A day in the life of Haiti’s tent camps

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Junior Dolce’s day begins before dawn as the tent city in Petionville — one of the largest in Port-au-Prince — begins to stir with life.

He prays in his tent before leaving to fetch a bucket of water. Wait for the sun to come up, he says, and the line at the waterpump is too long.

Like countless others Haitians, Junior’s life was forever changed by the devastating earthquake on January 12th. The house he was renting collapsed and he’s thankful to be alive.

“When I see the shaking I had a bible in my hand,” he said. “I said God, it’s not my time yet.”

In the days after the quake, with just a handful of belongings and no place else to go, he carved out a 10 × 15 foot plot of land for himself on a golf course in Petionville — a wealthy area of Port-au-Prince — and has been there with his fiance ever since.

Over time, they’ve grown accustomed to life in the camp — cooking with a small stove on the floor of their tent, using the foul bathroom stalls, hearing everything their neighbors in adjoining tents say and do.

But life in the camp is hard and unpredictable — they’re subjected to rain and extreme weather, disease spreads quickly and safety is always an issue.

“Sometimes they (other camp residents) try to do something bad with you,” he says.

But despite the dangers, he goes out everyday in search of work. He speaks good English – a result of having spent his childhood hanging around US Military personnel – and hopes to find a job translating for one of the NGO’s in country.

But no one seems to be hiring.

The need for jobs is the biggest issue in the camp, he says. Some residents eek out a living selling vegetables and necessities outside of tents. Others are more enterprising, opening beauty salons — even a make-shift art gallery — within the tent camp limits.

As for Junior, he’s hoping to save enough money to leave the camp – but is resigned to the fact that he and his fiancé may be there for a very long time. “It all depends on God,” he says. “Only He knows if we will still be here.”