Return to neighborhoods

After Gurlene Altidor’s home was shaken to rubble by the massive 2010 earthquake, she and thousands of others fled to open ground and cobbled together what temporary shelter they could.

Four years later, Gurlene and her three teenage children were still living in the Boliman Brandt tent camp in Port-au-Prince, among the hundreds of families there with nowhere else to go, surrounded by mud, refuse and sewage, and lacking both electricity and a proper source of clean water.

Sheltering from the rain under a leaky roof, she captured the conditions there in simple but moving terms. “If you can’t find 10 gourdes for soap and a bucket of water, then you just have to wear dirty clothes. [Outside the camp], you can breathe better. Here, you can’t breathe…you can’t breathe.”

At that moment, Gurlene was just about to find space to finally breathe with Concern’s help.

Boliman Brandt camp

The Boliman Brandt camp was an informal collection of temporary shelters on rocky soil in a warehouse compound, with no proper sanitation or recreation facilities for the families that lived there. Photo: Kieran McConville


Working in Haiti since 1994, Concern Worldwide responded to the earthquake and then transitioned into a comprehensive long-term recovery effort to help address the disaster’s lasting impacts.

One part of that work was the very successful “Return to Neighborhoods” program. Temporary camps were targeted one by one, and residents registered to take part in carefully planned relocations.

Concern outreach teams assisted their efforts to find safe homes, and once they were confirmed to be structurally sound, families relocated and were provided with the equivalent of one year’s rent, plus a loan to help start a business or kick-start a new livelihood.

It’s an approach that Concern worked to develop with the government and partner organizations in 2010, and pioneered with the first camp resettlement effort coming late that year. Since then, the approach has been successfully used in a series of camps, and Concern alone has so far resettled more than 3,000 families. We will continue the work into 2015, now focusing on smaller-scale settlements that are home to the very poorest and most vulnerable.

It may sound straightforward, but the Concern’s program management team has had to deal with all sorts of complications, from criminal gangs to limited availability of acceptable housing to uncooperative landlords. Said program manager Giulia Bazziga, “The process can be exhausting, but it’s worth it.”

Pierre Jesumene and her son Jean Bertho

Jesumene Pierre and her two children (including Jean Bertho, pictured) now live in a two-room concrete house in the Mais Gaté area of Port au Prince. Photo: Kieran McConville.

Proof of that could be found in the smiling face of Jesumene Pierre, who rented a small, neat, two-room house not far from Boliman Brandt camp with the assistance of the Return to Neighborhoods team. “It was a big day for me when Concern came to the camp,” she recalled. “We lived there for over three years in a tent — it really was not easy.” She spoke about the mud, the theft and the sexual assaults on girls.

“Life really is better now. We are more at ease, it’s clean here and we can sleep well at night.”

She glanced at her 17-year-old son, Jean Bertho, who had just finished his homework and was sitting on a small couch watching TV, just like any teenager. The couch was worn, the television old, but they belonged to Jesumene, bought with money from her new home-based business selling fruit and small household essentials.  She told us, “Life really is better now. We are more at ease, it’s clean here and we can sleep well at night.”

Most of the informal camps in Port-au-Prince, including Boliman Brandt, have now been cleared and returned to their former uses as public squares, parks, industrial sites, and side streets. Their residents, like Gurlene and her family, are re-integrating into neighborhoods, moving on with their lives.