They didn’t wait for help. They did it for themselves and are still doing it.
Those words sum up the life of about 200,000 Haitians who have found a new home in Canaan after they lost their belongings, houses and loved ones when an earthquake ravaged the country eight years ago.
Canaan, found about 30 minutes drive from the country’s capital Port-au-Prince was previously an uninhabited piece of land with rolling hills.
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When these disaster victims moved in, they first developed the land as a small settlement of tents but it suddenly grew into what has been described as the third-largest metropolitan area in the country.
According to the UN, there are about 65 million people displaced in the world currently, with most of them living in camps where their host governments do not give them the chance to have jobs or own property.
These people, basically, must depend on foreign aid.
But the situation is different in Canaan. The city, named after the biblical Promised Land, has no government at all.
Because it is not a recognized district, there is no voting or elections, and no formal way to choose its leaders.
The city has no real police force and residents must settle disputes and cases on their own.
They have built their own houses, restaurants, football pitches, schools, a health centre and pharmacies.
Residents are reported to have put more than $100m of their own money into creating this city.
As there are no formal jobs, many of them work as taxi drivers, shop attendants, midwives, masons, among others.
However, many residents still do not have access to running water, latrines, electricity and waste management.
Diseases like cholera and malaria persist.
Some NGOs, charities, and international agencies have since trooped in to provide Canaan with drinking water, funding for schools and other incentives like public parks and plazas.
These are things many expect the Haitian government to do but hasn’t, as it has been accused of ignoring the needs of the people.
But with the help from these international organisations, there are fears that soon, people will be fighting for resources and there will be issues as to how to allocate them.
Currently, residents do not have titles to the land or their homes, meaning they can’t easily receive loans to grow their businesses.
Families who claim they owned the land on which the city stands before the government expropriated it have demanded money.
Government is yet to identify and pay the owners of the land and this has raised concerns that a large number of people living in Canaan could be evicted.
For some, Canaan is just like any slum or an informal neighbourhood that keeps developing in Haiti, one of the poorest Caribbean nations.
But people living there continue to exhibit hopes that their city can remain different from the other informal neighbourhoods that are decades older than theirs.