Close quarters

Haiti | ActionAid helps homeless Haitians deal with sanitation and security issues at camps set up in Port-au-Prince
by Angela Lu Fulton
Posted 2/23/10, 08:49 pm

After losing their homes in last month's earthquake, thousands of displaced Haitians have relocated to camps in the capital of Port-au-Prince. These high concentrations of people in small areas has raised sanitary and security concerns: Half of Haiti's homeless, according to a survey conducted by World Vision, fear robbery, rape, "evil forces," and general insecurity.

One of the groups trying to tackle these problems is South Africa-based ActionAid. By partnering with community members it hopes to create a safer environment for the vulnerable: women, children, and the elderly.

ActionAid, which began in the U.K. and has since spread to 42 countries, has worked in Haiti since 1996, improving water supplies and healthcare, and providing loans for small businesses. When the earthquake hit in January, none of the 24 staff workers were injured, but many lost friends, family members, and homes in the disaster.

Four days after the quake, the organization was able to collect itself and start working at six of the camps in the Mariani area of Port-au-Prince, where it has been distributing food and other basic items to 27,000 people. ActionAid also has been training volunteers to provide trauma support to their community so that they can find ways to deal with their grief.

When Jean Claude Fignole, ActionAid's country director for Haiti, first arrived at the camps, he was surprised to find that the people there had already organized themselves into committees to deal with security and protecting vulnerable groups. For instance, at one camp, a committee identified a space for women to sleep at night with the men sleeping around the area to prevent outside men from coming in.

"Our approach is to build on what's already there, not to come in with a new system and try to eliminate what's there," Fignole said. "We want to do as much as possible to build on what they're already doing."

ActionAid provides men with flashlights so they can patrol the camps at night, lighting walkways to provide safety and creating safe spaces for children.

For Fignole, who has personal ties to Haiti, the earthquake was just another blow to an already impoverished nation.

"As a Haitian, it's quite dramatic to see what happened to your country-to your city-that was already in such extreme poverty," he said. "You can see how difficult it is for us to rebuild and to get on with our lives."

Fignole does, however, find it encouraging to see what organizations are doing in the country and how other countries have shown solidarity in the past month. He believes that the best way Americans can help is to become more informed of who Haitians are.

"Start reading up about the country and it might give you a different image [of Haiti] than what the popular media shows," Fignole said. "What Haiti really needs right now is confidence, and if they think that people have a different view of them than what [Americans] think now, it will help them get back on its feet."

Related coverage:

'Still in shock' | Haiti is hit by a massive earthquake followed by aftershocks, with an epicenter near the capital, Port-au-Prince | Mindy Belz and Jamie Dean | Jan. 12, 2010

Helping Haiti | WORLD provides a list of relief organizations accepting donations to assist earthquake victims in Haiti | The Editors | Jan. 13, 2010

Search and rescue | U.S. disaster experts, the U.S. military, and private relief groups head to earthquake-devastated Haiti | Mindy Belz | Jan. 13, 2010

In the dark | Haitian-Americans hope to contact loved ones and quickly send aid back home to family and friends | Alisa Harris | Jan. 13, 2010
Weeping and waiting | Haitian earthquake victims await help, but obstacles slow relief efforts | Jamie Dean | Jan. 14, 2010
Desperation | Too many Haitians are in a holding pattern awaiting aid, as relief organizations try to make progress | Jamie Dean | Jan. 15, 2010
Long night | With tens of thousands of casualties, Haitians weep and wait for morning | Jamie Dean | Jan. 15, 2010
Deliverance | A group of orphans arrive safely in Pittsburgh while relief organizations report progress in Haiti | Mindy Belz | Jan. 19, 2010
Crying for help | Hard-pressed Haitians seek assistance as aid groups face logistical challenges | Jamie Dean | Jan. 21, 2010
Leaving Port | Beyond the capital city are rural communities equally devastated by the quake and in need of help | Jamie Dean | Jan. 22, 2010
The new normal | As life and death continue their morbid mingling, relief groups forge ahead to help | Jamie Dean | Jan. 22, 2010
Finding home | Now that search-and-rescue efforts have been called off, attention turns to providing shelter for survivors | Jamie Dean | Jan. 23, 2010
Chaotic aid | Relief groups attempt to help Haitians despite murky rules, government interference, and the lack of a cohesive plan | Jamie Dean | Jan. 28, 2010
Aftershock | Caregivers predict a second wave of death, as Haitians find moments of deliverance amid days of devastation from one of the modern world's worst natural disasters | Jamie Dean | Jan. 29, 2010
Homecoming | For Haitians orphaned before the quake, it means leaving home and starting over | Alisa Harris | Jan. 29, 2010
Crisis giving | Instant need calls for long-term strategy | Rusty Leonard | Jan. 29, 2010
An indecent grief | First lamentations, then comfort that strengthens more than soothes | Mindy Belz | Jan. 29, 2010
Hope for Haiti? (audio file) | Hear WORLD news editor Jamie Dean discuss her visit to the earthquake-ravaged country | Nick Eicher | Feb. 1, 2010

Despair and salvation | While the UN grapples with unruly crowds, The Salvation Army peacefully distributes food | Jamie Dean | Feb. 2, 2010

Crossing lines | Failing to heed sound advice, 10 Americans now find themselves facing kidnapping charges in Haiti | Jamie Dean | Feb. 4, 2010

Haiti's plight (audio file) | A discussion of the country's days of devastation and moments of deliverance | Jamie Dean | Feb. 5, 2010

Stress management | Helping Haitians recover takes zeal-with wisdom | Jamie Dean | Feb. 12, 2010

Taking charge | In quake aftermath, build new cities, says Haitian ambassador (and Bible translator) Raymond Joseph | Mindy Belz | Feb. 12, 2010

Houses of God | Grand-Goave, Haiti | The Editors | Feb. 12, 2010

Living water | Water Missions International offers long-term solutions for clean, drinkable water | Angela Lu | Feb. 13, 2010

Building blocks | While Christian Aid Ministries provides for the immediate needs of quake victims, it looks ahead to helping the country rebuild | Angela Lu | Feb. 16, 2010

Hardest hit | With nearly half a million orphaned children before the quake, Haiti's challenge to parent them just got bigger | Jamie Dean | Feb. 26, 2010

The search for miracles | Port-au-Prince is a city desperately seeking turnaround-and that's before the earthquake | Jamie Dean | March 12, 2010
Hope in the darkness | World Hope International offers Haitians practical assistance and spiritual guidance | Angela Lu | March 24, 2010

Night crawlers | A new disaster threatens defenseless women and children in Haitian tent cities: rape | Jamie Dean | March 25, 2010
Homecoming | Missionary Patrick Lataillade, who nearly died in the quake, returned to help Haitians this week | Angela Lu | March 27, 2010

Hashing out Haiti | As the UN makes recovery plans, Haitians struggle for the basic necessities for survival | Jamie Dean | March 31, 2010

Angela Lu Fulton

Angela is a senior reporter for WORLD Magazine and a part-time editor for WORLD Digital. She is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Angela resides in Taipei, Taiwan. Follow her on Twitter @angela818.

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