Rebecca et Alea

05/28/2010 03:35 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Crossover Dreams A blog on migration and related topics by writers for IPS, a global non-profit newswire

Peter Costantini ~ Pétionville, Haiti

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Next to where we were building a new platform for a hospital tent in the Pétionville Club camp for displaced people, I went to take a break in the shade. Under another tent, medical people were conducting what looked like an educational workshop or intake exams for people with little kids.

One little boy of maybe two escaped from his mother and toddled up the hill, beaming and excited to get away, until she came and picked him up. Then two girls came out of the group to near where I was sitting. They were a big sister and little sister: Rebecca, 12, was taking care of Alea, 1 1/2 (not sure about the spellings).

Rebecca played with Alea, blew some bubbles for her with a bubble toy, hugged her, let her run away, caught her and hugged her again. Rebecca smiled at me, and Alea wandered over and gave me a wide-eyed baby once-over.

I asked Rebecca their names in French and she responded confidently and fluently. That probably means that she's been going to school regularly. (School is mostly in French, but nearly all families speak Kreyol at home.) She was small - I would have guessed she was closer to 9 - so I was surprised when she told me her age. But both of them were nicely dressed and radiated a sense of being loved and cared for.

Rebecca told me their house was right below the golf course of the Pétionville Club, a former enclave of privilege on a hill above Port-au-Prince, now occupied by a huge camp of 50,000 people (down from a peak of 60,000). She said that before the earthquake she and her friends used to climb over the wall and play on the edges of the golf course where she's living now.

Their house was not seriously damaged - she said it was "structurally solid". She thinks they'll be able to move back in, but didn't say why they hadn't yet. A lot of people are just afraid to spend the night in their houses, even if some authority rules that they're safe to inhabit.

Here are two little girls living in a tent or under a tarp in a camp for displaced persons. But there was no hint in Rebecca of feeling sorry for herself - she almost gave the sense that it was an adventure for her. She approached me with a disarming sweetness and self-confidence. The earthquake and life in the camp have clearly not put out her inner light.

Maybe one of the things that moved me so much about the sisters was knowing that such enormous numbers of Haitian kids are injured or orphaned or malnourished or worn down by the hard life and terrible things that happened around them. We have to cherish the survivors and give the ones who are hurting, and their parents and families, the means to get back to a safe, loving place.

While I was writing this, it started to rain very hard outside, as it has many days lately. The hurricane season starts in June.

Architecture for Humanity (the non-profit building the hospital platform as well as designing and rebuilding schools): http://architectureforhumanity.org

J/P Haitian Relief Organization (the non-profit that manages the Pétionville Club camp): http://www.jphro.org

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