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Earthquake in Haiti: Marie Yolaine has lost almost everything

02-02-2010 Feature

Marie Yolaine lost nine members of her family to the earthquake. One of her two surviving children then mysteriously disappeared – his body was found the following day. She came to the Haitian Red Cross for help. Simon Schorno, ICRC spokesperson, tells her story from Port-au-Prince.


©ICRC/M. Kokic/ht-e-00575 
Over 20,000 people have been living in makeshift shelters in the Champ de Mars square of Port-au-Prince owing to the devastation caused by the earthquake. It is here that Marie Yolaine and her son have found refuge. 
    A young woman and her child were waiting for us at the logistics centre of the Haitian Red Cross, a complex of dusty hangars at the heart of Port-au-Prince. Marie Yolaine contacted us when she heard we might be able to help. At the time of the " event, " as the Haitians now call the earthquake of 12 J anuary, she was at home with her extended family. Two of her children, and her mother, husband, four brothers and aunt were all killed. Only Marie Yolaine and her other two children survived.

In a soft, flat voice, Marie Yolaine explained that the three of them had made their way to Champ de Mars, where over 20,000 people set up makeshift tents, near the ruins of what used to be the presidential palace. That night, her youngest son, just three years old, went missing while she was asleep on the street.

Marie Yolaine's eyes filled with tears, but she held them back. With extreme dignity, she carried on. She told ICRC worker Ginou Pierre of other infants going missing – a rumour Ginou had heard over and over since the " event " two weeks ago. A few days after meeting Marie Yolaine, we learned that she had found the body of her son the next morning, on a pile of rubbish.


 Putting her in touch with her father  

The only child she has left now is six-year-old Kenté, pulled out of the rubble three days after the earthquake. He looked scared and did not say a word as he clung to his mother's arm, never straying from her side. Marie Yolaine stroked his head as she talked to us. She wanted to get in touch with her father, who lives in French Guyana. Apart from her son, he is the only family she has left now, but she had only ever spoken to him a few times over the telephone, and that was before the earthquake. She had never met him.

Marie Yolaine gave us a number scribbled on a yellow envelope and Ginou called it on her satellite phone. " I'm from the Red Cross and I want to put you in touch with your daughter, " she said, before passing the phone to the young woman. The conversation lasted several minutes; I only caught a few words. " I am alive, " said Marie Yolaine, unsmilingly. Her father seemed to tell her that he would make arrangements for her and her son to join him in Guyana.

We moved away once we had noted down the information that would enable us to find Marie Yolaine and let her speak to her father again in a few days'time. Ginou and I got back in our car and exited the warehouse, silent and downcast.