In the north-western city of Gonaïves last Saturday, celebrations were held in Haiti to mark independence day. Over two centuries ago, a slave rebellion freed Haiti from colonial rule and the current president, Rene Preval, gave a speech to mark the occasion. However, as Haiti enters its 2007th year as a free nation, protestors at the event shouted for the President to stand down. Many Haitians are extremely angry at the lack of progress since the terrible earthquake which devastated the country last January, killing 230,000 people and making 1.5 million homeless.
An estimated 1.3 million Haitians are still living in makeshift tents and workers in the country acknowledge the process of recovery and reconstruction is painfully slow. To give Haitians a chance to express their anger and frustration at the slow pace of development, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has sponsored a suggestion box scheme. Erecting 140 suggestion boxes inside some of the main camps may seem like a low priority, when Haitians are struggling with issues such as finding food and water and protecting themselves against the threat of cholera, but the scheme has allowed ordinary people to have their voices heard.
When the boxes first appeared in Port-au-Prince, the response was telling. Thousands of Haitians recorded their hopes and fears and told their personal stories in the flood of posted letters. The IOM now plans to publish some of these letters, accompanied by photos of the writers. The book will be called ‘The Voice of the Voiceless’.
One mother of three, Marjorie Saint Hilaire, lost her husband in the earthquake and lives in a camp. She writes “To all the members of concerned organisations, I thank you first for feeling our pain” and then goes on to ask for a school where she can send her children and more food so people won’t “die of hunger”. Another mother living in a camp is Marie Livia Calixte, who writes “It is with great sadness that I talk about the deplorable and miserable situation I live in....I thank God for allowing me to survive and I also thank all those who have helped me to write and continue to help me do so.”
Letters continue to flow in, with almost 3,000 pieces of paper posted over the past few weeks. With growing frustration and resentment about the continued lack of available or affordable houses, the letters provide Haitians with an outlet for their anger. One former teacher, Sandra Félicien, a widow and mother of a six-year old boy, sums up the feelings of many in one of her many letters – “we are so powerless. It is like bobbing along on the waves of the ocean, waiting to be saved”.
Read about SOS Children's work in Haiti one year after the earthquake