Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Homes and Tent Cities

Visiting day… This morning we went to see our beloved Manmi Robert. For those of you who are not familiar with BRESMA history, Manmi Robert was our head nanny for several years. She was and is dearly loved by children and parents alike. We heard from her just a few days after the earthquake and I was beside myself with relief.

I have visited Manmi Robert before in her home. This time I was amazed to see a bare cement box transformed by lots of furniture, art, and even a book shelf. They now have a refrigerator, but of course no electricity. Several of her daughters are now living with her, and one is employed at a bank. Her small salary supports the whole family. They are blessed in that the house, a cement structure about 25’ x 20’ with two bedrooms and a living room, belongs to a niece who lives in Miami who lets them use it rent free. Rent of Port au Prince rivals that of any major US city.
Manmi Robert told us that when the quake happened, she was sitting in the living room. Suddenly everything started moving, and all of their possessions crashed to the floor. She leapt out the door crying out to Jesus, and as she watched the whole house swayed back and forth. Finally she ran up a rubble filled staircase, blinded by the dust of collapsed houses, and out to the street. I can’t imagine how the weak, flat, concrete ceiling of her home did not collapse on her. I can’t imagine how no one in her family was injured. Manmi Robert is quite sure she knows – Grace.

With a friend and neighbor to escort us, Garlise and I were able to enter a small tent city. Lucy wanted to do so yesterday, but it is far too dangerous for two white women to wander among the desperate with digital cameras in tow. Manmi Robert’s neighbors allowed us to enter and take photos. The ‘tent cities’ aren’t really made up of tents. Only the very lucky have actual tents. The rest are camping out under tarps lashed with bits of string to stick frames, buildings, and piles of rubble. They are in no way watertight, and every strong wind takes them down, drenching the occupants and what few possessions they managed to save from the ruins of their homes. The tarp shacks I peeked into were unbearable hot in the sun. Most people escape to sit under trees during the day.

Management of latrines has always been a major problem in Port au Prince. Now the earthquake has shattered the various deep, concrete lined pits people were using. I really don’t know what will happen when the rains start in earnest. I’m frightened of what the death toll might be from preventable disease.

Manmi Robert explained to us that there have been radio announcements from President Preval in which he tells the public another, larger earthquake could be coming. He said the government cannot be responsible for those who choose to sleep indoors. This may a reason, along with the severe trauma, why so many who do still have houses are camping outdoors. I’ve heard the same warning from seismologists in the news back in the US. But what are these people to do? The next earthquake could happen tonight or ten years from now or somewhere else altogether along the fault line.

This afternoon we went to visit another miracle – BRESMA’s free school was spared. Even the second story, which was under construction. The Port au Prince school is primarily supported by French sponsors. Children receive two meals a day, a uniform, and a free education. Over 100 children are being served. We believe the school helps to keep children in their birth families, as well as preparing them for any economic opportunity which might arise in Haiti. The new school in Jeremie was also undamaged, and classes will be able to restart eventually.

There are two delightful French women staying here at the guesthouse with their daughters, awaiting documentation from the French consulate to get their daughters’ passports and go home. They have been here for weeks. It’s amazing what we will do for our children.

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