Haitians in makeshift camps organize 'platoons' to provide services
Small groups have taken it upon themselves to establish security, organize aid deliveries, and maintain a minimum of sanitation in the sprawling 'tent cities' that cropped up in the wake of the Jan. 12 earthquake.
As Haitians have accepted the stark reality that the camps that sprang up after the horrific Jan. 12 earthquake will be their home indefinitely, people have moved to get their new communities organized.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Enter any camp here, from the sprawling, stewing expanse of perhaps 10,000 people in the capital’s central Champ de Mars, to others on soccer fields and golf courses and inside the security barriers of now-crumbled public buildings, and in most cases you’ll find “the committee” – the small group of men and women who have taken it upon themselves to establish security, organize aid deliveries, and maintain a minimum of sanitation.
Behind these spontaneous and often basic attempts at self-government is a very human desire to put some order – and maybe even a bit of hope – into disrupted and disoriented lives.
“The first distributions of food here were complete chaos. The groups got out of here before emptying their trucks because it was such a mess,” says Ben Constant, president of the “committee” at the Sylvio Cator soccer stadium camp, a few blocks west of the collapsed presidential palace in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince. “That’s when we knew we had to get this thing organized.”
Mr. Constant, a well-known Port-au-Prince DJ who before the quake managed the stadium for the Haitian Federation of Football, sat down to figure out who was living in the camp – about 700 families, more than 2,500 people – what was needed, and who could do what.
Clean-up and security “platoons” were established – the word “platoon” harking back to Constant’s years serving in the US Army and Vietnam (he’s a Haitian citizen who lived in the US for a number of years). A clinic with what he claims is now some of the best emergency pediatric care in the city was set up – open not just to the camp population but to all Haitian kids in need.
And families were assigned a number – it’s all written down by hand on a neat ledger – so that numbers are called when aid arrives, and the distribution is more orderly.
Constant says he felt compelled to organize day-to-day living at the camp because frustration was building “and something bad was going to happen.” The fact he and his family live at the stadium as well was another motivation. “We lost everything like everybody else,” he says. “We’re just trying to make what we can of this situation.”
In some cases, the camp committee members were involved in neighborhood governing boards before the quake, and simply transferred their skills and social-organizing abilities to their new residence.
Kermly Hermé is one of those people. Active in the Bel Air neighborhood before the quake, she is now the doyenne of at least a section of the sprawling Champ de Mars camp.
A large woman with a colorful muumuu and a massive bun fashioned of tight braids, Ms. Herme says the “committee” of nine she sits on has assigned itself such tasks as keeping the nearby port-a-johns “orderly” and getting the sick and wounded to clinics.