Haiti earthquake: Parents try to shield children from the horrors

In the wake of last week's magnitude-7.0 earthquake that leveled Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, thousands of parents across this city are struggling to put on a brave face for the sake their children.

Mary Knox Merrill / The Christian Science Monitor
Ana Dorval and her daughter adjust to life in a tent settlement in the Delmas neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Sunday, five days after a 7.0 earthquake.
Mary Knox Merrill / The Christian Science Monitor
A mother and her two daughters adjust to life in a tent settlement in the Delmas neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Sunday, five days after a 7.0 earthquake.

How can you give your seven-year old son a sense of safety when everything else has crumbled, literally, around him? When his house is gone, and maybe his brothers and sisters, too, and he is left sleeping on the ground with thousands of others who have no idea when, or if, they will ever return home?

For Blaise Mirlande Simon, it is as simple as singing to Medesedric when aftershocks from last week's magnitude-7.0 earthquake shake the earth, bringing back nightmares. A piece of their house fell upon him, and Medesedric now lies with his head bandaged, on a sidewalk outside a hotel in Port-au-Prince. “He is a good boy,” says his mother.

Ms. Simon is one of thousands of parents across this city who are struggling to put on a brave face for the sake of their children.

About half of Haiti´s population is estimated to be under age 18, and so hundreds of thousands of children have been affected by the earthquake. Certainly thousands of them died in the temblor. Thousands more are now orphans. Many sit, bandages on their tiny arms and legs, in makeshift hospitals, their mothers caring for them in the absence of hospital workers. Those unhurt have often found the security of their homes gone overnight, living in parks, and on sidewalks and plazas. Every single one of them will live with memories of Jan. 12 for the rest of their lives.

“He is so young, he does not know what happened,” says Ana Dorval, who had to move with her husband, mother, and two-year-old son Richey to the street after the earthquake. “But he can feel it.”

At their settlement, off a main street in Port-au-Prince, sounds are dominated by the shrill chorus of children´s voices. Younger ones play soccer in the street, teens sit around a radio and even scribble in notebooks. But their world is upside down.

“He is now suddenly around all of these people all the time,” says Ms. Dorval. They get up with the sun, and go down when it sets. There is no more structure to the day, as most sit on their blankets all day, chatting or napping, wondering what comes next.

Slow improvements

Life has improved here as the days go on.

One neighbor borrowed a generator, so now there is light at night. A water truck passed the other day. They have even formed a community organization, gathering collections for food and water.

Alix Lundi, the group's leader,is making a census of all the families living here, so that, when aid comes, he says, they can show what needs exist. “We need everything,” he says.

Fears of kidnapping

Besides supplies, security is a growing need. The police have reported robberies in homes left unattended at night, as residents are still scared to sleep in homes in the wake of tremors. And, among all the collapsed buildings was the central jail, which left thousands of prisoners to go free when it was destroyed.

“I am afraid of kidnappers more than anything,” says Dorval. The community has organized rotating guards to keep an eye out for looters and random bullets as tensions mount.

In larger settlements, as the days wear on, the situation worsens and so do fears of unrest. In the central gardens outside the national palace, the site of one of the largest settlements, the stench is overwhelming, with human feces on the sidewalk and garbage piling up.

Mejina Luis, who is there with her extended family, has six children, ages 2, 3, 6, 7, 9, and 10.

“They are scared,” she says, hoisting one of them onto her hip. They have seen death, and sorrow, and things that parents do their best to shield children from. “I talk to them, and tell them that God will take care of us. He is here us with us.”

But it is hard for many mothers to stay calm when they themselves are so shaken.

No one knows how long they will live in these settlements, or if they will return to the same place they had created over a lifetime.

“Having all these people around, I cannot stand it,” Dorval says. “But I have to hide that from him.”

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