Among the sea of tents and tarps that now cover the heads of at least 1.1 million earthquake survivors in Haiti, live four young adults who are shouldering the immense responsibility of caring for large families post-disaster. Three months after the earthquake that changed their lives and country forever, they reflect on their personal situations, current needs and plans for the future.
Nicole Marie Seide Age: 33 Location: Rue Blanchard, near “Camp Park Morel”, Port-au-Prince
Nicole Marie Seide is a single mother with six children, who range in age from one to 16 years. Before the earthquake on January 12, she and her family lived in a one-room house in a Port-au-Prince suburb. When the earthquake struck, she grabbed two of her children and ran outside. They fell to the ground, frightened and shivering.
With most of her house in ruins, Nicole sought refuge at “Camp Park Morel” where she built a shelter from cloth and tree branches. In the next few weeks, she acquired several tarps that she hung as walls for her temporary home. Recently, she also received a tent from the Red Cross.
“I am so grateful to have this tent,” she said. “It will change everything. Now I will be able to sleep without being afraid of walls falling down on my family.”
Every day, the Red Cross and its partners distribute emergency shelter supplies to an additional 15,000 people, working toward a target of 1.3 million covered by May 1. To date, more than 90 percent of the homeless families have received some sort of shelter. This effort represents one of the fast relief/shelter distributions ever undertaken by the global Red Cross network in its 150-year history.
Ernso St. Louis Age: 27 Location: “Camp Neptune”, Cana Pevert, Delmas, Port-au-Prince
Like everyone else around him, Ernso St. Louis has about one square meter of personal space, and even that is likely to be taken away.
“The camp where we are (living) now is a private field, and the owner can come and kick us out at anytime,” he said.
Ernso has been working with his settlement’s leadership committee to make life better for residents who have the basic necessities of shelter, water and toilets thanks to the Red Cross. Now they would like the Haitian authorities to help remove rubble from the city, an action that would give people hope and more stability for the future.
“Once they are shown that there are possibilities, then they can start building houses by themselves,” said Ernso. “The sooner everybody can return to where they were before the earthquake, the better.”
In additional to supplying families with temporary shelter solutions like tarps and tents, the Red Cross plans to build 50,000 wood-frame structures strong enough to last several years and flexible enough to be moved wherever space and resources allow. While waiting for appropriate plots of land to be allocated and prepared by Haitian authorities, the Red Cross is training earthquake survivors as well as volunteers from the Haitian National Red Cross Society as carpenters who will go on to train hundreds of others in coming weeks.
Using materials donated by the American Red Cross and its partners, settlement residents like Ernso will construct their own transitional shelters, which will give them new skills in addition to full ownership of the structure and supplies.
Marc Ducleon Age: 22 Location: Delmas 63, Port-au-Prince
Marc Ducleon was at home and on the phone to his younger brother when the earthquake struck. He protected himself by standing in a doorframe. Once the earth stopped trembling, he rushed outside with some of his siblings. He was panic-stricken with no idea what happened to his other relatives.
“I was desperate to see my mother and little brother after the earthquake, to find out if they were OK,” he said. Later, he found them safe further down the street where they had gathered with neighbors. “I was so happy and surprised that none of my family was killed in the earthquake.”
Although they survived, Marc’s family lost all of their possessions. A Red Cross tent standing in a school playground now provides shelter to 12 family members, including his seven brothers, three sisters, mother and niece.
“When they told me I had to leave my (damaged) house, I felt like I lost a part of myself,” he shared. And any day now, his family will need to relocate again because the school is due to reopen.
But that is not the case everywhere. The college where Marc was studying political science collapsed in the earthquake, as did the school where his mother worked. Recognizing the importance of education, members of a Danish Red Cross team are repairing classrooms one-by-one, starting in Carrefour, and lending large tents where students can gather to resume their studies in this transition period.
Until his college is repaired, Marc is filling his time and supporting his family as a translator with the visiting Mexican Red Cross team. This opportunity helps provide him with a sense of purpose and a “hands-on” form of education during this difficult time.
Maniouly Jeannot Age: 32 Location: “Camp Neptune”, Cana Pevert, Delmas, Port-au-Prince
Maniouly Jeannot had just returned home after collecting her 9-year-old son, Kidley, from school when the earthquake struck. Everyone ran out of the house, except her father, sadly who was killed when the house collapsed.
For the last two months, Maniouly has been living at “Camp Neptune” in Port-au-Prince where the Red Cross has provided her with tarps for shelter, a kitchen kit and personal hygiene supplies.
Maniouly is sharing her emergency shelter with eight others, including her son and her 60-year-old mother, Louisemanette, who was widowed when the earthquake struck. In addition to shelter and relief supplies, they have access to safe water and latrines, but Maniouly is looking forward to restoring her income so she can better support her family’s needs.
“Living here in this situation is both stressful and boring. I need to find work so I can begin to help myself,” she said. Maniouly used to run a beauty salon, but it was destroyed in the earthquake.
Included in the American Red Cross relief and recovery plan is livelihood development to help individuals like Maniouly. We are already helping to jumpstart an initial 16,000 families’ incomes and restore their dignity by providing small business loans as well as looking forward to developing income-earning opportunities through additional grant and cash-for-work programs in the near future. To learn more about how the American Red Cross is helping provide emergency relief and recovery programs for earthquake survivors in Haiti, visit redcross.org/haiti.