Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Visit to Terrain Acra

Photos: (Top - Kids of a proud mother stand in front of their shelter in Terrain Acra Camp; Bottom - the shell of a destroyed home on the edge of Terrain Acra Camp is now used to hang the wash.)

Unlike yesterday, today was not filled with simple solutions. Today I visited Terrain Acra, a camp for earthquake survivors in the Delmas district of Port-au-Prince. There are about 25,000 people who are receiving services in this camp which sprawls endlessly over a valley of toxic waste. It is devastating to see. While there are so many positive things being done to help, the daunting reality of what it must be like to live in the camp is overwhelming.

Everyone is hoping that this reality is short-lived. Right now we face a critical timeline for moving everyone out. Here’s why:

1) Terrain Acra is private land owned by the Acra family. They own a factory on the site and can’t run it with thousands of people living there. The Acra family has been quite patient up until now, but other private landowners are starting to evict people.

2) The land is a valley surrounded by steep hills, and is thus both a flood and landslide zone.

3) We have no idea what chemicals are pumped out of the Acra Factory. The site is unbelievably filthy, with garbage and human waste covering the ground several feet deep.

4) The camp is filled with feral pigs, goats and other animals. We’ve tried everything to fix this issue (partnering with Veterinarians Without Borders, etc.) – but in all likelihood, the animals are here to stay.

5) Most people in Haiti rented their homes pre-earthquake. Now, they live in camps at no cost. Although tent life is hot and cramped and wretched, most people are still too scared to sleep under a cement roof, so they might as well sleep under a tarp for free. This means that they have no incentive to leave.

Walking through the camp the heat is heavy and thick. Every once in a while you cross a powerful waft of rotting waste. There are sounds of lively music, children’s laughter, mother’s shouting, older men talking as they play dominoes, and young men sawing and hammering as they build new structures. The sights can only be described through a lens as they’re too much for words. While people are happy to greet you, there is a greater sense of desolation.

We walked to the top of a hill overlooking all of Terrain Acra. This was an area that edged our camp ‘border’ and extended into the surrounding neighborhoods that have been leveled. Homes are laid bare and exposed as remnants of their former lives.

On the way back down I encountered a beautiful little girl giggling and playing in her makeshift home. I started a little giggle myself and caught the same chuckle in the eyes of her mother. Together we laughed and I asked if I could take “un photo.” Proudly she said yes, and all three of her children quickly gathered in pose. I showed the picture to the family and wished I could have given her a copy to keep.

Despite the horror they face: their earthquake shattered reality, a pervasive fear of “the big one” and the impending hurricane season, there is a resolve and determination among Haitians that can move mountains. After all, if you were the proud mother of three wouldn’t you do everything in your power to build a better, safer, and brighter future for them?

1 comment:

  1. I appreciate that you are writing about the conditions in camps, but I think that your post implied a couple of misrepresentations: (1) By suggesting the Acra's family's patience, I think it should be mentioned that they are being patient towards the government, not the displaced families, as it is the government's responsibility to facilitate the re-housing of those rendered homeless by the earthquake by building and facilitating access to affordable and safe housing that meets international standards for "adequate housing" (as is required by Haiti's Constitution). And the Acra family, as well as other landowners, shouldn't be patient. They should be demanding this from their government as much as the displaced. This is everyone's problem and it should be resolved as quickly as possible to end the suffering of the displaced population and the toll their displacement is having on society as a whole. (2) I appreciate your acknowledgement of the psychological toll the earthquake took on many Haitians (who are afraid to sleep under concrete) and the difficult conditions of camps that you witnessed. But it is troubling that you suggest that people are staying in camps because it's free so they have no incentive to leave. No one wants to stay in camps. Given the destruction of affordable housing and the loss of livelihoods from the earthquake, the "incentive" for people to leave is access to affordable, adequate housing.