The earthquake which hit Haiti on 12 January 2010 destroyed over 175,000 homes on the island, leaving 2.1 million people homeless.
Fragile, makeshift camps sprang up across the country to give shelter – however precarious – to these people. Conditions in these camps remained extremely difficult for families; Philizaire’s story, told in 2012, highlights some of the challenges they faced.
Philizaire, who is 30 years old, lives in a temporary shelter in camp AIE, located in Delmas 33, Port-au-Prince.
She has been living there since the earthquake of January 2010 with her young son, Watnay, who is 11 months old. Watnay was born in their basic shelter in the camp, despite the fact that there are hospitals and health clinics nearby. Unfortunately these health services are simply too expensive for most camp residents.
Philizaire and Watnay share their small shelter with Philizaire’s sisters: Clairemane (40) and Manise (28). Their house used to be in this same area, but was destroyed by the earthquake. They had nowhere else to go. Living conditions in the camp are tough: there is no privacy or security for the family, as their shelter is made out of bits of tarpaulin and tin sheeting.
This is especially difficult for Philizaire and her sisters, because they are a female-headed household. Philizaire says that if someone wants to enter the shelter they can, even if it is closed, because they simply use a knife to cut through the material; it has happened before. If Philizaire or her sisters manage to scream in time, the other women in shelters nearby will come to help them; if they don’t, no-one comes.
There is not enough space for the family to have their own toilet and shower facilities in their shelter, so they use the communal facilities, which are not always clean or safe. While the Red Cross used to provide water to the camp, this basic human requirement is no longer provided, and Philizaire and her sisters now have to buy the water, using whatever little money they have. Their shelter is so small that Philizaire and her sisters have to wash their clothes in the narrow walkway outside their house.
Philizaire and her sisters survive by engaging in petty trading. This consists of buying supplies, such as spaghetti, sugar and milk, and then selling them on in the camp for a small profit. However, this is not always enough to get by, and other employment opportunities are extremely difficult to find.
For Philizaire, her biggest hope is that she will be able to leave the camp soon. She wants a better life for her and her son, and she believes that the only way to do this is by getting a new home. She wants Watnay to go to school, and one day she hopes for him to be an agronomist or a pastor.