By Jennifer Browning
Three weeks after the earthquake three sisters, Darline and Martine Pierre and Deneiz Joseph, had lost everything.
All that existed of their home was a pile of rubble in downtown Port-au-Prince, their mother had died after medical complications from a crush injury at the General Hospital, and Darline’s beauty salon where she worked was demolished. Life as they had known it had drastically changed.
Darline and Martine packed up their two kids and their younger sister and headed to Haiti’s Central Plateau. The girls knew their stepfather, Renaud, had a home in the town of Casse. Darline said that while they were given the option to stay and live in a tent city, for her that wasn’t an option.
“Often the ground still shook,” she said, “and you could still smell death. We didn’t feel safe living in tents with our children and our younger sister.”
Although he lived in a one-room house, Renaud, took in the three girls and their two children. Now six lived in a space where only one lived previously before.
“I was surprised to see them,” he said. “I have very little, but happy they had come here.”
These sisters aren’t alone in their retreat from the rubble of Port-au-Prince. In February, the United Nations reported that an estimated 500,000 fled Port-au-Prince to reside in rural Haiti with friends and family. Project Medishare’ communities in the Central Plateau, Haiti’s poorest region, has grown tremendously.
This mass exodus of earthquake survivors has spiked Thomonde and Casse’s population by 29 percent, placing a burden on Project Medishare’s already stressed Community Health Program. Medishare’s Integerated Community Development program is also seeing strain, as Marmont’s population increased by 19 percent. Both programs currently rely on individual private donations.
While Project Medishare’s Community Health Program has seen many successes, such as almost a 30 percent decreased mortality rate among the population since 2003, there is still much work to be done. The increased displaced population means that poverty and desperation increases as well.
Word spread quickly about Renaud’s family arriving, and neighbors knew the family had little to nothing. It was true, there was basically nothing for the family to eat. Martine said while she was hungry, she still was glad they had come to Casse. Here it was quiet. Here it was safe.
A few hours passed, and then neighbors showed up at the family’s house bringing whatever food they had.
“We were so surprised,” Martine said. “We didn’t know anyone in Casse, but here they were….friends of our stepfather. We live by the solidarity of the people in this community, otherwise we have nothing.”
The community didn’t stop there. For now, Darlene and Martine’s children and their sister, Deneiz, attend school for free. When the family arrived in Casse in February, schools in Port-au-Prince were still closed. School now was a luxury. However the family knows that the generosity won’t last long.
“It is so nice, but my biggest fear is that the school will eventually stop paying for them,” Martine said. “I know it is coming.”
Renaud stands by and shakes his head in agreement.
While the Darlene and Martine both can’t find jobs in rural Haiti, they say for now, they prefer to stay here in Casse.
Deneiz, the youngest sister, said she doesn’t want to return to Port-au-Prince because she still has nightmares about the earthquake.
“Even up here, in this house, I still imagine the ground is shaking,” Deneiz said. “And it makes me remember all that we lost…..our mother….our home.”
Currently, private donations fund the Community Health Program that serves not only the areas permanent residents, but also earthquake victims like Darline, Martine, and Deneiz.
Funding also provides jobs to 95 Haitian doctors, nurses, health agents, mid wives, lab and pharmacy technicians, as well as a small administrative staff.