Haiti: Our flag is a beacon for safety
At our security briefing, we are taken through a large, colour-coded map of Port au Prince. Blobs of red on the map show high risk areas that are ‘no go’ after certain times of the day. Martissand is the kidnapping strip. Carrefour more carjacking and armed robbery.
It’s hard to reconcile the friendly interaction we have with ‘ordinary’ Haitians – communities where we work, our own national staff – with the threat of the unseen gangsters.
There is concern around the targeting of aid agencies – the week before we arrived two MSF nurses were kidnapped (rescued a few days afterwards) – and as a result we drive around the city in unmarked cars, doors locked, and in the evening in a compulsory two-car convoy.
As we pass the endless tents that cluster in gravel pits by the side of the road and line the capital’s hillsides, it really brings home how vulnerable families living on the streets must be.
We have four-wheel drive vehicles and guarded houses. Children here still have no real shelter, no space to play, no privacy, no protection. In some of the camps you can see the Save the Children flag flying above large white tents – our ‘child friendly spaces’. It’s a sign that there is somewhere parents can bring their children to be looked after safely while they try to reorganise their lives.
At the moment though, some families seem to find the crush of neighbours reassuring. The fear comes still with the memory of the quake. I meet Beatrice, a mum of six, at one of Save the Children’s distributions. We sit on the steps of a busy courtyard where she has just collected a mosquito net, cooking oil and a large bag of special peanut paste that will help keep her children well nourished.
Her eight-year-old daughter Maudeline giggles as she plays with my digital camera, and tells me that she likes being with her friends in the tents. But, Maudeline has nightmares, where she dreams there is an earthquake and her mum is dead. She’s been able to go back to school, but is scared when she goes into the building in case the walls fall down.
Her mum tells me they will now wait for a new house that somebody will build and give to them. I nod. But I feel pretty overwhelmed. Just from where I’m sitting I can see hundreds of tents housing hundreds of families – each one in need of solid walls, each containing children who need to recover from what they’ve seen.
For them, security is still a long way off.