Haiti: Shaken but Resilient, a Community Struggles to Survive
The Bel Air neighborhood in downtown Port-au-Prince has seen its share of troubles including poverty, high unemployment, gang violence and other social ills. But nothing prepared the usually resilient community for the earthquake that struck on January 12.
Many of the residents were forced to flee their homes and are now camping out in the open-air settlement that has sprung up in nearby Champs de Mars Park. Residents who have tried to return have been scared off by the frequent aftershocks.
At nightfall, Bel Air is plunged into pitch-black darkness, punctuated only by an occasional bonfire or the pale light from a rare oil lamp or generator. Traffic from cars is nearly nonexistent. But at least half of every street is filled with people sleeping in front of their ruined homes.
On one block stands what is left of the Centre de Santé Aurore du Bel-Air, a local health clinic run with the support of the Haitian Ministry of Health.
Last week, the IRC Emergency Team visited the center to assess the damage. An older part of the building stands almost unscathed. But a newer part that was added later totally collapsed. One of the IRC’s and other aid groups' pressing tasks is to determine whether health centers like this one can be rehabilitated.
Toward the center of Bel Air sits an old auto yard on whose metal gate is pasted a paper notice: “Accommodation Center Teleco.” Inside the yard some 800 homeless families are camped out. The families have scavenged scraps and junk from the yard to fashion makeshift shelters. The inhabitants of the Teleco settlement have tried to organize themselves the best way they can and some rudimentary community leadership has emerged. But when IRC technical experts in water and sanitation, gender-based violence, and youth protection visited last week it was clear that the needs of the people were still immediate and overwhelming.
Among the most pressing issues is the care and protection of children who have been physically and emotionally scarred by the quake.
“Many children are obviously still affected by the earthquake and the aftershocks,” said Rebecca Chandler, the emergency child protection coordinator, as young people from the neighborhood gathered around the emergency team. “In Bel Air and similar communities there is urgent need to provide ‘child friendly spaces’ – places where children gain a sense of normalcy in a protected environment.”
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