"We are no longer hungry."

By Elizabeth Stevens
Bourslquot’s café is part of a program that is providing food for 4,500 of the most vulnerable people in Carrefour Feuilles. “I really like it," she says. Photo: Jlee

A new kind of restaurant is springing up on the streets of Carrefour Feuilles. Like most businesses in this poverty-stricken city, the new cafés (or canteens, as they are called) are small and unpretentious, built amidst the wreckage of the recent earthquake. But unlike the other food stands that dot the urban landscape, they offer food for free.

Feeding your family - or even just yourself - can be a big challenge for those who survived the quake, but some people, like the elderly and disabled, face nearly overwhelming obstacles. In the chaotic first weeks after the disaster, Oxfam and our local partners identified 4,500 residents of Carrefour Feuilles who were in particular need of assistance, and offered them a hot meal every day.

The cooks? Entrepreneurs who lost their businesses in the disaster but who have the know-how to operate small restaurants. Oxfam and partners provide money for provisions and fuel, and the canteen operators take care of the rest.

"If I hadn't got this canteen I would probably have left for the countryside,” says Marie Carole Bourslquot, a former shop owner who now cooks 80 meals a day for her clients. “I don't know what I would have done."

For many of the people who depend on her canteen, this is the only cooked meal they’ll see each day. Bourslquot tries to make sure it’s a good one. “I vary the meals - sometimes it's rice, beans and vegetables, meat and a sauce."

There are now more than 50 community canteens in Carrefour Feuilles, and the program is set to expand to other urban areas. The canteens rely on outside aid so are a temporary fix, but soon those who are cooking food will be integrated into our micro-enterprise program, which is aimed at helping them restart their original businesses.

“I want a lasting solution for all the beneficiaries,” says Philippa Young, coordinator of the Oxfam program. No one, she says, should be left empty-handed when the project comes to a close.

But for now, says Bourslquot, “I really like it. Before I had this canteen things were really bad.” Since then her life has changed in the most fundamental way: “we are no longer hungry.”


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