Christmas misery in Haiti camp

2012-12-24 09:06

Petionville - While people around the world celebrate the arrival of Christmas, residents of a refugee camp in Haiti say hunger and want will mark the holiday, like every other day of the year.

"There are no wreaths, no Christmas trees," said Titelma Cherival, 54, still living in a makeshift refugee camp almost three years after an earthquake leveled much of this impoverished nation.

"The best Christmas we could hope for is to get out here and have nice life in a normal home," Cherival said somberly. "But I see little hope of that."

The faded tent where Cherival shelters with her three children is torn and covered with a tarp to keep out the rain. The camp, located in the Canape Vert neighbourhood outside Port-au-Prince, houses nearly 2 000 people.

Residents are compelled to get by as best they can without electricity or running water and - adding insult to injury - in the shadow of a complex of luxury hotels.

The poverty is no greater at Christmas time, but the pain and humiliation of doing without comes into sharp contrast during a season dedicated to gift-giving and merriment in this predominantly Catholic country.

"There will be no gifts for the children and probably not even a Christmas meal," said Jocelyne, who sells bric-a-brac to make ends meet.

"Look at my three children, they do not even know what Christmas is."

The massive earthquake struck in January 2010, reducing much of the Haitian capital to a pile of rubble and killing more than 200 000 people.

Grinding poverty

Of the more than one million people left homeless, more than a third -just over 360 000 - are still living in tents, according to International Organisation for Migration data.

Endless days of grinding poverty and idleness add to the despair, camp inhabitants said.

"Nobody works here. There is abject poverty. People have been brought down to the lowest place in their lives," said Fritzner Dossous, 32.

"We are dead. All we are waiting for now is to be buried."

Making matters even more dire for residents of the camp, the owner of the land where it is located wants to reclaim the property and evict the camp inhabitants, who have no place else to go.

"We are on private land. The owner wants to reclaim the space," said Dossous, who helps organize security for the camp, which from time to time has been attacked by unknown assailants.

Thieves long ago made away with solar street lights installed in the camp, along with many of the inhabitants' meagre possessions.

Camp dwellers also feel abandoned by political leaders who, in flowery campaign pledges, promised to lift them out their destitution.

"We are on the path that leads to the presidential palace. But once they take that road, they don't make the return trip," said one man who recalled that President Michel Martelly visited the camp during his election campaign.

"We haven't seen him since... We deplore this attitude, although we love him all the same," the man added, as he proudly showed off a pink bracelet stamped with Martelly's name that he says the Haitian leader gave him.

Dramatic situation

In the camp, many children, half naked and weak from poor nutrition, scamper among the tents, their feet encased in mud.

Instead of toys, they play with empty bottles and other random objects strewn across the camp.

"These kids don't go to school. Some of them were born here and don't know any other way of life. They don't know any other way to observe Christmas," said Neila Honarat, 20.

Honorat, a student, noted that many teenage classmates have become mothers, when they ought to have been getting an education instead.

"There is a dramatic situation in this camp. The girls become pregnant, no one knows who the fathers are. Some girls sleep around in order to get food," she said.

Christella is one such girl. At the age of 15, she is already eight months pregnant. Her baby is due next month, around the same time as the third anniversary of the quake that has defined life in Haiti and probably will for the foreseeable future.

"I do not know what will happen during the birth," she said. "My mother is taking care of me because my boyfriend left, he abandoned me," Christella said of the unborn child's father.

It is a sad Christmas story, but one without gifts or provisions born by Wise Men.

"I have no clothes for him," said Christella, slightly embarrassed.

"Nothing to care for him with. Nothing at all."

  • gordon.marshall.925 - 2012-12-24 09:33

    Yeah, yeah. Instead of waiting to be given somethng why not DO something about it?? For a start, stop making MORE mouths to feed until things get better?? Typical mentality - give, give, give. Amazing how the survivors of the Japanese earthquake, two years later and done without the massive Western aid provided, just got on with clearing up, reconstruction etc. and didn't bleat and are in a considerably much better situation. Makes you wonder.

      zach.greenlee - 2012-12-28 19:47

      I've done a lot of work in the Petionville area and would like to respond with some of my observations. First of all though, Japan has several advantages over Haiti: they are technologically advanced in their communications and infrastructure, have government agencies and wealthy companies heavily invested in the country, a stable govt, one of the highest GDPs in the world, safe, reliable and effective law enforcement, and the general populace is college educated in Japan, whereas In Haiti, making it through 8th grade is an accomlishment since public schools are sparse, under-funded and mostly over-filled. The one thing that they have in common, though is that both countries received millions in foreign aid dollars following the earthquakes. Haiti was already a flailing nation at the time of the earthquake and its largest city was almost completely leveled with millions displaced from their homes. The govt. has been a disorganized mess ever since (with some recent signs of Improvement). The Haitian people have proven to be industrious and motivated to rebuild with minimal assistance, but In a developing country like Haiti, the recovery will take decades. The incidence of rape in Haiti is the highest in the Americas. In primarily agrarian societies, children are seen more as assets to family income than financial burdens. As educational opportunities increase for women, the birth rates will likely decline, like we've already seen happen in African and Asian nations.

  • theMichaelHawthorne - 2012-12-24 09:42

    Narrow minded munch? Stop living in a box. There is enough food and luxiers to go round twice after the ethiopian children has become obese. The monetary system is a failure money is man made compation is free stop being greedy stop accepting everything as it is. It not normal to live with a thorn in your foot. In the same manner it is not normal to work for minimum wage.... inequality is man made with the sole purpose to keep men in line with government. Politicians cannot solve problems.. only engineers can.

  • Reggie Peters - 2013-03-16 20:22

    this lady should NOT have anymore children that she cannot feed.

  • Reggie Peters - 2013-03-16 20:22

    This poor lady should NOT have anymore children that she cannot feed. Where is Planned Parenthood in Haiti?

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