From thousands of feet in the air, it’s hard to imagine the destruction below. It’s easy to get distracted by the sapphire Haitian coastline and the spiky, copper-tinted mountains that fold away into the horizon. But as the mountains transform into grassy hills and as we near the capital, I spot the first signs of devastation. Patches of sandy earth contrast against the green landscape where entire hillsides slipped away.
Coming in to land, the ground is littered with blocks of blue; plastic sheets that shelter the lucky few who have found protection from the impending rains. The road to our base takes us through one of the worst-hit areas; building after building looks as though it has been carelessly tossed onto the pavement. I try to direct my gaze towards an area that is not occupied by a makeshift campsite, or broken buildings but I struggle to find a house that has not been reshaped, bent in half like a piece of wire or facing the pavement at a 45 degree angle.
There are mounds of rubble which you would never guess once stood as houses if not for the metal frames poking out like skewers from amidst the broken bricks. Just when you think you have found a structure that withstood the earthquake, you view it from another angle and realize that it crumbled from the inside, or that it has no floors, or that it is only the front wall that is still standing. One building resembles a tower of pancakes; every single supporting wall has disappeared, leaving just four floors layered one on top of the other.
Although I have yet to speak to an earthquake survivor, the physical devastation alone is overwhelming. One of my Haitian colleagues tried, but failed, to contextualize the effects of the quake: “This is something you cannot explain- the country was working and in one single minute everything turned upside down.”
Tomorrow I hope to meet people living in Parc Saint Claire, one of the first campsites set up in the aftermath of the quake. It’s run by Islamic Relief.
My first visit to Parc Saint Claire, the camp housing 2,000 homeless people, was eye-opening. Unexpectedly, I recognized people from photographs I’d seen, and it was strange to finally meet the people I’ve been writing about since I joined Islamic Relief one month ago.
The children at Parc Saint Claire are curious and friendly. They flash bright smiles at you then run away and hide. When a little boy grabbed hold of my hand as he walked past in the other direction, my heart was suddenly warm – and it had nothing to do with the blistering sun.
So many of the girls in the camp are around my age, but they carry the heavy responsibility of raising children in a poverty-stricken country, and the additional challenge of helping them cope with the trauma of the earthquake.
One of these mothers is Beatrice, who looks far younger than her age: 22 years. Beatrice gave birth to her first child on the morning of the quake. A few hours after leaving the hospital, she felt the first tremors of the quake.
“I didn’t know what was happening when the earthquake hit. I was sitting down and my whole house began to shake,” Beatrice said. “My husband grabbed our baby, Emmanuel, and put him under the bed to try and keep him safe. I was very worried about him. Even though my house was only damaged in the quake, I can’t return because it is unstable. I want to go home.”
Beatrice and her husband brought Emmanuel to the football pitch in Parc Saint Claire and sheltered under a sheet until Islamic Relief arrived and set up 200 tents.
“Life improved when Islamic Relief opened this camp but I am still not used to being outside or living in a tent,” explained Beatrice. “Now I want my husband to be able to get a job and my baby to grow up in a stable environment without struggling for food, clothes or education.
I hope people will come to help us and I hope nothing like this ever happens to them. We survived this earthquake but I hope you never have to. May God protect you and may you stay safe.”
The families I spoke to did not simply ask for food or medicine, but emphasized the need for jobs so that they can rebuild their schools, hospitals and homes. I took hope from their determination to rebuild and become self-sufficient once more. In my next post, I hope to share some more of the stories of survival and provide an insight into the work that Islamic Relief is carrying out here.
Click here to read more about Islamic Relief’s response to the Haiti earthquake.