Helping Haiti’s most vulnerable find shelter
Bedlais Bonhomme, 33, was a community liaison for Handicap International's Shelter project until December 2011, when he became assistant field director for Petit-Gôave.
Bedlais began working with Handicap International in March 2011, charged with identifying the areas in Haiti that were the most vulnerable, especially where other NGOs were not already working. Initially, we gave him a driver and asked him to begin identifying areas for our work. He was very pleased to be working on behalf of vulnerable populations and people with disabilities because he knows in Haiti these are usually forgotten people. Nine days later, he was selected to begin going door-to-door to identify and select beneficiaries for our shelters. He was focused on two main criteria: vulnerable and a person with disability.
He can remember visiting the city of Tapion when people were still in tents or living under homemade, plastic tarps. “During the hurricane season, they would stay up all night to protect themselves from the rain,” he says. His says the toughest part of his work included telling some of the people he evaluated that they would not receive a shelter, mainly because they did not meet the criteria.
Today, he is most proud to see how the people he interviewed way back when are now living in much more decent shelters. “People are smiling again,” he says of beneficiaries such as Denièse Isaac. And that makes him feel optimistic.
People living in Handicap International shelters tell Bedlais that they feel safe. One person with disability in Tapion told him it is a secure home. “He feels very safe there,” Bedlais says. The beneficiary told him, “If a hurricane or earthquake hits again, I feel safe. If today the earth begins to tremble, I will keep sleeping.”
Indeed, the beneficiaries do not see the “shelters” as transitional, but as normal houses. That's because they were designed appropriate to the community lifestyle, including the woven wood feature, which respects local traditions.
People used to be skeptical of NGOs who would come in and do assessments and they'd never hear from them again, Bedlais says. “But with Handicap International in Petit-Gôave it was different. There is concrete proof in the difference we had made in their lives, people in this area have confidence in us, where other NGOs might have failed, they are ready to share with us their stories because they trust us, they wouldn't talk to us if they didn't believe we could make a difference.”
If other NGOs tried to do the same in the community it would be good for the community, he suggests. “But in Petit-Gôave the international aid is on the right track.”
Before joining Handicap International, Bedlais was on contract with Oxfam as team manager for a water, hygiene and cholera prevention project within and outside the camps. His previous experience was working with the local authority in Port-au-Prince, identifying homes where the owners were capable of paying taxes. He already had friends working for Handicap International in Port-au-Prince when he saw a job posting.
Bedlais lives in Port-au-Prince with his wife and two sons, but makes the long commute to Petit-Gôave during the week for work. One of his proudest moments was being chosen for this very impactful position, with so much responsibility. Bedlais also has a few years of university level education.