Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Day 2- Lydia

After breakfast, we met Regine and drove around the city to see the different areas and get a feel for what was where before interviewing people. On the tour, we stopped by the presidential palace, which caved in on itself after the earthquake. It was a strange feeling to be standing across the street from hundreds of tents, looking through the chain-link fence at the neatly mowed grass and pristine white building which had fallen. There are plans to turn the palace into a new apartment building. The pictures of the plans and interior of the rooms were nicer than what you’d find in Rittenhouse; I wonder if the vision will match the reality.

Next on the agenda – visiting LAMP in Bwa Nef, an area in Cite Soleil. After a brief tour of the facilities (medical center, new public toilets/shower, office), we split up into groups for the interviews, where we spoke with older members of the community who had been in Cite Soleil in the 1960s or earlier (when it was called Cite Simone). We had two rounds of interviews – one in Bwa Nef, and one at Trois Bebe, another area of Cite Soleil that was nearby. Both areas were devastated by the earthquake. In Bwa Nef, there were still some structures standing, and new shelters were made by hanging sheets and tarp and such to form a kind of roof. In contrast, the settlement at Bwa Nef was mainly run by an organization (Pax Christi), and was striking because of the quality of the tents: neat rows of bright white, house-shaped living spaces. Both areas had the same major problem – a lack of permanent, safe housing for the displaced families who lived there.
One of my interviewees said something that has stayed with me – when asked if she felt safe and secure, she responded “I go to sleep at night, I wake up in the morning.” Every class in law school has given a standard by which to measure safety in a community: police presence, lighting, architecture, visitors, crime statistics. Her answer seems simplistic, but when you think about it, it’s the most accurate measure of an individual’s feeling of safety.

We also met with a man from IOM, an organization whose mandate is to help internally displaced people (not refugees) get basic human rights. The first thing you notice is the surroundings: white SUVs everywhere with “UN” on the side; flushing toilets; individual offices and meeting rooms with air conditioners; cold, clean water to drink; people in full suits in 90-degree weather. It makes you question the connection and involvement they have with the people they are there to help, although our contact assured us that he went to Cite Soleil 2-3 times a week. It was interesting to hear his point of view and, by extension, see the mindset of all the aid organizations that are in Haiti. While they are there to help, there is a self-imposed limit on what they do; he kept telling us, “We are not here to replace the government, we are here to give them a boost. It is the government’s job to take care of its people and citizens.” A valid point, but it makes you wonder just what exactly these organizations are doing in a country with such an unstable government . . .

We returned home around 5pm, though we had been so busy that it felt like 10pm. After a delicious Haitian dinner (rice and vegetables in a tomato sauce, summer squash, fresh bread), I was thinking about my first day here. As I reflected, one thing that kept coming up in my mind was the children. Everywhere you look, there are kids running around; those who can afford it are in uniforms and go to school, others help their families throughout the day. As we walked around the different camps and areas, kids would run up to us, smiling, playing. Practicing my (extremely limited) Kreyol, I asked one little girl her name, and she replied “Gallandine”; we seemed to be best friends after that. We took a few pictures with them – they love the camera and always have the biggest smiles. Despite this image, many of the children are neglected and malnourished (you can tell by their bodies and by their hair – the more malnourished, the finer and blonder their hair turns). These children weren’t smiling as much.

One image has stuck with me of this day. I was walking from the medical clinic to the LAMP office in Bwa Nef, and saw Mimi taking a picture of a little girl. Unlike all the other children who were running around us, the girl just stared, unsmiling, at the camera. I wasn’t sure why Mimi was taking her picture, and assumed this was a common procedure at the clinic and that the girl was very sick. I found out later that the young girl was very special – tomorrow, she is flying to the US to get an operation. It is an interesting juxtaposition which I think represents the situation in Haiti now – the sadness you see very easily next to the hard work of organizations which are giving the people hope. I can’t wait to keep working, and hope that I can impact a child’s life in the same way.

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