PORT-AU-PRINCE – On Mother’s Day last year, Nadine Lebrun gave her mother Angela Guideland a big glass vase as a gift. Last January 12, the vase shattered into pieces when the earth started to tremble, and 16-year old Lebrun was killed as a concrete block collapsed on her bed in the two-room home she shared with her parents and three siblings, in the Nazon neighborhood.
Though Lebrun’s younger sisters and brother survived, the Lebrun family didn’t celebrate Mother’s Day this year.
“It’s a sad day and we don’t have the means to celebrate anyway,” said Guideland, holding her remaining children close around her. The family’s home was looted in the days after the earthquake and all their belongings were lost, including their only photos of Nadine.
“Nadine helped me with everything in the house,” her mother added. “Her siblings ask about her everyday when they come home from school.”
On Mother’s Day, Haitians would traditionally wear a red flower on their shirt if their mother is alive, or a black one, if she passed away. With over 230,000 dead in the earthquake, the number of orphaned children who would wear black flowers and of mothers who would have no child left to wear a red flower in their honor balances out, but very few wore any flowers at all today.
In a city where one of the first questions children ask when they meet you is whether your parents are still living, every corner is home to an orphan or a mother who lost her child.
A block away from the Lebrun family, sisters Woodline and Cherline Augustin each lost their only son, three year-old Jamley and one year-old Jounary, the first killed while visiting a relative’s house and the second crashed under his two-storey home. It took Cherline Augustin almost a month to get his little body out of the rubble, she explained, holding onto a picture of her son a photographer took on his first birthday, while her sister cried silently holding a friend’s baby.
Very thin and wearing matching pink shirts, the two sisters looked like little more than children themselves. They lost their own mother before the earthquake and live alone in what used to be the second floor of their building, but is now the ground level. Neither is married or has a job, and though they would both like to have other children in the future, they say they can hardly sustain themselves.
The first Mother’s Day since the January earthquake, Sunday was a sad day everywhere in Port-au-Prince. Though local radios still dedicated songs to mothers and some celebrated the recurrence with flowers and gifts, the mood was all but festive.
The mothers and children killed on January 12 were remembered in churches and with moments of silence. Others chose to dedicate this day to the mothers and children who survived the earthquake but live in dire conditions.
Among them was Tanya Lemaire. The 30-year old pastry chef left her six year-old son home today.
“It’s Sunday, I have to go feed the other kids,” she told him.
Every Sunday since last Easter, Lemaire and a group of friends from Petionville have been cooking upwards of 400 hot meals and driving them to the Boston neighborhood of Cite’ Soleil, where they distribute the food to children, together with footballs and soft drinks.
Today, for Mother’s Day, the group decided to include mothers in the distribution, though the idea caused tensions in the neighborhood and fights erupted among the crowd of mothers gathered around the meal packets, while many children were left behind.
“I hate to say it but the problem are the adults,” Lemaire said. “Children know how to stay in line, hand in their tickets and take their meal. We wanted to give mothers something to celebrate with, but I don’t think we managed to do that.”
While for many, from Nazon to Cite’ Soleil, this year’s Mother’s Day was just one more difficult day in Haiti, some decided to share this somber time with their own children.
Sophia Martelly’s oldest son is abroad for college but today, her three other children joined their mother’s charity – the Foundation Rose & Blanc – and Lemaire’s group. While Martelly, the wife of the musician Michel Martelly, mixed large pots of rice and chicken for the children of Cite’ Soleil, her own children helped box the food and snapped pictures. Later, in Cite’ Soleil, 17-year old Sandro played ball with the neighborhood’s kids and 9-year old Malaika held a baby in her arms, while her mother tried to keep some order among those lined up to receive food.
“I take my kids with me on food distributions,” Martelly said smiling, when asked how she celebrates Mother’s Day.