UN warns Ebola could infect 10,000 people per week—unless we act now

A place to call home?

By Julia Gilbert
Aside from getting work, explains camp resident David Deronoil, the top priority is an education for his daughter. Photo: Kateryna Perus/Oxfam

As the rainy season approached, the government of Haiti identified a site for a new resettlement camp for those living in areas of Port-au-Prince that were at particular risk of flash floods. The camp, known as Corail, is 15 km outside the capital city and now houses 5,000 people. Oxfam and other NGOs are supporting its residents with essentials like shelter, water, latrines, and food, but the area lacks employment and education opportunities.  Oxfam staffer Julia Gilbert visited one of the families that moved to Corail from the Petionville Golf Club camp.

As we approach Row 1A—one of the neat lines of white tents that make up the Corail resettlement camp, two figures wave at us energetically. Marceline Philidor and her daughter Sabine are as welcoming as when I saw them last, over a month ago. Their family was among the first group of people to be moved from the Petionville Golf Club—where they faced an imminent threat of flash floods—to this site about 15 km outside Port-au-Prince.

Marceline is busy cooking some rice on a small stove, but she pulls up some plastic chairs for us under the awning in front of her tent - one of the few small patches of shade in this vast, sun-baked camp. I ask her what life has been like these last two months.

We have enough water, enough food

“Well, life is the pretty much the same here now as when we moved in. Not much has changed. We have our tent. We have enough water from Oxfam to drink and cook and wash. We’ve received food, too, and rice, oil, beans and flour from World Vision. We still have the latrines from Oxfam, and there are enough for everyone, although it would be nice to have our own toilet, or a toilet to share with several families, and keep them clean between us.”

But there are no jobs

Oxfam has been concerned since the Corail site was selected in April that the area is isolated and doesn’t have markets close by. I ask Marceline what they have been living on and whether they’ve been looking for work outside of the camp.

“I’ve done some work - digging the trenches for drainage here in the camp, making them deeper—so we will have a little money soon. I’ve been the one working, because I had my identification with me when they offered the work, so I signed up. My husband goes out almost every day looking for work. Sometimes he takes the tap-tap (Haitian mini-bus) that goes from here to town, and costs 15 gourdes. But we don’t have much money, so often he has to walk.”

Marceline’s husband, David Deronoil, joins us and tells about his search for work.

“I go regularly into Delmas, to all the old places I used to work before the earthquake. I was a metal worker and then a driver. Often I have to walk, so I leave here at 4:30 in the morning, and I usually arrive around 11.” He pauses. “A man shouldn’t stay at home and not work. He should be able to go out and work to support his wife and child. But there are no jobs.”

Marceline once sold goods at a market stall, and she would like to re-open her business. “But I wouldn’t start it here,” she says. “I would go to one of the markets nearby, in Bon Repos. People say they might create a new market there so people here can work. I don’t know if it’s true. We’ve been asking to have a market and a hospital and a school for the people living here in the camp.”

Education is a top priority

School is an important topic for David.

“Aside from getting work, our main priority is Sabine’s education. Education is very important. I don’t want my daughter to grow up sitting around here, not learning anything. I want her to go to school and learn. To get an education. There’s a good school in Bon Repos; I would like to take her there, but we would need money. Like before the earthquake.”

An uncertain future

I ask David and Marceline what their thoughts are about the future. David shrugs. “I wouldn’t mind having a house here. We like it here; we don’t hate it. And we don’t want to go back to Port-au-Prince. It’s too crowded and there are no homes there. I wouldn’t mind having a home here, or even building one myself.”

He smiles, looking around his tent. For now there isn’t much around their little home—just one or two plants sheltered by the side of the tent—but it’s clear he’s picturing what it could be like.

“We would like a little place to plant trees, so that they could give us shade and we could have mangoes to eat. And some space to keep chickens. Then we could have chicken to eat. We need a real home. We need some privacy. We also need to be able to have fun sometimes, have some kind of recreation.” He laughs. “Maybe watch the world cup on TV!”

He becomes serious again. “But we don’t know if there will be homes. There are rumors that they might be moving us again. So we don’t know.”

Although Corail is designated as a temporary relocation site, nobody knows how long people like David and Marceline will live here. These families need—and have the right—to start earning a living again, to send their children to school, and to have a clear idea when they will finally have a home again. The government of Haiti, with the support of international and national organizations, has the responsibility to develop and implement a housing, resettlement, and job-creation strategy that will get people back into homes and communities, and earning incomes. This is the crucial next step to help Haitians rebuild their lives for the long term.