Rose Ornilia Adne features in One Day in Port-au-Prince, a multimedia documentary.
PORT-AU-PRINCE (AlertNet) - The banner outside the St. Therese church in downtown Port-au-Prince translated as: “Include older people in the reconstruction. They know how the country was.”
Beneath it, almost 700 older people were singing hymns, dancing and carrying baskets of cabbages, bananas, pumpkins and plantains to symbolise the wisdom of traditional knowledge in agricultural production.
After the service, they marched en masse to the nearby United Nations Park to demonstrate for better support from the government in the wake of a disaster that has affected young and old alike.
Up front and holding a banner was Rose Ornilia Adne, 55. She was there on International Older People’s Day to represent more than 100 elderly people in her care in “Block 8” of the Tapis Rouge camp in southern Port-au-Prince, where she lives in a shack with her husband and five sons.
Most of the people in her care were too frail to make the journey from the camp in the capital’s foothills – and then to stand for several hours under the giddying sun. Rose was there to give them a voice.
“The elderly are living in appalling conditions,” she said later that afternoon, sitting in the doorway of her corrugated iron shack on a slope prone to runoff from rainwater.
“They don't have houses to live in. They don't have food. Life has become hard for them. They are in need. They need medicines from doctors. When they get sick, they should be treated in a hospital.”
Everybody in Tapis Rouge calls her “Saint Anne”, which seems fitting given the care work she does with support from aid agency HelpAge International. Saint Anne is the patron saint of grandmothers.
Every day, Rose visits the block’s elderly residents, checking their health, chatting about this and that and bringing their needs to the attention of the camp committee.
Before the quake, Rose was a wholesaler of chickens and charcoal in Les Cayes, a port town on Haiti’s southwest coast. Though 140 km (90 miles) from the quake’s epicentre, Les Cayes suffered severe damage, mostly due to poor housing construction.
“I just put both my arms in the air and said: ‘Jesus, we know men are wicked. If you’re doing your work today, nobody can stop you from doing it',” Rose said, recalling the Tuesday afternoon her own house came tumbling down around her.
“And then something took me. I started to run, to run … I was so shocked. It was only on Wednesday that I really came to my senses.”
HelpAge International estimates that almost a year after the quake, about 150,000 elderly people are still living in camps and tent cities in and around the capital.
Ahead of International Older People’s Day last October, the organisation surveyed as many elderly camp dwellers as it could to find out what they needed most. Along with food and access to free healthcare, the biggest concern was some kind of income in a country lacking a universal social pension.
Since the government put a stop to blanket food distributions by international aid agencies in April, a lack of income has meant the difference between eating and not eating for many older people.
Many elderly Haitians said they wanted to be integrated into the “cash for work” scheme run by the U.N. Development Programme, which gives short-term jobs to people to clear rubble and repair infrastructure.
And even those who are unable to work due to injury, infirmity or sheer old age said they wanted to play a role in Haiti’s reconstruction – if only through sharing knowledge gained over a lifetime of labour.
“The message ... is that the old people are farmers,” Rose said. “We used to have coffee but our coffee is destroyed. We used to have Creole pigs. All this shows that the country has gone backwards. We used to have other opportunities. We would have a chance to eat if they were rebuilt.”
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