We met Marie Carole Boucicaut one year ago, after her Port-au-Prince grocery store was destroyed in the January 2010 earthquake. Thanks to her strong spirit, and support from Oxfam, she’s now back on her feet.
Marie Carole Boucicaut lives in Campeche, Carrefour Feuilles, a poor area of the city of Port-au-Prince, one of the worst affected by the Haiti earthquake.
Marie Carole is one of the 56 women who ran Oxfam’s very first community canteens. The canteens started in March 2010 and ran for two months in some of the areas of Port-au-Prince. Oxfam supported her financially so that she could feed 80 of the most vulnerable people in her immediate community and make a profit for herself, as a first step to regaining her own livelihood.
We met first in April 2010. Before the earthquake, Marie Carole had a grocery store where she sold goods in bulk. “I hope in the future I will have another shop. Having a shop is what I do. I hope to get my shop back.”
‘I was given the opportunity to run this canteen and I really like it. I don’t run it alone, I have some help from my family –- the children before they go to school -- and I have a niece who is helping me at the moment. For other things I have to rely on God. I believe in God and Oxfam.”
“I buy a lot of the food from a market about two miles away. I go every Saturday and buy enough for two days. I buy meat every day. I cook in the canteen from Monday to Friday -- there is no canteen on Saturdays and Sundays. Food is now more expensive than before the earthquake.”
The next time we meet it is June, and Marie Carole is waiting at her shop: a stall covered with a large awning outside an old water kiosk.
‘Things were difficult right after the earthquake, but we’re Haitian so we have to get up and move forward.”
“The community canteen really helped me; I was able to start my business back up and now I have my own shop again. Every week, while I had the canteen, I would put aside some of the profits, 1000 gourdes here and a 1000 gourdes there, and then I would send the girls to go and buy things for my shop. I also borrowed a little money so that I could buy the rest of my stock. Now I sell all sorts of things: rice, sugar, beans, pasta, charcoal – all sorts of things.”
For such a small shop, the range of stock is impressive. Marie Carole pulls out strings of milk-cartons, little pink bottles of shampoo, sweets, and even long tins holding pencils, an eraser, pencil sharpener, ruler and pair of compasses – just what every school child needs!
Marie Carole puts everything back in place and sits down again. ‘I went all the way down to Croix des Bouquets to buy the stock at the market there. My brother came with me to help. With the canteen and now this shop, at least we can all eat. There are still ten of us living together, as we have since the earthquake, in a shelter made of tin sheets. Now we have some plastic sheeting too, some from Oxfam and some we bought, so now when it rains we don’t get wet like we did before.’
‘The problem is,’ she continues, ‘the building is not mine. I have an arrangement with the owners: I paid them six-months rent in advance and they have let me set up my shop outside the bottom floor since they can’t use it for selling water from any more. The top floor collapsed in the earthquake, and the ceiling is cracked and leaks so some of my stock got wet – all the plastic bags I bought to put my customers’ goods in. Because the first floor has fallen, I don’t like to go inside, so I didn’t immediately see that my things were getting we because of the leak. It’s hard to manage my stock.’
‘Is life improving here?’ I ask. She tells me that for some people life is still very hard: ‘many still don’t have enough to eat and neither do they have a safe place to sleep.’
In September 2010 we met again. Marie Carole still had her shop at the old water kiosk, and business was good. And she had some news for me:
‘People from Oxfam came to inspect the site of my old shop – the one I had before the earthquake. They saw that it had been destroyed, and they are going to provide me with a shipping container so I can use it as a shop and have room to store my stock more securely. That will be much better for my business. I will be able to buy more, and I will be able to manage my stock better from there.’
‘There are always needs, but as long as we are healthy, and we have two hands and feet, we can find things to do and we will continue living. Things will get better.’
It is now February 2011, time for my last meeting with Marie Carole. She has good news for me, and greets me with a huge smile:
‘I received the container in the last week of December and the cash grant from Oxfam a few days later. Please come and see all the stock I have been able to put together thanks to the Almighty and to Oxfam.
‘I’m selling a lot of items, a little bit of everything, a “meli melo” (if I can use one of our lovely Creole expressions). Here, we are in the middle of an urban area but sometimes it feels like being in a rural village. People like to shop at one place for everything they need. And this is one of my strengths: I’m the one stop shop!
‘My clientele has grown considerably: old residents of the neighbourhood still consider me as the perfect place to stop by for shopping, and IDPs living in the camps all around here are now buying from me too. It’s true that a shop placed closer to the main road is selling more than me, but I’m doing well here and I don’t have any reason to complain.
‘My domestic situation has not changed a lot. I’m still living in a temporary shelter built from metal sheets with 10 other members of my family. Only my husband and I have “regular” incomes so we are fighting because the daily needs (food, clothes, school, health care…) of the whole family depend on us."
‘With the grant we’ve been given -- and the loan we received from CECACHE thanks to Oxfam -- a lot of us got solid support that will empower even the worst affected people. In my case, the domestic responsibilities are major obstacle to my business expansion, but I’m confident. I know I’m not alone in this fight. I believe God is by my side. When I think about January 12th and the first days after this disaster, I can say there was no more hope. And now, it’s just amazing: I’m back on my feet!’
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