Despite alerts issued by Haitian authorities, the population did not believe that there would be such a violent cyclone. Matthew, a category four hurricane with 145mph winds, surprised a large part of the population when it swept southwestern Haiti on October 4.
"My husband and I thought the messages were only for those who lived by the sea," says Gilberte, 50, sitting between her husband and one of her daughters in the roofless room that served as a living and dining room of their house before the cyclone. She and her family live in Rousselin, locality in the commune of Dame-Marie in the department of Grande-Anse.
"But when the winds violently ripped the roof of our house, we realized that we could not stay there," she continues. "We then fled without taking anything in the middle of the night, in the pouring rain and against the wind gusts. We climbed over the high school fence in order to take refuge within the school ... The most important thing for us was to save our lives", she sights.
Plan International gave non-food items kits to a thousand families in Grand'Anse
On the evening of the cyclone, seventy-five families found shelter at the Lycée Germain Semersier located in the Rousselin community and part of the roof was blown away by the winds. A few days later, there were ninety-nine families occupying the partially damaged school building. Each of the 60-square-meter classrooms, covered or not, served as home for around twenty people.
"We were seventeen people living in one class room," reports Gilberte. "The room was partially uncovered. Otherwise, there would be almost thirty people as in the others," she believes. "We lived in the school for two months, but we knew from the first day that we could not stay here in these conditions. It was cold at night. My children were sleeping next to people they were not used to. We had no privacy at all".
Plan International has supported families with non-food items
A few days after the hurricane hits, Plan International initiated its response in Grande-Anse, where more than 66,000 houses have been damaged or destroyed, according to an assessment carried out jointly with the Haitian Civil Protection Department. This situation exposed about 210,000 children to great risks of violence, abuse and exploitation, especially those who were in the shelters. This is why it was a priority for families to return home as soon as possible.
"Having lost everything in a disaster, people certainly need food, according to Boson Ramilus, Coordinator of Livelihood Program for Plan International. However, they also need to have enough to operate in the emergency context in which they suddenly found themselves", he stated. "After that, they’ll need to recover, to return home and try to reestablish the livelihoods ", he explains.
On the other hand, it was also necessary to leave the school in order to allow the education activities to start again in the only public high school of Dame-Marie.
With the support of Irish Aid, Plan International has facilitated the quick return of displaced people -especially children- back to their communities by providing families kits of non-food items. The organization provided with non-food kits to 99 families living in the school and more than one thousand other families in six different communities of Grande-Anse. These non-food item kits contained blankets, mosquito nets, utensils, ropes, tarpaulins, buckets and other hygiene items.
Home sweet home
Two months after the passage of hurricane Matthew, Gilberte and her family, like most families who had taken refuge at the Lycée Germain Semersier, have returned home. She has managed to repair part of the roof of her two-room house.
"We are not in the best conditions yet," said Gilberte, "but we feel much better at home," she says.