After 4 previous missions I still find myself in the Toronto airport with butterflies in my stomach. In the air flying over Haiti for my first time, my first thought is how calm thing look down below, untouched, I took a moment to admire the colours of the Caribbean city which will be my home for the next 3 months. As the plane descended I was horrified to see that the colours I had been admiring were instead the plastic sheeting people had used to construct these tent cities so numerous and huge that they were visible from thousands of feet in the air. It is estiimated that 2.1 million people are living in the streets of Haiti, either because their homes were damaged or destroyed or because they are too afraid to return indoors. Life’s difficulties are nothing new for the people of Haiti, but I am struck by the fact that prior to the earthquake most Haitians rented, meaning that even if they had the tools necessary, these homes are not theirs to rebuild. The land where their previous homes stood is not theirs to use for the rebuilding of their lives. There is a lot of discussion about the coming months and the weather they bring, the small rains we are having now are wreaking havoc on the tent communities, how will they survive the true rainy season? Or worse hurricane season?
I have finally learned that I will be working in the city of Carrefour, which melds into the southern border of Port-au-Prince along the coast. Only a few kilometers from the epicenter and with a population of almost 1 million, Carrefour was in many ways devastated by the earthquake. I will be responsible for MSF’s nutritional program in the region. As a population who has always been at risk for malnutrition, the force of the earthquake seems to have tipped the scale. MSF is taking a proactive approach to malnutrition, as my colleague put it, treating the indirect consequences of the earthquake. My role here finally clear, briefing finished, I begin tomorrow in Carrefour, what will I find there?