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Haiti: Older people now have a voice, but there's still a long way to go

07 Jan 2013

HelpAge ducation programme in Leogane, Haiti. 2012 was another challenging year for Haiti. The country never fully recovers from an emergency before another one strikes. 

More than 400,000 people are still living in temporary camps three years after the January 2010 earthquake and thousands more are living in precarious accommodation in rural areas affected by the earthquake. 

The 2012 rainy season did not bring enough rain and the threat of food insecurity was quite real even before tropical storm Isaac and hurricane Sandy destroyed crops all over the country. 

Haiti is also still struggling to eradicate the cholera epidemics that broke out in 2010, just ten months after the earthquake. The government has been unable to hold local elections and donors are reluctant to invest funding to rebuild Haiti. 

Older people easily marginalised

In this gloomy context, older people are easily marginalised, forgotten and deprioritised. We see many organisations that prioritise mothers and children ignoring the fact that grandmothers serve as advisors to mothers during pregnancy and assist in raising grandchildren.

We see thousands of Haitian farmers, mostly older men and women, abandoned in Haiti's rural areas struggling to produce food as they constantly face the threat of drought, floods and hurricanes.

HelpAge has helped to set up older people's associations in 12 communes affected by the 2010 earthquake. These associations received HelpAge assistance in the emergency response. Now the emergency response has come to an end, the challenge for these associations is to continue advocating for older people's issues.   

Older people demand their rights

In 2012, it was encouraging to see hundreds of older people sitting around a literacy teacher to learn how to read and count thanks to a HelpAge programme. It was even more encouraging to see one association in Leogane continue this important work without outside support. Last year, hundreds of older people also staged demonstrations for their rights to healthcare, housing and food.

HelpAge is working hard to support older people still living in camps. We are implementing a resettlement programme which provides an allocation for rent and cash grants for education and livelihood activities for older people resettled by community workers for up to nine months. The funds for this project are provided by the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO).

HelpAge will also start work this year with 500 older people living in rural areas of five communes, providing them technical and material support so that they can rebuild their houses that were destroyed by the earthquake.

People who work in the community will mobilise other members of their neighbourhoods so they can gather materials and help each other. Engineers will train key community members on how to make their homes more resistant to hurricanes. The funds for this project are provided by the UK Department for International Development.

A study on older people's issues

For the fist time in more than a decade, a study on the situation of older people in Haiti will be published. This study will describe the deteriorating situation of older people after years of damage caused by hurricanes, floods and the earthquake. 

It will also show that only a tiny percentage of older Haitians have access to some kind of pension. The results of the study will help expand HelpAge's work in Haiti, including advocacy work. 

As a citizen of Haiti, I am happy to see my organisation's commitment to older people here. We have come a long way since HelpAge opened an office in Haiti in 2009. Older people now have a voice and are striving for a better life. But for this to continue, so much more remains to be done!

Read more about our work to support older people in Haiti.

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Author profile

Bertin Meance
Country: Haiti
Job title: Program Support Manager

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.