In Haiti, pleas for a bit of dignity
Port-au-Prince, Haiti - Late Monday morning, a line snakes along the side of the Catholic Relief Services offices and across the side street where the offices are located.
Haitians are also sitting on the sidewalk with manila folders and a thin packet of papers stapled together, filling out job applications. There is a steady stream of honking as CRS vans come and go through the gated entrance, edging past the job applicants and other traffic.
Most, if not all, of these applicants came here from tent cities, hoping against long odds that they will find a job somewhere.
Etienne Joseph Keed was a teacher before the earthquake struck, teaching English to seventh- through ninth-grade students. He says he wants to work as a translator, and he wants very much to give out his phone number. He insists on it.
Domninique Dorcy and Robert Camilen are also hoping for work as translators - where, none of them knows. Anywhere.
They've all lost their homes. Dorcy and Camilen say they don't even have tents, that they are sleeping outside. They need to find jobs, they say. They need to help their families.
Their accents are thick and when they are asked to write down their names and where they are staying, they write in complete sentences and add a plea.
"I was working at Karibe Hotel as translator please help!" Dorcy writes on a notepad.
As they talk, more men gather around, wanting to write down their contact information, to describe how expert they are in their fields of work - there are many translators here, it seems - to suggest that perhaps you, the American they are talking to, knows someplace they can go, something they can do to earn money.
The desperation is thick. The crowd starts to grow.
These men are polite, well dressed. They are men who are clearly accustomed to providing for their families. But nearly three weeks ago they lost everything - homes, family, friends, nearly all of their personal belongings … and a good measure of their dignity.
They would do anything to restore all of that.
"We have nothing, we have no house, we're sleeping outside," Camilen said, "so I need a job so I can help them."
Others have brought their resumes with them, mere scraps of paper listing their talents.
A man hands a slip of paper with what looks like writing from a typewriter through the car window.
"HI! I am Evens DORISMOND. I am an inventor; a genius. I have more than 37 inventions: 35 boardgames; 2 sports and others. I can invent more other. I want your help to develop them; and others. I want to be more educated, entering into a UNIVERSITY. It's all I need. I speak creole, French, English (but a little) … "
He lists his phone number and ends with, "Thanks."
The tent cities are filled with men like these, filled with middle-class families who have suddenly found themselves destitute and begging for help.
At Our Lady of Lourdes church in Cite Milatire, about 2,000 families are camped on the church's front lawn, which can't be seen through a massive stretch of tents or sheets strung across sticks and poles.
People wash clothes in buckets, bathe children, string together car batteries to charge a dozen or more cell phones at once. They sit and nap on pews at the church's entrance.
Here, too, are priests.
Monsignor Joseph LaFontant told a team from the Haitian Ministries - visiting from Connecticut to assess the damage to their programs and to offer help - on Sunday that the priests have come to him with their laments.
LaFontant has some tough love for them, or maybe it is philosophy: This helps them to understand their flock better.
"It is good," he said, "for our priests to be suffering, to be sleeping in the open air with tents."
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