Haiti: Snapshots from 2010
When we arrived at the Asile Communal nursing home, all the residents were outside, in the midst of all the destruction. What to do? I went around, I found a woman selling boiled sweet potatoes. I bought the whole pot and distributed it to the older people. I nearly forgot about that, but, on the HelpAge website, I read that an older woman shared that this gesture saved her life. It made me happy.
The following day, it was difficult to find somebody selling food to give them. After driving across Port-au-Prince with a staff member of Asile Communal we stumbled upon a woman selling a pot of rice with meat.
She was surrounded by hungry and angry people who wanted food. Noticing that there wouldn't be any left, we told her we'd buy the whole thing. How much do you want to give? 750 Gdes. 1000 Gdes she yelled back. Deal!
We left fast amid a lot of hungry and angry people cursing us. The older people at Asile Communal survived for another day.
At the nursing homes in Léogane
A path with red and white flowers in the yard of Asile St-Vincent de Paul, leading to a bouquet amid candles. People sit there quietly. They are mourning hundreds of deaths in the city completely destroyed by the earthquake.
Older people from the St-Jean de Dieu Nursing home
One of the most memorable images was the older people praying on the site of the church of Petit-Goâve and remembering all the events that they have happened there: their baptism, their first communion, their marriage, funerals of their relatives. They were asking God for answers, they have survived many disasters in their lives but they have never seen something like the earthquake before.
Older people form their own lines
There was something different during the distribution at Croix-des-Prés in Port-au-Prince. The people being served were all older people. Intruders are easily identified. Either you are young or you are old. If we are not sure, show a picture with your date of birth!
The Priest's Sermon on 1 October
"You, older people who are gathered here, be proud, rejoice, rejoice! Many people who dream of having your white hair, will not live to have it; Rejoice because of this white hair that you have; In fact many people are putting products in their hair to have this white hair, but you have it naturally.
"Even if you notice that the older people are missing teeth or have lost all their teeth, do not dwell on it; it's just because of great life experience; the wisdom that is coming from their mouth is something extraordinary"
The March at the United Nation Plaza, 1 October
To see the police stop the demonstrators from leaving the United Nations Plaza and take to the streets was a success in itself. Indeed the demonstrators were older people! Here is what they said to the small crowd of journalists covering the event:
"The earthquake destroyed our house; we are living in the streets; we have no place to stay, none of us. We have no money in our hands; Our hands are empty; We are left on our own."
What about our grandchildren?
I worked with a group of ten older people to rehearse what they will say on 1 October to the journalists. After a long work session, we all were ready to have a well deserved lunch or so I thought! To my great surprise, everybody put their food to one side. Nobody was eating. Why, I asked, are you not eating? "Don't worry, we are taking the food home for our grandchildren."
At the CENSHOP hospital
Phelicia was referred to the CENSHOP hospital for treatment. In our minds, she would never go back to the Municipal Nursing home when she was released. But when we asked her, she said she wanted to go back there. Why? She has many customers waiting for her to serve the morning coffee and all her belongings are there!
When we wake up on 1 January 2011, we will wish that 2010 was just a bad dream; that the earthquake never happened, that hurricane Thomas had not brushed past the country, that the cholera epidemic had not taken so many lives, that the presidential and legislative elections did not end up in chaos.
But, these events did take place and are having a profound impact on Haitian society and on older people. Haiti has faced many emergencies in the past. But this year, HelpAge was there for the older people. They received humanitarian assistance. Their needs, their hopes were shared with the humanitarian actors. They had a voice in the media. Older people were heard on the radio, seen on TV. A thousand of them marched on 1 October to ask to be remembered in the reconstruction of the country. In several NGO documents, they figure among the most vulnerable now and became eligible for assistance.
The road ahead is long
Older people want to leave the camps, they want cash so they can resume their activities; many of them need food. Older people have no access to pension funds; healthcare is a luxury for them; they have become more vulnerable to hurricanes.
HelpAge International has its work cut out. It's time to take look back at what was accomplished, learning the lessons in the process and to work in order to make 2011 a better year for older people.