A young man whose community has been at the epicentre of the violence that has been raging between rival gangs in the troubled neighbourhood of Cité Soleil in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, says that he goes to sleep and wakes in the morning to the sound of gunfire. Edwin*, is a youth leader in his community, part of a group which is supported by the UN Peacebuilding Fund.
“Since July 8th, there has been an intensification of violence in Cité Solei and especially in the area which I live in, which is called Brooklyn. There is heavy fighting in the streets and everyone is very stressed. We cannot leave our homes most of the time and there is no traffic coming in and out of the neighbourhood.
This causes a lot of problems especially the lack of food and water. I am sometimes able to share food with neighbours, but many people are going hungry. The small amount of drinking water that is available has tripled in price.
We have a greeting in our language, Creole, when someone leaves home, we tell them to be “pridan” or careful, but this expression has lost its meaning now because our life is so dangerous. You think you are safe at home but bullets know every pathway and back alley in our neighbourhood.
Cycle of fear, stress and despair
If a friend or family member manages to leave the Cité Soleil, we begin to worry that they have been killed if we don’t hear from them during the day. This adds even more worry to our already traumatic life.
I go to bed and wake up to the sound of gunfire which is very stressful, but, even if the shooting terrifies me, I try and use the rhythmic sound of bullets being fired to lull me to sleep; this is the only way I can survive through this difficult period. Sometimes, you can use music to escape the constant shooting noise, but not when shots are being fired so close to your house; it’s just too loud.
My life now is a cycle of fear, stress and despair. I’m always experiencing at least one of these feelings and I just want them to stop, so I can get back to normality.
Battling for a simple but normal life
Despite this, I do have some hope and remain positive most of the time. The work I’m doing with my youth group Comite Consultatif des Jeunes is helping me to get through this difficult period.
The group organizes activities bringing young people from Cité Soleil, and two other neighbourhoods, Saint-Martin and Bel-Air, which are controlled by rival gangs. We bring hundreds of children together to enjoy sports, music or to play board games like chess.
We are working with young women and men to build friendships and support-networks across the broader community. In a way, as the fighting continues around us, we are battling for a simple but normal life, where you can walk the streets with friends, find a job or start a small business. Of course, it has not been possible to carry out any of these activities over the last two weeks.
Hear our voices
I am committed to working with young people to improve their lives and I see myself as a leader. Being part of the committee gives me confidence and helps to empower me and the other nine members.
We want our voices to be heard outside Cité Soleil, because if no-one hears us nothing will change. If people living in the rest of Port-au-Prince or indeed anywhere in the world hear us, then we can’t be forgotten, and we can work together to change our lives for the better.
*The name has been changed to protect the identity of the individual.