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Two years after the earthquake, life for older Haitians is still hard

11 Jan 2012

Maria Vita at her food stallBuying, selling, growing, buzzing; Haiti is bursting with life and every space is crowded.

The dusty landscape explodes with an electric mix of clothes; purple, pink, turquoise and yellow, all vibrant in the Caribbean sunshine.

This vibrancy is reflected in the passion Haitians have for their country and their optimism despite the harsh conditions they face.

As Maria Vita, who runs a food stall, says: "I don't sell much. There's a lack of money now for everyone [since the earthquake]. Business is very slow."

The search for money is constant

Around 500,000 people still live under canvas, two years on from the earthquake. With little hope of work, the search for money to eat is constant.

Many older people are bringing up children and support their families by collecting plastic bottles and sheeting from the streets and rubbish tips to sell to recycling companies. The pay is tiny, but they have no choice.

HelpAge was working with older people in the country before the earthquake struck on 12 January 2010. In its aftermath, an effective programme funded by DEC and Age UK was established to provide healthcare, loans and cash grants amongst other things.

Perhaps the strongest legacy to date is the 88 older people's associations that have been established, with around 1,000 members each. These are self-help vehicles through which services are delivered and older people can take action, meet their government and build support networks and respect.

Older people taking action

Each association has a trained group of older home-based carers who identify and visit the most needy and ensure they have access to healthcare, which is provided through local clinics.

Associations organise street action and this year petitioned Haiti's First Lady, Sophia Martelly to set up a national committee on ageing. The older people's associations are beginning to negotiate with mayors and the government for registration and access to local funds. 

I attended a meeting between Croix-des-Bouquets communal older people's association and Normil Frerel, a representative from the Ministry of Social Welfare.

The President of the association explained what growing old in a camp is like. He said: "In the camps older people have a very difficult life. Their health is worse, they suffer from skin diseases and respiratory problems because of the heat, dust and lack of clean water. 

"They need to get out of the camps, they are dying and their mental health is affected. Those without income are forced to beg from neighbours and relatives".   

Broadcasting older Haitians' issues

Representatives of the older people's associations regularly appear on TV to talk about issues facing older Haitians. 

We went with two leaders, Marie-Hélène Jean-Baptiste and Félix Jean Charles to Haiti's National TV station. The programming directors' dark glasses, leather jacket and white silk scarf gave a sense of drama and occasion.

Marie-Hélène and Félix were slick and confident and no one would have guessed they come from harsh reality of a canvas city. They talked about the discrimination they face and how important it is for all ages to support one and other.

Haiti's future lies in the people themselves who are proud and ready to rebuild their country. Older Haitians are keen to participate and to ensure that the less able among them get the care they need and are not left on the edge of society.

Donate to our work supporting older people like Maria Vita.

Find out more about how we have helped older people affected by the Haiti earthquake.

Read our news story on older people`s lives two years after the earthquake.

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Jane Scobie
Country: UK
Job title: Head of Network Development

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