JÉRÉMIE, Haiti (WOMENSENEWS)–Before the ground gave way underneath her, Elda Vilmeney had a business selling Coca-Cola in bulk on Third Avenue in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital. Since the earthquake more than two years ago though, she hasn’t been able to economically recover.
“While I was inside my business, everything began to shake and I had no idea what was happening,” Vilmeney says. “When I hurried to get outside, my foot turned and broke in several places. The American Marines operated on my foot and inserted metal pins, which will remain there until I die.”
With her business destroyed in the disaster, she could not sustain her family: a husband and four children–three boys and a girl.
“For over a month, my children and I slept on the street,” she says. “We had great difficulty finding anything to eat.”
The Haitian government reported that the earthquake killed an estimated 316,000 people, injured 300,000 and made more than a million homeless. The government also estimated that 250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial buildings collapsed or were severely damaged in the earthquake.
The United Nations reported in January that of the nearly $4.6 billion pledged for reconstruction projects in 2010 and 2011, only 43 percent has been delivered. A January 2012 Oxfam report said that half a million Haitians remained homeless, still living under tarps and in tents.
The spending on those arriving to help is part of the problem, some critics have said, as the funds were spent on imported personnel, board members’ needs, soaring rents and overpriced supplies.
Vilmeney says she still hasn’t been able to re-establish her business. Instead, she and her husband are seeking work in the informal economy.
Today, she cooks and sells food on a roadside.
“My husband gets little jobs from time to time, but what he brings in every month is hardly anything,” she says.
Many other women in Haiti like Vilmeney say they also lost their livelihoods in the earthquake and are still struggling.
Nongovernmental organizations have offered special assistance to women, including microcredit schemes. The government has also prioritized women and offered them employment opportunities. But the nongovernmental organization community, international aid and government programs have yet to dramatically change the economics of most Haitian women.
Sixty percent of Haitian households are headed by women and many face special challenges as breadwinners, according to a recent U.N. conference for university students in Haiti about responsible government.
Marcelin Rose Danie and her family lived in the center of Port-au-Prince when the earthquake struck.
“The house that I lived in had four floors,” she says. “I lived on the second floor and while I rushed to get out, I did not have time to get down the stairs because the stairs collapsed and the building came crashing down around me. I was left with nothing.”
She talks by candlelight, as she doesn’t have electricity. A small child sleeps on her lap. Danie says that in addition to property, her mother, a widow, was killed by the collapse of the house.
She says her mother’s business was selling rice, sugar and flour.
“While we are all adults, my mother used to help us out a lot with the small business she used to run,” she says.
Danie says she and her family members must now find a new way to support themselves.
“I wish we had enough to live on,” she says.
Lynda Michel reports for Global Press Institute’s Haiti News Desk. She covers issues from business to the environment, with a special focus on women.
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