Squatters’ Market

Today, we are visiting an open-air market a short distance away from the largest market in Pétion-ville. My senses are overwhelmed with traffic noise, exhaust fumes and the smell of meat slowly rotting in the hot sun. We follow a rabbit warren of trails between the stalls, barely wide enough for one person to pass. Trickles of sewage water complete the aromatic brew, reminding everyone to step carefully. It’s hard for me to imagine working here every day with no hope of a better alternative.

We are here to discuss the possibility of opening a Heart to Heart International medical clinic in the market. We may only be a few miles from the market where we opened our first clinic, but this particular market is considered unofficial. At least five parties (including a large bank) claim to own the few acres the market occupies. No one has legal documentation of ownership, and the land has been in use as a community market for many years.

The politics are delicate for installing a clinic in this market. Unlike our first location, this clinic would need to be temporary or mobile in recognition of the disputed possession. We have a plan, if we can just get the right approval and financial support.

We sit on small, rough benches and a few tipsy folding chairs to meet with the market committee. The committee, comprised of women and men chosen to represent the other sellers. They are seeking basic medical care and help with sanitation in the market from HHI.

Meanwhile, flies and mosquitos dart around the semi-dark interior of a small tin shack, and the only light shines through a small open doorway. A mouse runs between our legs, across the mud floor, and through a hole in the opposing wall, causing a few awkward laughs. We listen as the committee tells its story.

So far, the committee has not succeeded in getting a meeting with the mayor to register their desire for HHI to open a clinic in their market. They debate whether the city will give its OK due to the legal limbo of the land. Strong opinions are expressed by any who wishes to speak.

Their question of me: How long will it take to open a clinic if we get permission from the city? I tell them it will take a few months to get a clinic built and operating. One woman, appearing to be about 40, pain visible in her eyes, says she just wants it to move quickly. She and the woman next to her hold hands, supporting and comforting each other.

As I watch and listen, I sense not only sincerity, but desperation to have something so precious as basic health. They know the other market has a clinic now, and they would like to have one in their market too. The interaction between the members signals respect, friendship and solidarity. They will fight for this, there is no doubt.

These are hardworking people living on the very edge of life, selling primarily food and clothing in unsanitary and dangerous conditions. They work every day of the week, usually for 10 or more hours. They feed children, spouses and extended family members while also paying for their children’s schooling. Medical care, as you can imagine, is simply out of reach. “This would benefit the whole community,” one woman told us. And it would.



Jim Mitchum
CEO, Heart to Heart International

Categories: Access to Healthcare , General News , Haiti Operations , Uncategorized