Save the Children
Director of Emergency Media
By Lane Hartill
What’s it like to be teenager in Haiti?
Well that depends.
If your parents have the means, you will go to a private school in Petionville, a hilltop neighborhood of Port-au-Prince where some of the best restaurants are found. Someone will drive you to school. Your uniform will be washed with laundry detergent regularly and, each day before school, it will be ironed.
Sounds pretty normal, right?
It’s not. In Haiti, this life is a pipe dream for most kids.
Go to the Gaston Margron camp in the Carrefour neighborhood, and you’ll find a family of teens, managing on their own. Marclene, a shy 20-year-old, acts as the mom for her three younger siblings. She shares a hot tent with her sister, Darline, who recently had a baby, Marckensley (she named him after the Gospel of Mark in the Bible). The two sleep on a twin mattress with Marckensley between them. Their younger sister, Mouna, sleeps on a mat on the floor. Their clothes are slung over a cord that runs across the tent.
When I visited them, they had no money for laundry detergent, so they were rinsing their clothes in a big tub of water. It’s the same tub they bathe in; they don’t have money for body soap either, so they just rinse the sweat off.
Their biggest concerns are elemental: food, water, and sleeping. They rely on their brother, Ted, who sells plastic bags of water in the market. But they cost only a few pennies a piece. Ted has to sell hundreds to make a few dollars. He says he makes about a dollar a day. This is the money the five of them live on.
Life is tough. But Marclene tries not to let it get her down. She’s prays a lot — her Creole Bible is worn at the edges — and she tries to stay positive. Like young people everywhere, she scraped together enough money for a cell phone, but finding the money to pay to charge it is hard.
A lot of kids live like Marclene and her family. It’s not a pleasant life, but they’re getting by. One thing they don’t have to worry about: health care. Save the Children provides if for free in their tent camp. Our clinics in Haiti average 4,500 visits a month. And it’s all free.
A lot of people shake their head when they think of Haiti. But they shouldn’t. Haiti is still in better shape than a lot of countries. Think about it: It is next door to the U.S.; more than 1 million Haitian live in the U.S. and send remittances back to Haiti; foreign government pledged billions to Haiti and the first signs of private investment are slowly starting — a Marriott Hotel is slated to be built outside Port-au-Prince.
While the news out of Haiti is often grim, don’t give up on the country. Haitians certainly haven’t. And that should be a lesson to us all.