FOND ROUGE DAHERE, HAITI
By: Debi Springer
Deep in the heart of a mountain region in southwest Haiti a group of women, children and men survived the devastation of Hurricane Matthew. They live quietly, supporting each other by giving and sharing whatever they have. When someone finds food, the entire community partakes. At night, they rest their heads under the same roof– the roof of a limestone cave.
In October 2016, Hurricane Matthew ripped through their community in Fond Rouge Dahere, leveling their homes, obliterating their crops and land, while leaving their livestock dead in its violent wake. These more than 180 people survived, but lost everything they had. Fathers who used to provide for their families through farming jobs now have no work. Children and mothers now have only empty yards and brittle, fallen trees as reminders of where their homes once stood.
Late one rainy Friday afternoon as dusk seeped across the mountainside, the community gathered in front of the cave they call, “The Hole,” which has become their permanent shelter since the hurricane.
They are quick to smile and the vibe is kind and gentle, but the residents of the cave are hungry, weather-weary and pray daily for relief. Almost everyone, adults and children alike, are coughing. In the still silence of the cave you can hear the labored rasps of small children who are struggling to breathe.
Guerdy is 40 years old and has six children. Hurricane Matthew tore through her family’s shack, flattening it.
A tree fell across their home just as Guerdy and her children and husband were running for the cave. They saw their neighbors fleeing and they followed them through the howling winds and torrential rain. “I grabbed my kids and I ran outside and that’s when my house fell down.” But Guerdy couldn’t turn back, she had to shelter her children, she had to save them.
It is now six months after the hurricane and Guerdy has since sent two of her children to live with a friend in Port-au-Prince–nearly eight hours away, she couldn’t feed them.
Guerdy has no means to feed her children, and the nearest town is 30 minutes away by car. On foot it would take days. Guerdy and her fellow hurricane survivors are relying solely on the help of others. “All of my animals died in the storm, including all of my goats,” she said. “Life is really hard. When we get help for food that is when we eat.”
At night, when everyone settles into the bowels of the cave to sleep there isn’t enough room. “You can see there’s a lot of us and we pile up. You can imagine how uncomfortable we are,” Guerdy said. The temperature fluctuates inside the cave, from hot and humid to cold. Water droplets swell and drip one by one from the rocks down to the cave floor, and all of that dampness creates an environment ripe for illness. “A lot of people are sick and coughing, especially the kids,” Guerdy said. “It’s even harder for them because it’s like they can’t breathe in there.” When a fire is lit at the mouth of the cave the smoke fills the cave, stinging people’s eyes and making them cough.
Hurricane Matthew ferociously ravaged this community, and though these families survived they don’t know how to get their lives back because they feel they have nothing. “We don’t see how we can have new homes because none of us work,” Guerdy explained.
She went on to say that they are realistic about the seemingly hopeless situation they find themselves in. “We know we can’t stay here in this cave eternally, that’s the problem. We just don’t know where we’ll go when that happens,” Guerdy said. “We need to rebuild our homes.”
The land where Guerdy’s old house used to be isn’t far from the cave and she said she goes back and looks at it every once in awhile. “I feel very overwhelmed because I remember how it used to be,” she said. When she stands among the ruins of her home and yard Guerdy said all she can do is talk to God. “I say thank you to God for the things He gives me, because He is also the one who can take things away from me,” she said, her eyes welling with tears. Just as quickly as the sadness of recalling what she’d lost shadowed her face, Guerdy straightened her back and lifted her head. Darkness had begun to fill every space at the mouth of the cave. It was time for bed. Guerdy said that when she puts her children to sleep on the damp, hard cave floor she will wrap them in her arms and in prayer. “I tell God that my kids are in His hands, my family is in His hands, and my country is in His hands,” she said. “I close my eyes in His grace and I wake up in His grace.”
As the sun sank into the horizon darkness quickly swallowed the area. A single oil lamp glowed warm and golden at the back of the cave illuminating two young mothers as they breastfed their babies. Life goes on, and this community prays that they will continue to survive and live in God’s grace.