tents in haitian refugee camps

I've just returned from a fact finding visit in Anse a Pitres. I am still processing what we saw. The people's voices ringing in my ears, their anguish weighing heavily on my heart. My eyes and my throat remember the dry graininess of the dust laden wind, I can still taste it's powdery saltiness on my tongue....

This post is part of a series from Fellows on the Ground in Haiti and the Dominican Republic



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The images in my head; some of the testimonies that continue to stream through my soul:

A tall, fairly young man, face ravaged by hunger, poverty—several teeth missing; looks more like a grandfather:

“I have five kids and during the last four consecutive days, I have had no food for them.”

A small framed young man. Wearing a soiled T shirt. He looks frail, defeated. Does not raise his head, keeps his eyes down as he speaks. Words sound like they are coming from very far inside him:

“We are alone, we are at the mercy of the Dominican guards. They took my cedula (ID card) and all my money. Now am here and have no tomorrow.”

Young woman, in what must have been a snazzy red shirt before she was forced to leave her native land. She speaks in Creole but the cadence of her words, her mannerism, how she moves her hands, tilts her head—are 'prototypically' Dominican:

“I was born on the Spanish side. My mother died a couple of years ago but I stayed to work. It's all I know. I know no one in Haiti but my Dominican neighbors said they would burn me, so I walked away from the city and walked toward the forest until I reached Haiti”

While in Haiti after the devastating earthquake of Jan 12, 2010, I was terrified that rain might come before people were dug from under the rubble. Rain meant flooding, water born diseases, electrical fire, hampered mobility, increased destruction of fragile structures. Like now, for a long time, most camps did not have tents in 2010—a lot of my dormant post earthquake apprehensions about rain further exacerbating the situation, resurfaced in me while I was on the border this week.

Anse a Pitres, HaitiMost of the deportees' precarious 'shelters' are made of cardboard and rags, nothing solid enough to protect the people from the rain.

After several months of drought, it rained in Anse a Pitres, it has now rained three times in the past 24 hrs!!!

Just got off the phone with the priest. He said it rained yesterday afternoon and well into the night, diluvian rain accompanied by strong winds... this afternoon it rained again. The meager food distribution, already a chaotic event, occurred in the rain—one can only imagine!!!

As usual, there was not enough food for everyone In one camp, there were 110 children, in another 102 and in another 200+. There are settlement camps in several parts of the border. From what I witnessed in Anse a Pitres, most children go naked, without clothes, covered in dust. Those with clothes wear them encrusted with dust/dirt.

This evening again, torrential rains.

The priest said he will have to go tomorrow to the DR to see if he can buy tarps. Must you go there Padre; must you buy from there, I ask!? He said it is closer. He has limited fuel and his 15 year old old truck might not make it over the rocky, unpaved roads. The winds are strong he continues, we need the tarps that can withstand wind and rain. The tarps in the market in P-au-P are not suitable. The neighbor has/sells what we need. Anyway, we can only afford a few, says the priest. Then, after a pause, his voice cracks and he entreats: don't forget us, please don't forget us...

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I see a reflection of my father when I look into the eyes of migrant farm workers. I see the long hours of hard labor in unforgiving conditions, the pride in a job well done even though the pay is intolerably unfair, the hospitality of a migrant farm worker family sharing what little they have with friend and stranger alike.