Haiti: Building on ACT expertise

Haiti: Building on ACT expertise

Fernande Saint-Paul, 50, the mother of seven children, was thankful for the tin roof over their newly constructed temporary shelter.
ACT/Catianne Tijerina

Next month, the world's attention will once again focus intensely on Haiti.

Journalists covering the one-year anniversary of the earthquake will ask the inevitable questions about successes and continued challenges.

In Haiti's overall difficult social and political context, ACT Alliance will be able to point to both. The challenges remain obvious – and not only because of the recent problems posed by Hurricane Tomas, the outbreak of cholera in Haiti and protests over national elections.

The large number of people living in towns and cities, the great need for relief goods, the logistical problems, and the continuous movement of people from the camps, require lots of flexibility, readiness to adjust and constant follow-up on the part of aid workers, said Geneviève Cyvoct, ACT Alliance response coordinator.

A clear success: the fact the alliance could rapidly build on the structures and expertise of well-established ACT members already in Haiti, said David Korpela, Finn Church Aid’s Haiti country director.

"Haiti has been an excellent example of cooperation between ACT members and the sharing of supplies and expertise to bring about results that would not have been possible acting alone."

Korpela noted that Finn Church Aid, working with the Lutheran World Federation, has established 240 temporary and semi-permanent classrooms at 50 schools since the earthquake, with extra assistance from Norwegian Church Aid.

Before the floods caused by Tomas last month, Leyogàn, the quake's epicentre, provided evidence of some of the alliance's hard-earned successes. Leyogàn is a community where at least 30,000 people were killed, nine out of 10 families lost homes and where nearly all structures were either damaged or destroyed.

Students at two Episcopal schools were completing their school year when the floods hit – a school year already delayed by three months – in tents provided by ACT.

The school year had proven painful and difficult, said school coordinator Kenson Vilmé. “It's not the same endeavor as before,” Vilmé said. “The blow has gone but the scar remains.”

Still, students and teachers found the strength and determination to continue on. While the temporary shelter provided by a tent was far from ideal, particularly as the hot summer months continued, there was good reason for the tents. "If it had not been for the tents, we wouldn't have had school," Vilmé said. Plans are under way for a permanent school to be built next year.

"It's all good, life is not over because of this," Vilmé said. "Life continues. You have to get up and still keep living."

A visit outside Leyogàn to the community of Masson, shows what another ACT member, the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, is doing in local communities. CRWRC has provided 10,000 people tools, hygiene and cooking kits, emergency and so-called "transitional" shelter materials to bring structures up to hurricane standard, and improved water and sanitation access.

The work done to damaged homes took pride of place. As Ron Fuller, a CRWRC international relief manager put it, "Homes are like the social fabric; those (people) who were not uprooted from their homes can come right back to where they always lived."

Among those whose homes were being repaired was Carmene Calixte, in her 90s and known in the community as "Madame George", who lives with her niece Premise Louis, 45, in a home that has been in the family since 1955. As repairs to the structure were made, Calixte said simply: "It's a beautiful house."

Down the road - and not far from where CRWRS has built several new artesian wells - repairs were being made to another home.

Fernande Saint-Paul, 50, the mother of seven children ranging from four to 25, was thankful for a tin roof over her newly-constructed temporary shelter. In a country where the post-quake fear of concrete roofs is real and palpable, she expressed an often-heard sentiment. "I had prayed for that."

Teaching in a hot tent

Students and teachers at the St. Esprit (Holy Spirit) School in Leyogàn reflect on living "tent to tent" – from home in a tent to school in a tent and back home to a tent.

Mesgline Pierre, a first-year primary school teacher, describes the situation as obviously difficult. While students and teachers alike were eager to finally return to school following the initial months of trauma and inactivity after the earthquake, trying to teach and learn “in a hot tent is difficult”, she said. “The students can't really learn well. We all really want to return to normal.”

However, primary school student Louis Jean Kensky, 7, said he enjoyed learning in a tent. “It feels good. It feels fresh,” he said, adding he found classes were not that difficult in the hot weather. Perhaps his robust nature comes from his ambitions: Kensky said he wants to be a professional soccer player.

Sixth-grader Wedfalie Pierre, 13, said she was “happy to return to school” both because it was good to leave her family's temporary shelter and to continue her studies in mathematics, science and French. Her ambitions? "To be either an artist, a nurse or an actress."