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“It rained on our tent last night. I felt terrible. Esther has been here for weeks, documenting stories through the eyes of Haitians. I’d been here three days. Flashing through the 8,000+ photos on her laptop, she winced as she told me, “Look at all these people, these are people I’ve gotten to know. Not just strangers, but friends. And now they’re stuck in the rain getting poured on. What are they going to do without tents?” I sat in our tent thinking the same thing.
Up before dawn the next morning, we hitched a very bumpy ride on a beat-up speedboat to the Island of La Gonave to meet with Concern Worldwide. A one-time port for pirates, the island off the coast of Port-au-Prince is home to 100,000 Haitians. An additional 60,000 have moved there since the quake. In between sprays of seawater and over the noise of the motor, Esther yelled, “Wow, it looks like Treasure Island.”
I smiled and recalled a conversation from the previous time I was in La Gonave, last May. I had asked a mother, Claudette Normil, why she had such an interest in being elected to the Water Committee, which is responsible for ensuring that the water point is well-maintained and clean. Bouncing her son on her knee, she had simply replied, “Because in Haiti, water is richness. It’s a treasure.”
La Gonave’s water situation is unimaginable. Nearly everyone has two options; buy water shipped from the mainland or drink brackish water. More than one kid told us today, “My water tastes salty. I don’t like it.”
We took a boat to Titans — because there were no roads to drive there — and we found 3,000 people living without clean water there. While I assessed the water needs with Concern Worldwide’s Water and Sanitation Specialist, Esther got to know each face in front of her camera. She quickly befriended Kiesha Michele. A confident, lanky and graceful 17-year-old, Kiesha looked more like one of my younger sisters friends than a girl who regularly drinks from a contaminated pond.
Born in La Gonave, Kiesha’s story is like hundreds of youth on the island. Her older brother, Alex, got a job in Port-au-Prince and enabled his younger siblings to join him. Alex worked during the day and attended IFC University at night. He supported his six younger siblings so they could attend school and have a chance for a better future. When the quake hit, Kiesha escaped from her house in the city and spent the night in the street. Her brother was in class when the university collapsed. Kiesha’s mother told us, “I know he died because I never heard from him. It’s very hard from me because he couldn’t have a burial.”
Keisha and her brothers and sister are now back in Titans, standing frozen and dazed by their uncertain future. Poised between tents dotting the beach, Keisha shared with us that she would like to “get job, have school and no more poverty. Water is the big problem here. To have clean water is a necessity.”
The Michele family is grieving like so many in Haiti. Their loss is evident in their faces. The moment we shared with the Micheles was difficult. And it confirmed for me what is truly important. That life is to be treasured.
Concern Worldwide will distribute 600 tents to the island on Friday. We’ll be back on Saturday to see how charity: water can work with Titans on designing a long-term sustainable water solution. Stay tuned.”
and Esther Havens, photographer