Gemma Handy

Haiti – 12 Months On

TODAY there's singing in Port-au-Prince. Music is blaring from inside a ramshackle Delmas church, its congregation clapping and swaying to a jubilant beat.

It's a buoyant scene which the casual onlooker may feel belies the backdrop outside.

Set in the heart of one of the ruined capital city's largest tent cities, it's one of numerous ceremonies taking place to commemorate the first anniversary of the devastating earthquake.

Twelve months to the day, Haitians are uniting to mark the disaster which struck at 16.53 on January 12 2010, claiming 230,000 lives and rendering over a million more homeless.

Across the city, the piles of rubble may have shrunk but there's little sign of the ubiquitous camps abating just yet.

Throw in election unrest and a cholera epidemic and one can only marvel at the tremendous spirit of these most resilient people.

A handful of camps has been cleared completely but this particular one has bloated by 4,000 to an estimated 20,000 inhabitants.

A year after it was hastily constructed, all shacks have been fitted with new tarp roofs to keep the rain out, taps for running water have been installed and gravel laid on the ground to prevent flooding.

Filthy shoeless kids, with beams as big as Baltimore, flock to greet us. Their tiny hands grasp handmade kites created from plastic shopping bags. A gaggle of bigger kids kick a football around a terrace overlooking the sprawling shanty town.

The place is undoubtedly cleaner and more orderly than my last visit in August. It's as if the initial shock has passed and people are becoming resigned to their fate.

The danger is, of course, the more infrastructure and facilities that are put in place, the more interminable their plight.

As we dodge washing lines and weave our way around groups of residents playing cards, we come across one man with his face covered in flour, a wide grin etched across his cheeks.

In broken English he explains it was a joke on the part of his opponents to whom he lost one particularly boisterous game of dominoes.

Food may be scarce but laughs are plenty.

At the junction of two muddy alleys, a hut bedecked with film posters and handmade signs is bathed in a ray of sunlight.

Inside this makeshift 'cinema' sits a small TV set, faced by rows of crafted wooden benches, erected in ascending order in imitation of a theatre. At one side sits a plastic box full of salvaged DVDs.

The flour-faced man whose name, he tells us, is Alfred Luckner, says the venue was built by his friend to lift the spirits of the camp's innumerable inhabitants.