At a glance: Haiti

An adolescent girl maintains hope for a brighter future in earthquake-affected Haiti

‘The State of the World’s Children 2011 – Adolescence: An Age of Opportunity,’ UNICEF’s new flagship report, focuses on the development and rights of more than a billion children aged 10 to 19 worldwide. This series of stories, essays and multimedia features seeks to accelerate and elevate adolescents’ fight against poverty, inequality and gender discrimination. Here is one of the stories.

By Bob Coen

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 30 March 2011 – It’s late afternoon and dark clouds hover, promising rain in the Haitian capital. Elisabeth Lambert, 16, joins her sister and a girlfriend for a walk through their neighbourhood, along streets still strewn with crushed cars and the rubble of collapsed buildings.

VIDEO: UNICEF reports on a 16-year-old Haitian girl who, despite losing everything to the devastating earthquake last January, remains optimistic about the future.  Watch in RealPlayer

 

“Before we had a good life,” she says with a heavy voice. “We were a happy family. Now it’s a bit difficult to be happy with this life full of dust.”

Fearful memories

The three teenagers stop at a roadside stand for a special treat – small cakes which they eat while chatting on the street. It’s a fleeting and cherished moment of normalcy in an otherwise disrupted life.

Like all who survived the devastating earthquake on 12 January 2010, Elisabeth’s life was irrevocably changed. “I watched my building collapse and I got so scared,” she recalls. “My home was crushed. We were not able to recover more than a few clothes and some furniture – that’s all.”

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Video
Elisabeth Lambert, 16, joins her sister and a girlfriend for a walk through their Port-au-Prince neighbourhood, still strewn with crushed cars and the rubble of collapsed buildings. Haiti is still recovering from last year's devastating earthquake.

Elisabeth, her mother and young brother are now living in tents that stand in front of the crumbled skeleton of their once modest two-story house. “Now life is much harder,” she says. “My mother no longer has the means to support us.”

A life disrupted

It’s not only her home life that’s been disrupted. Even though her school – which was completely destroyed – has been rebuilt by UNICEF, she is still unable to return to her studies.

“I should go to school but it’s difficult for my mother to pay because she has nothing.  Nothing. Not even money to pay the rent,” she says. “It’s been very difficult for me to deal with these problems.”

Besides the occasional evening stroll around the neighbourhood with her friends, Elisabeth now spends her time helping her mother with domestic chores and dreaming of a brighter future.

“I would like to have a country like it used to be,” she says. “I pray a lot so that all this ends, so that finally we have a better Haiti.”

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Video
Elisabeth's home is now a tiny pup tent she shares with her mother, brother and whatever other family members happen to be around that night in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

As night falls, Elisabeth makes her way back to her house, carefully dodging the huge piles of debris and Port-au-Prince’s bustling traffic as the hum of generators fill the air.

“I sleep all squeezed up,” Elisabeth explains as she crawls into the tiny pup tent she shares with her mother, brother and whatever other family members happen to be around that night.

“Before the earthquake I was in my own bed, alone,” she says. “Now we are two, three, sometimes five people sharing a bed. It’s too hard and it really hurts.”

Remaining optimistic

Tonight, her sister sits with her in the tent and they share stories together. After a while their soft laughter blends in with the sounds of city around them.

“This experience has taught me that we are all the same and that we have to be strong,” Elisabeth says with a maturity that belies her age.

“Yes, sometimes I get discouraged,” she adds. “I pray to God to not give up, to keep me very strong so that I can become the person I am meant to be in my life.”


 

 

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