It was difficult to know exactly what to expect as I arrived in Haiti one year after the terrible earthquake. There had been so many reports – some of them contradictory – and I looked forward to seeing things for myself. Stepping off the aircraft and into the warm morning air of the capital city, Port-au-Prince, what struck me first was the vibrancy – the music, smells and general hum of Haitian urban life.
After a short drive, what became more apparent was the mountains of earthquake rubble piled either side of the road; houses still in ruin; the badly potholed streets (which pre-dates the earthquake, I’m sure) and then, eventually, the tent camps where people made homeless by the earthquake live.
I visited one such camp called Delmas 56, which 6,000 people have called home since the earthquake. The sad truth is that not only did people lose their homes and livelihoods in the quake – but many lost loved ones too. Across earthquake-affected Haiti up to a million people cook, clean, sleep and eke out a living in camps like this one.
As I walked along the camp’s narrow dirt paths that weave through the tents and the few small huts made of wood and plastic, I caught a glimpse of a barber’s shop, and a small shop selling basic goods such as?. and was struck by the fact that people in Haiti are so resilient. Many of them are taking steps to improve their lives and finding a way to live with dignity when eating and sleeping cheek-by-jowl in camps like these can so easily rob a person of their self – worth.
In Delmas 56 and other camps like it, Save the Children has built showers and toilets to help families maintain a basic level of hygiene. We promote and support safe hand washing practices in order to help prevent the spread of communicable diseases like cholera, which has so far claimed the lives of over 3,600 people in Haiti.
To tackle the outbreak we have established a cholera treatment unit in Delmas 56. It was great to see Save the Children doctors and nurses working around-the-clock to provide life-saving support to people stricken by the illnesses. But what I was moved most by was the fact that people were trying as best they could to carry on as normal.
As my colleagues and I passed through the unit to speak to the staff and, where possible, the patients to hear what had happened to them and what further help and support they needed from us, I wondered whether they would think we were intruding.
I noticed one patient – a young man – move a plastic bucket to one side so that our party could move with ease through the treatment area. Another woman coughed, quietly, into her bed sheets as we passed by. I wondered how I would react if I was sick in hospital and people came walking by asking questions and if I would be so dignified.
We couldn’t have treated a single cholera patient and saved so many lives without the support of our donors and supporters. To everyone who has supported our work and other aid agencies’ work in Haiti I say a very sincere thank you.
is Save the Children’s director of global programmes.