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Woman moves 7 times in 5 months fleeing violence in Haiti


« I never thought I would leave one day. I’m waiting for the day when I’ll have to leave again. I don’t have a home anymore. »

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Stalked by the infernal havoc of the gangs and the fear of losing her only son, Derline Estimé changed cities 7 times in just 5 months.

Derline Estimé, 36, is one of 29,800 people who fled their homes between October and November 2022 in Petite-Rivière de l’Artibonite during gang attacks.

The Groupe des jeunes visionnaires pour le développement (Visionary Youth Group for Development), an organization based in Petite-Rivière, also counted 97 houses burned and 270 others looted, not to mention the livestock and other belongings taken away by the bandits.

Derline Estimé moved to another city 7 times in just 5 months.

« I was shaking. I was very scared that something would happen to me and my son, » recalls Derline Estimé, on the day hostilities began.

Loud detonations emanated from the lower part of the city. And the next day, rumors circulated that the gunmen were going to come and stage a « bloodbath ».

In a panic, Derline Estimé, who lived in the south of the city, packed her suitcase and went to her sister’s house in Savane-à-Roche, with her son, « before catastrophe struck ».

Savane-à-Roche is located on a hill, about 20 kilometers east of the city centre. There, Derline Estimé and her son stayed for a fortnight. On the sixteenth day, having heard that things had calmed down a bit, she returned to the city centre.

The situation had eased some during the first 4 days. No more. Because on the fifth, the heavy fire started again.

It was then that Derline Estimé took the decision to go to Port-au-Prince.

I remained hopeful.

The descent into hell for the Artibonite department began in 2019, with a first major attack on the Petite-Rivière communal police station.

« In April 2020, I remember running away in a panic, » recalls Derline Estimé, who was pregnant at the time. That day, I was at the downtown market when I heard detonations not far from me. »

The situation escalated in June and July 2022.

« But I didn’t think I’d ever leave, says Derline Estimé. I remained hopeful, so much so that I made all the preparations for my son for the upcoming school year. »

Registration receipt for Derline Estimé’s son at a school in Petite-Rivière.

From October to December 2022, the entire city was prepared for war. After gunmen attacked the northern entrance to the city centre on 18 October, thousands of citizens fled their homes in a hurry. The few who resisted, aided by volunteers and a few policemen, hid behind barricades. All the streets remained blocked, waiting for a possible return of the bandits.

Read also: Gangs run out of water for farmers in the Artibonite Valley

Two months after arriving at her sister’s home in Port-au-Prince, Derline Estimé decided to return once again to Petite-Rivière after learning that life was timidly returning to normal behind the barricades.

« I wanted my son to go to school, she says. But when I arrived, I couldn’t hold back my tears. Because it was no longer the city of my childhood. »

Barricades, ruins of burnt and abandoned houses… The city was disfigured by violence. People had an elusive expression on their faces. They resembled, according to Derline Estimé, zombies with faces pale with despair and sleepless nights spent waiting for the return of armed men. For three months, they had been shouting their misfortunes from the rooftops. But neither the police nor the government seemed to have heard them.

I wanted my son to go to school.

Under these conditions, it was impossible to reopen classes.

But Derline Estimé insists that she wants her son to go to school. That’s why she decided to follow the advice of some friends and move to Verrettes, a town located on the other side of the Artibonite River. When she arrived in the area, with the support of her child’s father because of her work, she rented two small rooms for 70,000 gourdes. Then, she enrolled her son in a local school.

Displays the terms and conditions for enrolling in a school in Les Verrettes.

Misfortune loomed for Derline Estimé, once again. The little family will only spend two weeks in Verrettes.

The child started going to school without difficulty. Derline Estimé was able to take a breather and take care of her small shoe business. However, at the end of the second week, gunshots were heard near her house. Immediately, the bad memories resurfaced.

Derline Estimé’s son’s report card at his new school in Les Verrettes.

And on Wednesday, February 8, Derline Estimé was startled awake at 1 o’clock in the morning because of the deafening detonations. The shooting would not stop until 3 o’clock in the morning.

« My son was asleep, but I was awake, she said. I was sweating. My heart was beating fast. From inside, I could hear footsteps. They came and went. Voices rose in the night, uttering threats and screaming. »

The next day, Thursday, as usual, Derline Estimé resumed her routine, as if the events of the evening were a bad dream. She prepared breakfast and made the preparations to take her son to school. But outside, the street was empty.

She asked a neighbor what is going on. The neighbor explained that a motorcycle carrying boxes of ammunition had been intercepted by residents of the community of Desjardins that night. The driver, having had time to escape, seemed to have called the « chief » for whom he was transporting the boxes, informing him of what had just happened. The furious « chief » had been accompanied by a few « soldiers » and came for revenge. They killed eight people and threatened to « come back » if they didn’t find their « boxes. » That’s why people fled.

As she explained the sequence of events, Derline Estimé’s expression changed abruptly. She lowered her head and cried. For the interview with AyiboPost, she wore a blue bodice with white patterns. Her long braids danced in front of her sparkling eyes. Her son was playing somewhere further away.

Conversation via WhatsApp between Derline Estimé and the owner of the house to inquire about the evolution of the situation in the city of Les Verrettes.

« I said, OK. Then I went home with my son. With tears in my eyes, I packed my suitcase for the umpteenth time. We went out, leaving breakfast on the table. »

Mother and son hit the road again, bound for Savane-à-Roche, a second time.

But the area was tense. The shadows of armed men loomed around every corner. « I came back to Port-au-Prince on February 13, the day before my birthday, » says Derline Estimé.

During these journeys, the child has changed a lot. « He’s become very rambunctious, » says Derline Estimé.

Read also:Is the political crisis traumatizing your children? Here’s how we can help them.

It’s now been 5 months since they left their home. « In the capital, I’m waiting for the day when I’ll have to leave again. I don’t have a home anymore, » the young woman laments.

By Wethzer Piercin

English translation by Sarah Jean.

Cover photo: In early March 2024, a woman fleeing gang violence at the bottom of the city of P-au-P is noticed at the corner of Oswald Durand and Saint Honoré streets, accompanied by other residents. | © Jean Feguens Regala/AyiboPost

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Wethzer Piercin est passionné de journalisme et d'écriture. Il aime tout ce qui est communication numérique. Amoureux de la radio et photographe, il aime explorer les subtilités du monde qui l'entoure.