A year later in Haiti 'we see people trying to move on with their lives'

A year later in Haiti 'we see people trying to move on with their lives'

CWS-supported farming co-ops in northern Haiti are enabling families to grow food. “It means life to us,” says member Elvius St. Fulis, who displays recently harvested cassava.
Photo: Chris Herlinger/CWS

by Chris Herlinger/CWS


The United Church of Christ is a Member of Church World Service.

Port-au-Prince, Haiti -- Media coverage of the first year since the devastating January 12, 2010, earthquake is focused on government inaction, the slow pace of recovery and the seeming inability of Haiti to recover.  

But the story has another side: Haitians helping Haitians, say Church World Service staff and CWS partners in anticipation of this week’s anniversary.

“One year after the earthquake, the situation in Haiti remains extremely grave and extremely serious. Overall reconstruction of the country has been much slower than anyone would have liked,” said Aaron Tate, Church World Service’s Haiti earthquake response coordinator. “Haitians are frustrated, and I’m frustrated.”

In a country with so many problems, Tate said, “it’s easy to blame the government, the international humanitarian organizations and even the Haitian people for the problems of the last year.”

What is ultimately more useful, he said, is to continue work on “positive things that can multiply and build a new kind of Haiti.”

“In the communities where we work, we see people trying to move on with their lives.”

Burton Joseph, Haiti project manager, added that while criticism of humanitarian organizations is understandable in the current Haitian context, it deserves repeating that thousands of Haitians are alive today because of the initial and ongoing response of both Haitian and non-Haitian aid workers and the agencies they work for.

“Many people would have died without such assistance,” he said.

Church World Service partners in Haiti also acknowledge problems in the last year. Polycarp Joseph, head of CWS partner FOPJ said top-heavy and top-down assistance without Haitian participation helps explain the current “frustration in the country.” He and representatives from other CWS partners say the world has forgotten that Haiti needs sustainable development -- development that helps as many as possible and gives Haitians a voice in their future.

“Ultimately, people from outside can’t do that,” said Herode Guillomettre, president of the Christian Center for Integrated Development, a CWS partner known by the Haitian Creole acronym SKDE.

Guillomettre said 13 food cooperatives in northwest Haiti in the Northwest and Artibonite regions -- which receive support from SKDE and Church World Service -- are proof that Haitians are living lives of quiet dignity, working together toward the common good. The co-ops pool resources, raise and harvest crops, and provide agricultural credit to members.

They have also provided assistance to earthquake survivors of Port-au-Prince who have fled the Haitian capital to begin new lives. “It’s the co-op that has helped us since we’ve returned from Port-au-Prince,” Ophliase Joseph, 55, the mother of seven children and whose home was destroyed in the earthquake, said recently. While Joseph said she misses the family home in the Haitian capital, life in the “Hand in Hand” co-op, in Mayombe, Artibonite, has made her realize that she and the family need to put life in Port-au-Prince behind them. “We’re all staying here,” she said.

CWS-supported food co-ops are also meeting the challenge of providing food for their members and their families. “It means life to us,” said Elvius St. Fulis a member of the “Hand in Hand” co-op.

The initial response by CWS included providing initial emergency assistance, such as hygiene kits, blankets, tarps, school kits and baby kits -- valued at more than $600,000 -- to more than 200,000 persons.

Now CWS is focused on several priorities as the response in Haiti continues. These include:

  • Continued support and expansion for the 13 food cooperatives, which have more than 3,000 members.
  • Ongoing support for programs run by FOPJ for vulnerable Haitian children in Port-au-Prince, including restavek children (domestic servants), former gang members and teenage mothers.
  • Continued support for 1,200 persons with disabilities and their families in metropolitan Port-au-Prince. Six-hundred persons have received six-month, $75 per-month grants and 30 families have received assistance in repairing damaged housing.

Among those receiving assistance is Anouk Noel, 30. Noel’s family has used the cash grant to purchase cosmetic items that family members have re-sold in order to support the family. The home Noel shares with her family has also been repaired, and Noel said the family is relieved to have returned to the home in November following nine months in one of Port-au-Prince’s tent cities. “I didn’t think we’d be able to come back,” she said.