Skills, ideas and dedication can help rebuild a country

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With nearly 70 per cent of the population living below the poverty line, the January 2010 earthquake dealt a massive blow to Haiti’s fragile economy. Businesses, equipment, materials and stocks were destroyed and households lost their breadwinners, savings and homes, leaving many families with no source of income.

Rebuilding a country’s economy takes years and while this happens, The Haiti Red Cross Society will support thousands of families to restart their own incomes.

Mackenson St Louis, 26, lives at the La Piste transitional shelter site, home to dozens of families from Haiti’s deaf community. With the help of a livelihoods grant from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societes, Mackenson has transformed half of his shelter into a thriving cyber café.

With two laptops and a generator, Makenson has already made a name for himself in the community. “I opened in March and I typed up fliers and posted them all over the camp here. The fliers worked, everyone here knows about the cyber café,” he said. “I get about 20 or 30 customers a day but I only have two laptops so people have to queue up and wait.”

Visitors pay 20 gourdes, approximately 50 US cents, for 30 minutes internet access or 35 gourdes for one hour. However much of money the cyber café makes currently makes goes back into the business, paying for fuel to run the generator and for internet fees. The limitations on his business are frustrating to Mackenson, who sees potential in the café, which has become an important resource for deaf people in the camp.

“This is my job but the internet café is for the camp,” he said. “It helps the other deaf guys who had to cross a dangerous road before to get to the only other internet café. Without the grant from the Red Cross this couldn’t have happened.”

While innovative ideas are great, some people already have skills that can be the foundation for a new livelihood. Anne Dite Lina Pierre Louis, 55, lives in Port-a-Piment and recently received the second of two cash grants of USD$250. She said the money had changed her life. “With the first grant we used it to buy things that we needed immediately. The rest we spent on buying three goats. With the second grant, we were able to invest in agriculture.”

Anne took part in an agricultural training in advance of receiving the second grant. “I have always worked in agriculture, but I did learn some new things in the training. For example, I learnt how to start a vegetable plot, which is what I have done with the second grant. I have rented a field so that I can have more yield, as well as planting vegetables in my own garden.”

Anne said the vegetables would be a good source of income. “With this money, I would like to be able to fix up my house, and send the children to school. Seven of them are still in school, so it is a big expense. Little by little, we will find a way forward.”

Working on the Red Cross response to the earthquake has also provided opportunities. Felisma Exil found a way of expanding the work he has been doing with the organisation’s shelter builders. His idea is simple: recycle the mountains of rubble into building materials to stick the city back together again. “It is one of the greatest ideas,” Felisma said.

His team is at work laying colourful paving stones at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies base camp in Port-au-Prince. “This is the best looking spot in the grounds,” says a Red Cross staff member.

After many months living in a camp, Felisma began working with the Red Cross building wooden shelters for thousands of families. He was soon managing a large team, many of whom also lost homes and family in the quake. Now, with many of the shelters built, they manufacture a range of building products.

Felisma said his income means he can afford a roof over his own head. “Normally in this country it is very difficult to find a job. As you can see the guys are really happy to get a job. They are working to earn money and have food to eat. Now we feel we are okay.”