Food Security in Haiti: Jean's Story
I am not a lucky man. Since I can remember, my life has been a succession of trials and struggles. I come from a poor family and grew up having to live one day at a time, never knowing what tomorrow will bring. I grew accustomed to this life style, for me and many others like me it was perfectly normal.
My wife died suddenly and inexplicably over ten years ago, leaving me alone to raise our five boys. It was a constant struggle. Boys are difficult, hungry boys even more, but I like to believe I did my best to take care of them and keep them out of trouble.
I still remember the day when Hurricane Sandy struck. I was helping a friend fix fishing nets. The sky suddenly grew dark and out of nowhere came violent gusts of wind. Then there was the rain, so thick you could barely see in front of you. Roofs were flying like paper, trees were uprooted, cattle were in a panic. I saw some of the highest waves I have seen in my life, and yet through all that noise and chaos, you could still hear the screams. It was horrible. Even though we were inside, we didn’t feel safe. One particularly strong gust of wind shook our beach front house so violently that we decided it was safer to seek shelter somewhere else. As we went outside and saw the desolation around us, I tried to run back in to at least save something, but the neighbors held on to me, saying “Don’t be stupid”. Indeed, five minutes later the entire house collapsed before my eyes. I was overcome with despair; I wasn’t even able to save a piece of the tin roof to use as a shelter.
Everything we possessed washed away with the sea. Only the thought of my boys kept me from succumbing to grief. All we had was each other and we were all safe, in the end, it was all that mattered. There were not many work opportunities left in Dame-Marie after the hurricane. In order to support myself and the boys, I came up with an agreement with a more fortunate neighbor. He allowed me to use his fishing boat to go to sea and in return I gave him half of what I caught as payment. I would sell my half at the local market, but I made barely enough to pay the rent for the small shack we lived in, let alone put food on the table. My boys wasted away before my eyes, even I was sometimes too weak to go out to sea. I felt worthless.
As my situation was becoming more and more dire, agents from a food distribution project started visiting people in the region. They mayor gathered all of the community at the city hall and presented the program. I went up and they asked me a lot of questions. I felt ashamed to tell them how I struggled everyday and how hungry me and my boys were on a daily basis, but they never belittled me. They took my name and phone number and soon after I received a “tikè manje.” The agent explained that every month I could go to the neighborhood store that was affiliated with the project, and the merchant will use the number behind the voucher to give me provisions. He also gave me a secret number and instructed me not to share it with anyone. I couldn't believe this was really happening.
I cried like a baby when I bought my first basket, for the first time in a long while I could buy enough rice, beans and corn to last us a month, even herring and spaghetti. I was able to put food on the table and not wonder how or when the next meal would come. The look on my boys’ faces was like a ray of sunshine in my heart.
They explained to us that the program is only going to last for 6 months. All I know is that this is already my fourth month and I don’t know what I will do when the vouchers stop working. I‘m trying to put some money aside for when the time comes. I’m afraid for me and the boys. It’s tough having to depend on others to survive …
Written by Seneq Pierre-Martelly of CARE Haiti