Haiti

"Only God Is Watching Over Us Now"

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What is going on in Haiti two years after an earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince? Last week, I met Evans in an IDP camp in the Petionville neighborhood of Haiti’s capital city. A ten-year-old who is relatively small for his age but bouncing with energy, Evans is like most young boys surviving in Port-au-Prince. He is street smart, looks out for his mother and sisters, and had his life changed forever on January 12, 2010. What makes Evans different from the other boys? He speaks English, a rare skill even for adults in Haiti.

Four months after the earthquake, Evans was residing in the tent camp when he got his hands on an English book. In the following months, he taught himself by reading and speaking with relief workers. Evans was eager to show me around his tent village and teach me about his life. He is considered lucky among the displaced Haitians because his camp has two elementary schools, a children’s clinic, a constant presence of Haitian police force and the occasional UN peacekeepers. His family has remained intact and he has not suffered from the cholera outbreak that took the lives of thousands over the past year.

However, despite his optimism and luck, Evans fights an upward battle. What once was a well-funded IDP camp with numerous NGOs pouring in resources has become a graveyard for relief services. As he drags me past a makeshift dump that lies inches away from residential tents, Evans shakes his head: “See here all this trash, nobody picks it up - nobody cares!” And even this confident boy was fearful of camp criminals. “People come, they take a knife,” he said, making a cutting motion on the tent, “and they take anything they want.”

Life is even more difficult for his mother and sisters. They live in constant fear of being sexually abused throughout the camp, especially in the shared latrine areas. Desperation has led many residents to trade sex for dwindling food and water supplies. Haitian police forces are generally unresponsive to the plight of women, and international NGOs working to prevent gender violence are no longer present. “Everybody has left us. Only God is watching over us now,” remarked a woman washing clothes outside of her tent.

All of the organizations I spoke with last week have shared the same desperate tale: “Donors have moved on” from the camps. But most of the displaced Haitians haven’t. 500,000 remain in over 800 IDP camps, with no incentives to move despite the government’s urging. Jobs that would pull people out of camps are difficult to find in this “Republic of NGOs.” One Haitian told me: “Two weeks ago, there was a camp just over there. One day I looked and it was gone. The government had come in and threatened to burn the people’s tents if they didn’t evacuate immediately. I don’t know where all the people went.”

Evans’ tale demonstrates that educational services in camps can provide stability and a better hope for future generations of Haitians. To support his family and thousands of others, the international community and the Haitian government must continue to mobilize services, strengthen security in camps, and provide positive incentives for relocation. Until all Haitians have a permanent home, all children must be able to fulfill their right to receive an education and to live safely. “I hope to be a doctor so I can help my mother and other people in Haiti," Evans told me. "For this, I must go to school.” Evans’s selfless dream must be a reminder to not forget the needs of the people of Haiti.