Haitian tent cities show wide variation in services

More than half of Haitians who were made homeless by the 2010 earthquake have left their temporary quarters. But 600,000 of them are still living in tent cities, in and around the capital, Port au Prince. Living conditions are deplorable with no running water or electricity, but they aren’t all the same.

Nicole Norgilus lives here with her son Jefferson. She waits outside her tent all day for someone to buy charcoal from her for cooking. After three hours of waiting, one customer arrives.

“I remember the way I used to live. I had a bigger business, better than this,” recalled Ms. Norgilus.

She and 2,000 others wound up living in tents. The charcoal she sells cooks her food. Outdoor toilets stand across the street next to a public school. But no tent city children attend school, because of the cost.

Residents say they have no way to move out without government help.

“I don’t even pray anymore because I’m so discouraged,” added Ms. Norgilus.

A few blocks away, there was a remarkably different tent city. In this one, the sidewalks are clean. The children attend school run by GHESKIO, a non-profit medical organization. A trade school trains residents to build their own houses. There is security and street lights at night. Each tent has an address. They still lack the comforts of home, except for one tent belonging to the president of the residents’ committee, Mireille Perk, who is in charge of community activities.

“We have better living. Like home, like solidarity to each other and autonomy,” noted Perk.

With the foundations of a stable community here, many residents appear to be settling in to stay. Jean Pape says that is not the goal of GHESKIO and the tent city.

“Our next move is to take them back to the slum where they were before,” said Pape.

Pape says he’s looking for money to do that, one year of rent each or enough to repair each house. But the money does not seem to be coming any time soon for the 5,000 here. Or, the 2,000 living with Nicole and Jefferson Norgilus.

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