Reporter's Notebook Top

Haiti’s gang violence leaves her powerless and afraid

A waiting area at a hospital in Port-au-Prince that is typically crowded but on Monday had only a handful of patients. (Naïka Jean/YJI)

Port-a-Prince, HAITI – Hopeless, angry and desperate. Every day I go through all these feelings, sometimes one at a time, sometimes together.

But then I tell myself I should get used to that and be happy that I am still alive.

I repeat to myself, “Tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

It’s a Bible verse that helps me postpone the pain of having to run out of my house when gangs officially conquer my neighborhood – until the day it might actually happen.

In the capital of Haiti, when gangs conquer a district, they either live in your house or burn it, no matter if you’re inside or not.

My neighborhood was among the remaining ones where gang presence wasn’t really noticed and many people moved to it.

When did everything start? Well, I can’t even remember. But it has been one year since I am keen on not going on the roof of my house – even for a million dollars – for fear of being victim of gunshots.

I started hearing gunshots in my neighborhood months ago. At the beginning, they sounded like fireworks. At this point, I could pretend to myself that they are fireworks and shift my mind away from them.

But since Prime Minister Ariel Henry recently got stuck outside Haiti after going to Kenya, the gunshots started sounding like bombs.

My neighborhood police station was attacked and destroyed the same day the national prison got destroyed by gangs, freeing thousands of criminals.

Schools and universities are closed for an undetermined time. My little sister, who is in 11th grade, hasn’t gone to school for a month.

As if it wasn’t enough, schools can’t even properly organize online courses because of electricity and internet connection issues.

I haven’t seen electricity for one month so far. At home, we make the most of solar energy, even if it functions only when the sunshine is bright.

After charging my phone, I sometimes have to prevent myself from using it when I know I will have a major thing to do with it, like attending a Youth Journalism International meeting.

Making sacrifices has become a lifestyle. My dad goes outside almost every day – willing to make the sacrifice for the family to eat and drink.

When he comes back, he brings food for at least two days. But he always complains about struggling to find basic things. The gas cylinders for our oven took him weeks of searching.

When a service station opened after days of being closed, people lined up to buy gas. (Naïka Jean/YJI)

Young people in Haiti started the social media trend, “We will all die,” in meme form. Some took photos with the words written on boards.

Now it’s, “This little strength I have left is to drag my luggage,” expressing their strong will to move out of the country, mostly through the Biden administration’s humanitarian program that has allowed some people from my country, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela to go to the United States.

Those who go somewhere else, like Nicaragua, pay huge amounts of money and sometimes have to cross wild places and risk their lives in order to emigrate illegally. Haitians are not allowed to go to Nicaragua anymore.

And recently, our national airport was also attacked by gangs – the same who control all the routes that lead to the countryside.

This is the life of a 17-year-old girl. Hanging out with friends, going to the beach, going shopping and even going to church and college are dreams.

Naïka Jean is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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