Even before the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti six months ago it was a nation struggling with the effects of chronic poverty. Less than half the 2.8 million people living in Port au Prince, the capital city, had access to electricity, whilst 86% of the urban population lived in slums. Basic facilities such as clean drinking water or sanitation were rarely available, with just over half the population having access to clean drinking water.
Whilst recognising that there is much work still to be done, it’s important to highlight the successes during the reconstruction process over the past six months and the indomitable spirit of communities and individuals on their journey towards rebuilding their lives
Oxfam is engaged in many activities helping more than 440,000 people through projects providing clean water, sanitation services, public health education, shelter and support for livelihoods. To fund this work $90 million has been raised, with $30 million being spent so far. Less than 7% of this total goes towards funding support costs, ensuring that these donations go directly to those who need vital assistance.
Marie Carole Boursiquot is one of Oxfam’s beneficiaries, through working as part of Oxfam’s livelihood programme which engaged 56 women in running Oxfam’s first community canteens in Port au Prince in the early months following the disaster. From March to May Oxfam supported Marie Carole financially to run the community canteen so she could feed 80 of the most vulnerable people in her community and make a profit for herself, as a first step to regaining her own means of subsistence. Through this support Marie Carole has now managed to fund herself to re-open her shop, the stock from which was destroyed during the earthquake.
When asked by Oxfam worker Julia Gilbert what the biggest needs are in her community six months on from the earthquake, Marie Carole seems reluctant to answer. When she does respond, she replies modestly: ‘Many things would help me, but I don’t want to ask for too many things. You can’t constantly ask for others to give and give. I am satisfied with what God gives me. But with more money… I would be able to get on even better than now, expand my shop; sell more and make more money to improve our shelter and to improve our life.”
The first community canteens in Port Au Prince have now closed but there are another 139 canteens in various different parts of the capital, each supporting one canteen owner and feeding 80 of the most vulnerable people in their communities. The women running the canteens not only get financial support but participate in business management training, representing the importance placed by Oxfam on sustainability and empowerment.
Over the next few months Oxfam will reach 150,000 families through its livelihoods grant programme, and will support many more women like Marie Carole.
The impact of January’s earthquake will long be felt in Haiti, but Marie Carole remains optimistic:
“There are always needs, but as long as we are healthy, and we have two hands and two feet feet, we can find things to do, and we will continue living. Things will get better.”
Photographs: Copyright Jane Beesley/Oxfam