I paint my toenails so I can have something bright to look at

The Canadian Lutheran World Relief team visited a total of four refugee camps in two days. Three were in the Petionville area of Port au Prince and another in Leogane, the epicentre of the earthquake.

Tents pitched within a meter or two of each other indicate the high density living conditions in camps set uo to temporarily house Haitians who lost homes in the earthquake. Photo: T. Gallop, ELCIC.

The camps are just that – camps. It would be like going to your favourite national park with everybody tenting in the exact same tents only there is about two feet between tents. Cooking and washing takes place over open fires. There is no power, the washrooms and showers are communal and there is little or no space for children to play. Well you might say that sounds like a camping holiday you’ve been on — not just so crowded.

There’s one big difference here – you can’t go home after the weekend is over. People haven’t been able to go home after living like this for nearly ten months.

Lutheran World Relief is distributing new tents to replace old ones and plastic sheeting to reinforce old tents against the rain and winds. We watched the distribution of quilts and blankets, hygiene kits and other necessary supplies.

One camp we visited was on the grounds of the former Italian embassy which was completely levelled. The kids play soccer in the empty swimming pool. When Executive director Bob Granke asked children what they could remember about the earthquake, they fell silent at first and then with vacant looks in their eyes recounted the deaths of family members.

Most people in the camps we went to were renters, so even if the buildings they once lived in are ever rebuilt, they likely will be rented out to others with more money. Some owned the land their houses were on but there is no way to remove the rubble because three or four houses farther up might have slid into their property. There is no heavy equipment available to remove the huge slabs of concrete.

People who own the land where the camps are now on want everyone out and there is nothing the government seems to be able to do little about it.

To bring the property issue into strong focus, the Leogane camp, which is managed by LWF that we visited today, had moved from a previous settlement that had been badly damaged by storms. An agency rented the land for them but only for two months, even as they establish their water supply, latrines and showers and talk about the need for a school their future may only be sixty days in this place.

Yeogana, the LWF employee who has been our guide told ELCIC Director of Communication and Stewardship Trina Gallop while staring at her open sandals, “I started painting my toenails when I began relief work. It gives me something bright to look at now and then.”

One million people are still in camps. If one of the Atlantic hurricanes even comes close to Haiti it will be back to square one or worse for most of them.

— Posted by Tom Brook

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