Last Tuesday (2/12/08), we visited Shada, a riverbank shantytown in Cap-Haitien, and met with Madame Bwa. She greeted us all warmly with a hug when arrived in our pickup truck. We had to leave the truck out on the crowded bustling road. The streets are in no way wide enough to drive in. In a few passageways, Pete needed to turn sideway to accommodate his shoulders.
Madame Bwa, our community liaison, is the type of woman who would be on the League of Women Voters if she were here. The type who sees a problem in her community and tries to do what she can to address it. She runs a tiny program out of her house to teach some of the local children hygiene and basic health skills. I believe she is also a mid-wife, but I have to verify that one later.
A Panoramic view of the shoreline in Shada. [View larger image]
Between 10,000 and 20,000 people live along Shada’s labyrinthine streets. The homes are made of cinder block and corrugated iron, some with or without doors. The shore is a combined dumping area/pig trough/children’s toilet. As we tread carefully, many of the little ones cavort around us barefoot, somehow avoiding glass and feces.
Overhang toilets on stilts dot the shoreline adding to the pollution to the river delta. We will be working there with SOIL and the community to replace some of these toilets. The people we’ve talked to in the community are anxious for change. On Pete’s last visit, a resident admonished him “Are you going to help us or are you just going to study like all the other blancs?” [Blanc = white person, foreigner] While we are grateful for the deliberate and well-planned out studies performed by/with some of the larger non-profits working in Haiti, folks who are living in the situation are interested in a lot more action and a lot less deliberation. Fair enough. We will do our best.
A few portraits.
I didn’t catch everyone’s names as the kids were jockeying for position to have their photo taken. Cuties.
This beautiful little one [her mama had me take her picture] later went to the bathroom unabashedly in front of us all, amidst the piles of garbage.
The dumping area in Shada
The Haitian pig, sturdy and resilient. It can live in situations where American pigs would shrivel up and die. [Check out this 1993 article from the New Scientist about the U.S. eradication program of the Haitian pig in the 1980’s.]
The community is going to organize a meeting between us and the owner(s) of the overhang pay toilets to coordinate their destruction and replacement with newer latrines. People who use the overhang toilets typically have to pay 1-2 Goudes. Though ramshackle, they offer people, particularly women, a modicum of privacy when they want to relieve themselves. In the above photo, a pig rustles through trash and feces underneath the toilet.
I had a tough time writing this post. I wrote a lot, then cut out a lot, repeat ad nauseum. What I don’t want folks to leave with is a feeling of hopelessness. Don’t be mistaken; life is hard for the residents of Shada. It’s true that people need help, but they aren’t helpless. They are dignified in a situation that strives to rob them of that dignity. They are waiting for change.