In our own backyard, and people are still suffering. Although some women have taken it to the extreme claiming that their husbands died during the earthquake, these people still need help. So how long does a natural disaster last in the media? The Haitians are need of food and supplies, parents still want their children to attend school, and they are thankful to be alive, but with the lack of help, the question does arise: How long will they last? The following article is the voice of many, pleading for help.
The camp leader had proposed writing letters to the nongovernment authorities, and she had so much to say. She lighted a candle and summoned a gracious sentiment with which to begin.
“To all the members of concerned organizations, I thank you first for feeling our pain,” she wrote slowly in pencil on what became an eraser-smudged page. “I note that you have taken on almost all our problems and some of our greatest needs.”
Ms. Saint Hilaire, 33, then succinctly explained that she had lost her husband and her livelihood to the Jan. 12 earthquake and now found herself hungry, stressed and stranded in a camp annex without a school, a health clinic, a marketplace or any activity at all.
“Please — do something!” she wrote from Tent J2, Block 7, Sector 3, her new address. “We don’t want to die of hunger and also we want to send our children to school. I give glory to God that I am still alive — but I would like to stay that way!”
In the last couple of weeks, thousands of displaced Haitians have similarly vented their concerns, depositing impassioned pleas for help in new suggestion boxes at a hundred camps throughout the disaster zone. Taken together, the letters form a collective cri de coeur from a population that has felt increasingly impotent and ignored.
With 1.3 million displaced people in 1,300 camps, homelessness is the new normal here. Two recent protest marches have sought to make the homeless a central issue in the coming presidential campaign. But the tent camp residents, miserable, weary and in many cases fighting eviction, do not seem to have the energy to become a vocal force.
When the International Organization for Migration added suggestion boxes to its information kiosks in scores of camps, it did not expect to tap directly into a well of pent-up emotions. “I anticipated maybe a few cranky letters,” said Leonard Doyle, who handles communications for the organization in Haiti. “But to my absolute, blow-me-down surprise, we got 700 letters in three days from our first boxes — real individualized expressions of suffering that give a human face to this ongoing tragedy.”
In some cases, the letters contain a breathless litany of miseries, a chain of woes strung together by commas: “I feel discouraged, I don’t sleep comfortably, I gave birth six months ago, the baby died, I have six other children, they don’t have a father, I don’t have work, my tarp is torn, the rain panics me, my house was crushed, I don’t have money to feed my family, I would really love it if you would help me,” wrote Marie Jean Jean.
In others, despair is expressed formally, with remarkable restraint: “Living under a tent is not favorable neither to me nor to my children” or “We would appreciate your assistance in obtaining a future as one does not appear to be on our horizon.”
Several writers sent terse wish lists on self-designed forms: “Name: Paul Wilbert. Camp: Boulos. Need: House. Demand: $1,250. Project: Build house. Thank you.”
Just a thought but maybe volunteers exhausted their help, or did people just stopped caring?
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