Habitat NI Chief Executive Jenny Williams visited Haiti in March to learn how money from Northern Ireland is helping those in need of a safe place to call home.
It’s summer and many of us are focused on packing up and heading off on holiday. We’re travelling by car, train, plane or boat.
Travel is always a privilege. Even with our first world challenges - flight delays, motorway queues, having to pay extra for our seat on the plane or hold baggage.
I had the special privilege earlier this year to visit Haiti. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere; more than 60% of its population live under the poverty line. 6 million people. Every year, about the same number of tourists holiday in the Dominican Republic, Haiti’s closest neighbour.
Most people in Haiti have never had a holiday because they struggle to survive.
Political instability. Food shortages. Unemployment. Natural disasters. Lack of basic infrastructure. These factors and more have kept Haitians locked in a cycle of poverty for generations.
During my stay, I saw first-hand how funds from Northern Ireland have helped families recover after the 2012 earthquake. The scars of the earthquake are still so visible. Yet, on a hillside in Canaan where families who had lost everything in the earthquake now live, I was moved by how resilient, determined and hopeful they are, in spite of many challenges.
Haiti ‘land of the high mountains’ is a place where dramatic landscapes make way for beautiful beaches. But Haiti is a vulnerable place.
From June to November, the Hurricane season presents constant risk to homes, lives and livelihoods. Last year Hurricane Matthew added to the Haiti’s devastation affecting more than 2.1 million people and leaving 300,000 homes in need of repair or reconstruction.
Thanks to the generosity of people like you, we were able to send a small amount of funds – which were put to good use in helping with technical assistance, home repair and reconstruction.
One of the joys of the Habitat model is its focus on meeting people where they are. Habitat Haiti is building and improving homes, helping with water and sanitation, and providing construction skills training.
Meeting people where they are means helping them build on their own efforts, and sometimes that means doing surprising things.
I talked to community leaders in Canaan who explained the profound impact that something as simple as having a sign on the end of their street is having for the whole community. Habitat is GPS mapping Canaan, installing street lighting and providing street signage. This underpins the community’s sense of value, giving them an address and helping formalise this new city of 30,000 people.
I met families in Simon Pele who have lived all their lives without access to a toilet and have never experienced walking on a solid street in their community until Habitat came to help.
Habitat is helping women in surprising ways too, as Ruth explains:
“This training is beneficial for all of us in the community. In Haiti when you say the word construction, it usually leaves women out. Before this training, I had never seen women working on construction sites in this community in my entire life. So, I can’t help but be proud of myself for being one of the first women to have participated in a training on safe construction techniques in this area.
Last week, my uncle was renovating his house, and I helped him. All of the men were surprised to see how much I knew and how well I performed. I want to share my knowledge with my community, especially women, so we can help each other bounce back from this disaster. When our houses were damaged in the past, we had to call outsiders to help us fix them, which can cost a fortune.
Money we used to spend on construction materials plus transportation and services can now be saved and put to better use. A big ‘thank you’ to Habitat for the knowledge they are bringing to this community.”
Imagine if you never had a decent place to live; somewhere safe to come home after your holiday.