Together with Jennifer Banessa Destine and a few other young adults, Stephan Durogene formed a committee to begin lobbying for aid for families who had taken refuge inside a once-private compound at Delmas 62. By day, 300 people were squeezed together under a few tarps and ropes draped with bed sheets. But at night, the numbers soared to 1,000.
“I just wanted to help people out,” said Durogene, who knew that aid organizations would be flooding into the city and could provide assistance. “People don’t know where to go, so I decided to go forward.”
The small committee visited every aid group it could reach, including Oxfam, whose office was about half a mile from the camp.
“I explained to them there are injuries. They don’t have water. They don’t have anything to eat,” recalled Durogene. Sometimes, the committee went back to make its case a second time.
The persistence of the committee members paid off.
First they got water delivered to the site. Then, when it started to rain, they appealed for tarps, and got some of those, too. Deliveries of kitchen supplies—pots for cooking, utensils for eating–followed from Oxfam, with the committee organizing an orderly distribution the following day. And soon, Oxfam was also digging latrines at the site and setting up a more permanent water supply in the form of a large collapsible bladder.
“I always have a head on my shoulders and come with bright ideas,” said a matter-of-fact Destine, 29, about the role she plays as the only woman on the committee. And because she’s a clear-thinker (and studied management for four years at university), the others embrace her ideas—like the one about recording the names of each head of household and the numbers in each family so the committee can keep track of how many people are in the camp.
During the evenings, the committee also works to keep order in the camp.
“At night, when everybody is back and ready to go to sleep, I take the megaphone and explain this is a private yard, and this is how we’re supposed to behave,” said Durogene.
Occasionally, the stress everyone is living under boils over and both Durogene and Destine have found themselves on the receiving end of a barrage of vitriol.
“Sometimes I find people cursing me,” said Durogene who speaks—always—with a quiet, calm voice, a voice that most in the camp seem to respect,” but I stay strong.….I didn’t know it was so hard, so difficult. But I’ll stay until everything is stable.”
Commitment is at his core.
Ulrich Bien-Aime, the retired school teacher who was living in his sister’s house in the compound, told me that Durogene was close—for the second time—to achieving his dream of becoming an engineer when the quake hit. A bullet shattered his university hopes the first time.
“One afternoon he was standing on a corner with friends when Aristide was going down,” said Bien-Aime. “Soldiers were shooting.” A bullet grazed Durogene’s head, destroying the vision in his right eye, and setting him back in his studies.
But he didn’t give up, said Ulrich.
Durogene is 27 now. He had just one project left to complete before the degree was his. Then, his world crashed.
“There is no building. No university. No staff,” said Ulrich.
Durogene said he’s not sure what will come next with his schooling or even with job prospects—which are nothing if not extremely challenging in Haiti. But of this he is certain: His commitment to the camp and the people it’s sheltering is paramount.
“I cannot go out and look for a job now,” he said. “I want to be sure the structures are in place in here.”
The camp is just a beginning. As Haiti starts the long, arduous process of rebuilding itself, the social solidarity born from this tragedy, and all the potential of people forever shaped by it, can become the rocks from which mountains of good may rise.