey, I can only hope with the help of God! To live is to hope!,” she notes.