One million people are displaced by the earthquake. There are tent encampments throughout the city. In fact, now every open space is now filled with tents — most often just plastic or sheets on poles.
Despite some media reports, there is very little looting and violence. In fact, I am struck by how calm the city is — congested but calm. The city of three million is largely sleeping in the streets. People are too afraid to sleep in their homes, even if they weren’t damaged in the earthquake. They block off streets at night and sleep on mats away from the buildings.
We met Charlene Malebrauche and her two daughters, six-year-old Dahlia and three-year-old Sahina, in one of the tent communities. She and her two daughters were in their small concrete house when the earthquake struck. They rushed out. The whole neighborhood was screaming. Charlene grabbed a few things from her home, including Dahlia’s doll and Sahina’s stuffed bunny.
Their house collapsed and they are now living under a sheet on poles. They gathered cinder blocks from the debris of fallen buildings and lay them down on the ground so, when it rains, they won’t be sleeping in the mud. In their five-by-eight-foot space sleep Charlene and her husband, Dahlia, Sahina and a friend who has no family.
At least 100 families are living side by side in this one community. When I asked her what she had eaten today, she showed me a corn mush called akasan.
It’s hard to imagine how anyone in the camp survives. No one has work. This is one of the many communities where Mercy Corps has started a cash-for-work program. Every household can designate one member to work, cleaning earthquake debris away from their living space and digging drainage trenches in anticipation of the coming rainy season.
Workers are paid a daily wage. They will use the cash to buy what they need and begin to jump start the local economy. Mercy Corps is following the cash-for-work program with a loan program for individuals and small businesses, particularly outside of Port-au-Prince as more and more people leave the unliveable city for the countryside.
As I talked to Charlene, her two little girls clung to her legs. She said since the earthquake, the children never leave her side. Charlene encourages them to play, but they won’t let Charlene out of her sight.
Dahlia, the six-year-old, has trouble sleeping at night. She is sure the earthquake will come again. She incessantly asks her mother why the earthquake came.
And this is where our Comfort for Kids program is so critical: helping children like Sahina and Dahlia move beyond their fear and uncertainty. Comfort for Kids trains parents, teachers and social workers how to help children process and cope with this tragedy. An entire generation of children has been deeply traumatized by this tragedy.
We are here to help.