“Haiti’s elderly earthquake victims struggle to survive with little help
BY LAURA FIGUEROA
PORT-AU-PRINCE — Flies swarmed around Christiane Carystil’s inflamed leg, yet despite her moans for help, there wasn’t much the 87-year-old could do to get anyone’s attention.
Even outside the crumbled remains of the Asile Communale — the city’s main senior nursing home — personal attention is hard to come by for many elderly trying to survive in a post-earthquake society.
“The needs are many, but the people are few,” said Andree Devilas, one of the workers at the nursing home.
Haiti’s elderly have had to make do with aid efforts primarily geared toward children and adults. Elders without teeth must try to eat hard protein biscuits distributed by United Nations relief workers or whole-grain cereals that their bodies no longer digest properly. “In the rush to distribute help as quickly as possible, these details can sadly get lost,” said Cynthia Powell, spokeswoman for HelpAge, an international group that provides aid to seniors throughout the world.
Since arriving in Haiti shortly after the Jan. 12 earthquake, HelpAge has taken over much of the day-to-day duties at the Asile Communale and continues to mobilize efforts to assist seniors living in tent cities throughout Port-au-Prince, Petit Goave and Léogne.
The group has provided financial support to eight church-run nursing homes that oversee 400 seniors, and has set up protective areas at certain camps to cluster together seniors needing attention. They have also launched a radio campaign urging families not to forsake their elder relatives.
Still, HelpAge workers are concerned that in a country where need is so widespread, the elderly continue to be overlooked.
“There have been reported incidents of abandonment of older people in camps,” said Rosaleen Cunningham, spokeswoman for HelpAge. “Concerns have also been raised of older people being at increased risk and unable to protect their belongings and themselves.”
At Asile Communal, Clairevana Desbrosses, 87, holds onto an amber bottle half filled with medicine to ease the shooting pains she’s been feeling in her abdomen. With medicine in short supply, she fears that someone might take the bottle when she’s not paying attention.
“I am not OK,” she shouts repeatedly.
She is one of the nursing home’s 42 residents forced outdoors when one of two main dormitories crumbled. The residents, several over 90, share living space with the nearly 100 families who have set up camp on the nursing home’s sprawling lawn.
Children play games around the muddied lawn, running past the line of naked elders who are being bathed by nursing attendants using buckets of cold water.
Early on, HelpAge paid for men to serve as security guards, after several residents complained that “gang members” were going into their tents and stealing what little food they had.
“The best option for the residents would be relocation as soon as possible,” Cunningham said, “but the mayor has not agreed with any plans put forward.”
For now, HelpAge has contracted a doctor to provide ongoing medical care at the home, and is working on converting the first floor of a clinic into a geriatric care space with room for 25 beds.
While the seniors living at nursing homes have workers looking after them, there are thousands of elderly residents trying to survive in the sprawling tent encampments. Nearly 200,000 people over age 60 are now homeless, according to figures collected by HelpAge.
Many elders rely on the generosity of neighbors or the hustle of children and grandchildren trying to secure them food and medical attention.
“Sometimes my neighbors will give me some kernels of corn,” Dilianne Charles, 90, said from inside her tent at the Sainte Thérese Park in Pétionville.
While children run about the encampments playing jump rope and soccer, many elderly, like Charles, say they seldom leave their tents.
“At my age, its hard to stay in the sun,” Charles said. “What else can I do? There’s nothing else I can do, but sit here and not waste my energy. . . . I keep telling myself I am alive for a reason.”
Frézelia Cetoute, 109, was one of the oldest residents of the Sainte Thérese Park encampment. She has since moved back home, one of the fortunate few whose homes were deemed sturdy enough to live in.
Still, while living in the tent city, Cetoute tried to stay alert to her surroundings, despite being blind.
“Hearing the children play makes me happy,” Cetoute said one day while still living in the tent city. “It lets me know there is life.”
Cetoute lived in a makeshift tent constructed from gray tarps and floral patterned sheets with her 66-year-old daughter, her 17-year-old granddaughter and two nieces, 8 and 9.
With the help of money sent by relatives in Miami and New York, the three generations of women lived off soft foods that are easy for Cetoute to eat, such as potatoes and bananas.
Cetoute often grew restless not being able to walk around the crowded park. So she spent most of her days clutching black rosary beads, praying from a lawn chair that was also her bed.
“I’m just waiting,” Cetoute said. “If I can survive this earthquake, who knows what else I can survive?””
(Quelle: Miami Herald.)