Reflections from Haiti

Damaged school. Photo: Naba Gurung ,PWRDF

From March 23-30, 2010 I visited Haiti on behalf of PWRDF.  While there, I met with the ACT (Action by Churches Together) partners who have been working tirelessly since the earthquake that devastated Haiti on January 12.  PWRDF has been working with the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti (working along with the Episcopal Relief and Development, USA) and with ACT members Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Haiti and the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) in Haiti.  The recovery work supported by PWRDF is being led by the community, who are involved in all stages of the work from assessing the situation through prioritizing needs and working to distribute resources.

Anglicans in Canada have raised over $2.1 million for relief and redevelopment work in Haiti.  You can read about how that money is being used here.  In this article, I want to share with you my experiences visiting with different partners during my time in Haiti.

Episcopal Diocese of Haiti
I visited several schools run by the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti in the Leogane’ area.  More than 100 out of the 254 schools run by the Diocese country-wide have been damaged or destroyed by the earthquake.  PWRDF is working with the Diocese and LWF to get kids back in the classroom.  Most of the country’s elementary and secondary students have been out of school since the start of Christmas break in mid-December.  The Diocese had initially planned to re-open  19 schools; funded by the ACT appeal.  We arranged a meeting between ACT partners and the Diocesan National School Board, to discuss plans to support reopening of as many of the other Episcopal and public schools as possible. At the time of my visit LWF and the Diocese had erected seven large tents in Darbonne (Leogane’ area) serving 1,500 children as schools.   The schools will be supported with classroom supplies, latrines, drinking water, teacher allowances, school feeding/nutrition, furniture and psycho-social care for teachers and students.  This is a unique opportunity for PWRDF and ACT, together with the Diocese who manages these schools, to support thousands of members of the young generation of who are the foundation of Haiti’s rebuilding process.

Lutheran World Federation
We visited 3 camps supported by the Lutheran World Federation.  LWF is distributing rice, beans, milk powder, specialized food for infants, nursing mothers and pregnant women, cooking utensils, charcoal, buckets and drinking water to the 4,356 people of St. Therese camp in Port-au-Prince, the first site of our visit.  Nerette Camp, situated on the former site of the Italian Embassy, is housing 1250 children, teens, women and men.  Community members met, analyzed their needs, and decided to focus on providing latrines, showers and a day school.

Community members meet in Petite Riviere. Photo: Naba Gurung, PWRDF

We also visited a camp in Petite Riviere, in Leogane region, where we met with about 40 youth leaders, who were to elect an executive committee responsible for developing a new community centre for local children, youth and young adults.  It was very encouraging to have witnessed community led processes which helped to make decisions about beneficiaries, distributions, camp management and future rehabilitation projects.  Also, we interacted with scores of children of different age groups in the camps, who were busy reading, writing, drawing, chatting and happily playing around.  LWF has arranged psycho-social care for these children.  They make the camp environment lively and their smiles give hope for a better future.

Christian Reformed World Relief Committee
With CRWRC, I visited the village of Masson and nearby communities in Leogane region where we were welcomed by the leaders of the local youth group.  Working with CRWRC/ACT, the youth took charge of doing a door-to-door survey in the initial assessment of damages and needs.  We met with affected families who are living under tents and tarpaulins (distributed by CRWRC/ACT) in the local soccer field.  With many concrete houses and schools down, the removal of rubble appears to be a big challenge. CRWRC/ACT has provided tools such as wheelbarrows, shovels and hammers to the people in Masson to help them remove the remains of their homes and businesses.

Nathan Proper (right) speaking with Haitians. Photo: John Deckinga, CRWRC/ACT

While in Leogane, we met with Nathan Proper, a structural engineer from Guelph Ontario, who is volunteering with CRWRC/ACT in Masson village.  With the help of the local youth club, which has been a CRWRC/ACT partner right from the beginning of the emergency response, Nathan is color coding all the affected houses in Masson into 4 categories- green (fine), yellow (minor repair needed), orange (major repair needed) and red (demolish and rebuild).   This exercise has become an important first step in the process of helping the affected families with permanent housing.  Nathan has also opened up discussion with the community about appropriate structures and materials for building quake and hurricane resistant houses.  We immediately got the impression that Nathan had connected well with the young people.  Both Nathan and the youth are very passionate about their work in the community.

Jetha drinking - Photo: Naba Gurung, PWRDF

The earthquake also contaminated wells in the villages. We visited one deep well that has been repaired by CRWRC/ACT.  I briefly talked to a local woman named Jetha, who came to the water point to collect drinking water.  With a smile on her face, she said she was very

thankful for the clean and safe drinking water in the community.  We visited sites where CRWRC/ACT dug two other boreholes to supply clean and adequate drinking water for the affected people in Masson and adjacent villages.  One of them was already successfully completed, while the other was near completion, with local enthusiasts surrounding and cheering the work of the technicians wrapping up the work of their successful digging.
In addition to my visits to the affected communities where these

Emergency Shelters - Photo: Naba Gurung, PWRDF

partners are working, I also attended one of the regular weekly meeting of the ACT forum in Haiti.  Each week, representatives of all the organizations working in the area gather to coordinate the work.  The UNOCHA (United Nations Officer for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) coordinated the meeting in the Leogane area.  I also met with CIDA officials in Port-au-Prince to get larger picture of relief and rehabilitation around needs, coordination and funding.

This visit provided me with a unique opportunity to witness and discuss the work of the PWRDF partners in providing much needed relief assistance.  We have helped to provide food, relief items, shelter, water and sanitation, psycho-social support, health care and awareness, staff care, education and livelihood to thousands of people since the earthquake.   The need for food, water and sanitation are still important and UN agencies, NGOs, Churches and others are doing their best to meet those needs.
At the same time, our partners are aware of the danger of creating dependency on assistance.  Plans need to be in place to allow gradual reduction of the distribution rather than a sudden stop. Already, I saw strategies such as cash for work and agricultural recovery being implemented. These and other strategies will continue to form a vital basis for the recovery.
It was amazing to see determination and courage and resilience of people as they struggle to rebuild their lives and communities. People in Haiti and our partners are committed to rebuild Haiti better than ever.  They need long term accompaniment from partners such as PWRDF.  Thank you for continuing to remember the people of Haiti and our partners in your prayers and thank you for all your support!

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