Mercilius and Madame Polinus have moved into their new home, a small shelter provided by World Vision as part of a project in Haiti’s Calebasse region.
Theirs is one of 185 shelters to be provided to vulnerable and earthquake-affected families here. From where the couple sits they can see the home they are currently living in: a shack they made themselves from mud and sticks and whatever else they could find. When it rains it floods, and they have to sleep outside, or with other people. It’s rainy season in Haiti, and it rains most nights.
“Since I was born I’ve lived here,” says Mercilius. “Even during the storms we remained, we didn’t move, we wanted to stay. I couldn’t just abandon my parents’ land. I had to stay. I was born here, I grew up here, I had to remain here. I hope that future generations will also remain here.”
This pride over land ownership is common here, but life can be tough in Calebasse. Families are poor, and reliant on small-scale agriculture. Many have not had the capital to rebuild properties damaged or destroyed by the earthquake – properties that, even before the earthquake, were inadequate by most standards.
Mercilius explains some of the challenges associated with farming in Haiti. He says the country’s wet weather is both a blessing and a curse. “We are fully dependent on rain here in Haiti. If there is no water, no rain – no food. You can’t sustain your family. But rain is good and bad. Heavy rain triggers erosion. A lot of land is taken by the water in heavy rains. When it’s raining we have to protect the small plants from being washed away. This causes us a lot of stress. Haiti has many hurricanes, too.”
Madame Polinius nods in agreement. She rarely stops smiling, though, no matter what the topic of conversation. She starts to talk about her life. “I was a street vendor, once. Now I don’t have enough time to do that because I have a lot of grandchildren and I have to take care of them. We wake up in the morning and go to the fields, collect the harvest and try to plant something new. This is while we’re taking care of all of the children.”
Mercilius met his wife when they were both 23 years old, and they fell in love quickly. “We had 11 children, but only five are left now,” Mercilius says. “Six died. They were sick. I have grandchildren, too. Since the earthquake we have all been living together. The nine grandchildren, everyone. Before we weren’t, but then after the earthquake we had to.”
Still, Merlilius is grateful. The earthquake didn’t take anyone he loved. “On the 12th of January my wife was not at home. When I came back from work with a friend and went into the house we started having dinner and everything started shaking. Some of the house started to fall down on us. Part of the structure collapsed. Then we didn’t have a home anymore.”
Madame Polinius remembers coming home and finding her house ruined. “We just started building a shelter, using whatever material we had, including getting trees and covering them with mud. We’ve been living here, in this hut, nearly two years. We didn’t move anywhere after the earthquake. We stayed here until World Vision came and helped us.”
“I don’t remember exactly when the World Vision staff first came,” says Mercilius, “but it was good for us. We brought materials from the distribution site for them, and took care of their equipment. When the staff were working on the new shelter, we made coffee for them, food, carried materials, brought water and helped to mix concrete.”
“We will move now into our new shelter. We were just waiting for World Vision to say the word. We are feeling good, so good. We like it. We will feel more comfortable than before. When it rains, at least we will not be wet and the house will be clean.”