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Keys to a new home built after the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Credit: Ryan Worms/Caritas

By Ryan Worms

Almost two years on from the earthquake of 12 January 2010, more than 600,000 people are still displaced in camps. They live in extremely precarious conditions and their health security is at risk.

Three dioceses were particularly affected by the earthquake: Port-au-Prince, Jacmel and Anse-à-Veau/Miragoâne. In certain areas more than 90 percent of the houses were destroyed.

Duval is a village set in the hills above Port-au-Prince, one hour’s drive from the capital. Bernard and his family live in this area. His wife Marie Gerta St Hilaire recalls 12 January 2010: “When the ground started to shake I panicked. I asked my husband to come and help me, but he could barely stand up. When we were able to get back to our house, it wasn’t there anymore. Everything had been destroyed, and there was devastation everywhere. After a while, we moved into a shack with our children. It was very hard, and I didn’t know if we’d ever get out of it.”

There is renewed hope for Bernard and his family: the inauguration of their new house. It was built as part of a partnership between Caritas Haiti and Caritas Ecuador. In Duval, on this first Sunday of November, 31 other families received the keys of their new homes during a ceremony organised in the presence of the President of Caritas Ecuador, Msgr Julio Parrilla.

Working to serve the poorest

Bernard’s new family home. All the houses are 40 m2, earthquake protected with reinforced masonry. The homes have two bedrooms, a bathroom, inside toilet in urban areas or an outside one in rural areas, kitchen and dining-cum-living-room, porch and rainwater collection tank . Credit Ryan Worms/Caritas

While Msgr Parrilla cuts the ribbon in front of the Bernard’s family’s house, the emotion is palpable. Bernard wishes to express his gratitude to Caritas. “I want to thank Caritas Haiti and Caritas Ecuador for this gift from heaven that we’re receiving today. This house marks a new start for me and my family. We have a solid roof that should last and protect us from natural disasters. Caritas is always alongside us, side by side with the poorest.”

His family, like other beneficiaries of the house building programme, is among the poorest. Antoine Verlaine, coordinator of Caritas Port-au-Prince explains that the selection of families is the outcome of a participatory process with the community.

She says, “You can appreciate that in these remote areas where more than 90% of infrastructures were destroyed by the earthquake, it wasn’t easy to choose 32 families. The needs are enormous.

“To make this selection, we drew up a set of criteria with the community. First of all, the beneficiaries had to own the land on which the house were to be built. Then, they had to be lacking the necessary funds to build the house themselves. We also gave priority to families with a disabled member following the earthquake, as well as to single parent families.

“Finally, the selection of families was ratified by the community, who helped us identify the poorest people.”

Msgr Parrilla is happy to bear witness to what the Ecuadorian people’s heartfelt gesture has enabled to be done for their Haitian brothers and sisters.

He said, “Caritas Ecuador’s contribution is modest – we are a small country. But Ecuadorian men and women’s generosity and solidarity in response to the tragedy experienced by the Haitian people was substantial. When I go back to my country I will bear witness to the hope generated by the donations made to the special collection carried out in Ecuadorian parishes. I hope the work carried out with Caritas Haiti, our sister organisation in the country, will enable even more fruits to be borne.”

The engineer Jean Erncy, Caritas Haiti’s coordinator of the reconstruction programme, explains the benefits of this collaboration.

Erncy said, “The support from Caritas Ecuador and Caritas Brazil, who are participating in the house building programme, enabled us to act in a field in which Caritas Haiti had no previous experience. This collaboration also enabled training of residents in the selected areas in various building techniques. The housing beneficiaries also received training during the works and were responsible for storage of materials. Thanks to these common efforts, Caritas Haiti has proved its capacity to head up house building projects that comply with strict earthquake resistance standards.

“With funding from CAFOD and Caritas Australia, a study was carried out by an American engineering firm, Build Change, on the quality of the constructions. Initial feedback has been very positive. Now we hope that other donors will have confidence in Caritas Haiti so that we can achieve our programme objective, namely build 4,310 permanent homes in the country’s 10 dioceses, especially in the three that were most seriously affected.”

So far, at the beginning of November, 79 of the 113 houses planned in the agreement between Caritas Ecuador and Caritas Haiti have been inaugurated in Duval and Jacmel. The next houses will be delivered very soon, as will those nearing completion in Jacmel under the partnership with Caritas Brazil. Village halls and schools are also being built in the communities targeted by the programme.

“I hope that many other families will be able to receive the same help that was given to me by Caritas Haiti,” says Bernard.

According to Antoine Verlaine, the coordinator of Caritas Port-au-Prince, “The inauguration of these initial houses is a first victory over the earthquake of 12 January 2010. This must be followed by the building of others.”