Life a strug­gle 10 years af­ter quake

It’s an­other dis­as­ter for Haitian fam­i­lies in slum of 300,000

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - NATION & WORLD - By Evens Sanon and Michael Weis­senstein

CANAAN, Haiti — Just be­fore 5 p.m., Marie-Mislen Thomas’ house fell on top of her three chil­dren.

In the first night­mar­ish hour af­ter a mas­sive earth­quake dev­as­tated Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, the Thomases were able to pull their sons Chilo and Jame­son from the rub­ble. It took them hours more to find Rose-Ber­line, 2.

Her foot was crushed, but she sur­vived with help from a Cuban doc­tor. A French char­ity moved the Thomases to Canaan, a swiftly grow­ing shan­ty­town on empty land two hours from their de­stroyed home in the cap­i­tal. An­other non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion gave Rose-Ber­line a pros­thetic lower leg and crutches.

Then the Thomases and hun­dreds of thou­sands more Haitian earth­quake sur­vivors were left on their own.

On the 10th an­niver­sary of the Haitian quake, the Thomases live in a rot­ting two-room shack that floods when it rains in Canaan, which has be­come the largest slum in the Caribbean. Home to more than 300,000 peo­ple, Canaan has no run­ning wa­ter, elec­tric­ity or other pub­lic ser­vices de­spite re­peated prom­ises that NGOs, for­eign gov­ern­ments and Haitian of­fi­cials would help.

Rose-Ber­line has out­grown her pros­the­sis and a pair of crutches pro­vided by for­eign aid work­ers.

At 12, she runs the Thomas house­hold while her mother works sell­ing house­wares in the street. The bone has grown out of her stump, mak­ing a new pros­the­sis im­pos­si­ble to fit, and the Thomases don’t have the money to pay for an op­er­a­tion.

For ob­servers, the fate of earth­quake vic­tims like Rose-Ber­line shows out­side ac­tors’ in­abil­ity to fol­low through or make last­ing pos­i­tive change with the bil­lions spent in Haiti af­ter the earth­quake, which killed hun­dreds of thou­sands and left more than 1 mil­lion home­less. The fi­nal death toll re­mains de­bated.

“The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity was very ef­fi­cient dur­ing three or four months to pro­vide wa­ter, shel­ter in the form of tents and pro­vi­sional shel­ters, pro­vide medicine, food, etc.,” said Les­lie Voltaire, a Haitian ur­ban plan­ner who has worked to im­prove con­di­tions in Canaan.

Asked about the longterm re­sponse, he of­fered a dif­fer­ent eval­u­a­tion.

“It has been a dis­as­ter,” he said. “All the dis­placed peo­ple are found in Canaan or other slums area. They don’t have real shel­ter. They have been build­ing by them­selves and with­out proper guid­ance by the state. If there is an­other earth­quake it will crum­ble again.”

Voltaire worked for the

Haitian gov­ern­ment hous­ing agency af­ter the quake and said he pro­posed a series of mea­sures to im­prove con­di­tions in Canaan, in­clud­ing road con­struc­tion and the build­ing of town cen­ters with pub­lic ser­vices that would re­duce in­hab­i­tants’ de­pen­dence on long com­mutes to Port-auPrince.

He said none of Haiti’s re­cent ad­min­is­tra­tions had taken ac­tion.

A hous­ing agency spokesman said he could not com­ment, and Haitian gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives, in­clud­ing a spokesman for Pres­i­dent Jovenel Moise, did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

Many NGOs said they were con­cerned about the con­di­tions for quake sur­vivors and the Haitian pop­u­la­tion over­all.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion known in English as Doc­tors With­out Borders, for ex­am­ple, said ef­forts to strengthen Haiti’s hospi­tals, clin­ics and com­mu­nity medicine had been gravely ne­glected as global at­ten­tion di­verted from the coun­try.

“Most med­i­cal hu­man­i­tar­ian ac­tors have left the coun­try and Haiti’s med­i­cal sys­tem is once again on the brink of col­lapse amid an es­ca­lat­ing po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic cri­sis,” Has­san Issa, the group’s head of mis­sion in Haiti, said in an emailed state­ment.

Marie-Mislen Thomas, 41, and her hus­band Sadilor, 48, a ma­son, took out a loan to pay for school for their five chil­dren. They had two more chil­dren af­ter the quake and their ages now range from 4 to 14. But the cou­ple used the money for ba­sic needs like food last year as the Haitian econ­omy slumped amid par­a­lyz­ing po­lit­i­cal protests.

Her chil­dren have spent months out of school, in the streets of Canaan.

“My kids don’t go to school, they’re now play­ing with kids who are a bad in­flu­ence. I am hop­ing that one day I can move my kids from this neigh­bor­hood, move them to some­thing bet­ter,” Marie-Mis­lene said.

As the old­est girl in the fam­ily, Rose-Ber­line cooks and cleans while her mother sells table­cloths and other goods nearby. Since her crutches are too small, the girl moves from room to room on her knees.

“Rose-Ber­line is the mother of the house,” Marie-Mis­lene said. “RoseBer­line does every­thing in the house. She cooks, cleans, goes to the mar­ket to buy food.”

Rose-Ber­line says her dream is to to be­come a nurse.

“I would love to help peo­ple in the fu­ture. I wish that my fa­ther could find work and help us fin­ish school,” she said. “I hope I can do more when I grow up.”

Other res­i­dents of Canaan are less hope­ful about the fu­ture.

Jean-Claude Jean, 50, was brought to Canaan by U.N. aid work­ers and lives in a ply­wood shack with sheet-metal roof.

“They gave me a shel­ter for 3 years and said that it was only tem­po­rary. Now it’s 10 years later,” he said.

DIEU NALIO CHERY/AP

Rose-Ber­line Thomas, 12, bal­ances on her right foot as she takes a bucket bath at her fam­ily’s shack in Canaan, Haiti.

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