Haiti 8 years on…
I remember Haiti so vividly. I was deployed just after the earthquake in 2010 to serve as the UN’s gender-based violence coordinator for the humanitarian response. Where did these 8 years go?!
Before the earthquake, Haiti had its political challenges, but also a vibrant women’s movement. The earthquake was a huge setback in terms of feminist momentum. It was a huge setback, period.
I remember the beginning of our response, trying to put back what was lost. Haiti had started to implement a system to prevent and respond to GBV – and even a national plan. Picking up the pieces was nearly impossible. We worked to find what still stood – to build on it, to provide services for women who needed it most. We canvased camps and handed out referral cards listing hospitals and NGOs where women survivors of violence could get the support they needed. Conditions were hellish in camps – no privacy, hardly any lighting, sanitation facilities few. And violence – always violence against women and girls.
Mud. Torn tarps. Plastic bags tied together to form a makeshift shelter. Tents branded with an array of aid logos. A few wild dogs on the outskirts. And thousands of people, everywhere.
I spoke to so many women during those months: How are you? What are your biggest concerns? Do you feel safe? What can we do to make things better here? I never asked directly about violence – women raised their own priorities and concerns. Violence was always there, lurking, implicit. Sometimes painfully explicit.
We tried to be proactive in terms of prevention: distributing solar flashlights, increasing security patrols, engaging peacekeepers, disseminating radio announcements against violence. Never enough.
I worked my ass off. I grew disheartened. I kept working.
How many rapes?! every damn journalist wanted to know. Well – how many rapes is “enough”? How many is “too much”? What difference would the numbers have made? We didn’t need numbers to tell us that it was happening, that it was serious, and – that it was our job to do something about it. Even one rape is one too many, my daily mantra.
We owed it to our Haitian sisters to do the best we absolutely could. Our best wasn’t enough.
I wrote about Haiti in my Amplified Vulnerabilities piece. I still write about Haiti a lot. I quoted my young friend Carine from the camp, an aspiring journalist. I still quote Carine a lot. So much of my Haiti life marked me deeply, stuck with me.
How is dear Ayiti now? Did we make a difference? We tried, surely. We created a lot of chaos. We went in with good intentions. We could not fix everything. We drove up property prices. We fixed some things. We made messes of others. Humanitarian aid is never straightforward. Haitians continue to suffer. Some camps still exist. We brought in cholera. Drought paid a visit. A hurricane followed. Haiti builds, rebuilds, unbuilds, builds again.