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Haiti: At the Asile Communale

28 Jun 2010

Today we've been to the Asile Communale, the municipal nursing home that hit the international headlines shortly after the earthquake.

One week after the earthquake, no food, water or medical assistance had reached the home and many of the residents were in a dire situation.

Exume Fleurantus (right) remembers it well: "Bertin Meance from HelpAge came and brought sweet potatoes from the market". In a matter-of-fact way she adds: "He saved us".

Substantial support to a "last resort"

Over the following months HelpAge and other NGOs have been providing substantial support to the home. The media still drop by from time to time to report and monitor progress.

Many people, clearly have been frustrated that improvements and progress have taken so long.  So, really I was expecting the worst.

Even before the earthquake, public perception was that the nursing was "a last resort", which was mainly because the area around the home has become such a dangerous neighbourhood.

Now with no clear boundaries between "inside" the Asile and "outside", security is a bigger issue than ever before. HelpAge are currently negotiating to put up a fence around the immediate area of the Asile to help redefine those boundaries.

Less family isolation than before

Several residents have now been joined by family members who lost their homes in the earthquake, so in fact there may be less family isolation than before the earthquake for some people.

Delouis Louissaint has been joined by his two sons who lost their apartment: "I came here to the Asile Communale because of my disability. I was no longer able to provide for my family. In 1998, I was shot in the leg, I woke to the sound of bullets and then later I became blind. I used to be a welder, working in a pot workshop, and before that I was a farmer outside Port-au-Prince." 

One of our residents keeps us regularly informed of progress, informing us when things are going well, or not. "Now we're eating well, three times a day. Now we have security guards, and it's safer. The nurses visit regularly, and the doctor too. Before the earthquake we never had doctors visits, except when someone was going to die so they could be removed to the General Hospital." 

"We sleep safely, I feel secure now"

We've spoken to Mme Desbrosses (right) several times over the last six months. Has she seen progress, have things improved for her, I asked?

"The care has got better, yes. We sleep safely, and I feel secure now. And the food is better. My two sons come to visit, they're very good to me, they visit twice a week. It would be a different story if they didn't visit."

I asked her a little about her life. What did she work as?

"I was a French and Spanish teacher." She says proudly, with a shy smile, "I was an intellectual". Would she like to still be teaching?

"Not right now, I'm taking a vacation! But yes, maybe again!" At 88, Mme Desbrosse clearly still feels active.

"I could teach a lot of things, my memory is still good, it doesn't falter. I enjoy reading, but I've lost my glasses. It would be good to have something to read."

Read more about HelpAge's work in Haiti.

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Rosaleen Cunningham
Country: Ireland
Job title: Freelance Media and Communications

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