Not displaced, just going home

06/30/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Mariela is down to just one goat.

Three months ago, the grandmother in her seventies had four of the creatures living in her simple home in Haiti's Central Plateau region. Today those animals have been replaced by people - family members from Port-au-Prince who made their way home following the earthquake.

Days after the disaster, her son arrived with an adopted child. A week later came a cousin with a street youth who had taken refuge in his house. Two other nieces then caught the first available ride out to the countryside.

Eight people in total arrived from the city in the weeks following the disaster. They came with what little money they could pull together. Of course, with so many mouths to feed, that didn't last for long.

Now, Mariela is down to just one goat.

We asked them how effectively the national and local governments were distributing aid to internally-displaced people like themselves. We were caught off-guard by the furrowed brows and confused looks.

The family members explained they weren't displaced. They hadn't even registered as victims of the disaster.

They just went home.

Mariela has lived in the Central Plateau region her entire life. She raised her family here and watched as they moved to Port-au-Prince in hopes of finding jobs and opportunity. Now, she is watching them all return home.

Aside from showing the resilient spirit of the Haitian people, this homecoming is helping to prevent a potential nightmare scenario that could be caused by a temporary IDP camp that becomes a permanent fixture. In the process through, the majority of the burden is being placed on grandmothers like Mariela.

The home is still a much more preferable option than a camp. Rather than having a large tent city that is dependent on international aid, the family instead works as a unit. Instead of being trapped in a cycle of accepting aid, people receive independence and get the opportunity establish themselves within a community.

Take Mona Pierre. We met the nursing student shortly after the earthquake. Despite having lost her possessions, her paperwork and her apartment, she is hoping to start over in the Central Plateau with the skills she learned.

"This is my home," she says. "I was only a student in Port-au-Prince. This is where I live."

Migration and integration will be essential to decentralization efforts. Before the earthquake, thousands had flocked to Port-au-Prince when rural economies collapsed. The city became overpopulated with people looking for jobs that didn't exist. This created slums without proper water and sanitation and left children highly vulnerable.

With the capital destroyed, Mariela's relatives are all looking to rebuild around her home. If they can establish businesses, they can contribute to the growth of the local economy rather than an unsustainable and highly dangerous atmosphere in Port-au-Prince.

In the short-term though, Mariela is down to only one goat.

Local mayors in charge of coordinating food distribution have been trying to relieve her situation. But, this is near impossible with unaccounted for newcomers and the majority of international aid centered in Port-au-Prince.

Recording the migration came down to handwriting names on paper resulting in pages upon pages of inconsistent information. Sometimes there are ages or occupations. Others, there are hometowns. With no computers or templates, they can't accurately portray needs.

The fear is that migrants down to their last resources will head to urban tent camps where food and water is available. But, most camps are built on hillsides and Haiti is prone to flooding. A heavy rain could mean humanitarian disaster.

This is why NGOs need to supply the countryside and ensure grandmothers like Mariela are not forgotten. By distributing aid to rural regions and assisting in infrastructure development, we can better work towards decentralization.

This way, we can reach each person on the list and the others who don't consider themselves displaced.