The Medair shelter programme has now provided safer housing to almost 20,000 people and been a source of hope to families across the Sud-Est district.
On 12 January 2010, Haiti experienced one of the worst natural disasters of all time. The earthquake devastated the nation, choking cities under rubble and leaving more than 200,000 dead and 1.5 million without adequate shelter.
Within days, a Medair team was on-the-ground in Haiti to determine where and how we could best provide emergency relief. Within months, we were running a major shelter programme in Jacmel, Haiti’s fourth-largest city—where thousands of displaced people had begun living in crowded camps and in the ruins of their old homes.
“Medair was the first international partner to link up with the affected community living in the spontaneous camps in Jacmel,” said Mr. Jean-Bosco Mofiling, Humanitarian Officer, Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA).
Over the past two years, Medair has worked alongside residents in Jacmel, the surrounding rural areas, and the mountain region of Côtes-de-Fer to provide more than 3,200 safer homes for families in need. “That works out to an average of more than four families in safer housing every day since the earthquake,” said Vanessa Nicholson, Medair Field Communication Officer in Haiti.
The shelter programme in Jacmel was made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and through private donations. The Côtes-de-Fer programme is supported by Swiss Solidarity, EO-Metterdaad, and private donations.
Our team has faced numerous challenges over the past two years including hurricanes and tropical storms, a cholera outbreak, difficulties sourcing building materials, and problem-solving the complex logistics of working in hard-to-access areas. “Anyone who has ever built a house knows it is a labour of love,” said Vanessa. “Building more than 3,000 in Haiti has taken determination and the collaboration and full support of local communities.”
These shelters have had a life-changing and life-saving impact on vulnerable Haitian families. Many families tell us that rebuilding their houses without help would have been almost impossible.
“If safer shelter is provided, families can spend their money on food, education, small businesses, or agriculture, rather than repairing their houses,” said Alycke Slomp, Medair Haiti Country Director. “Families are able to reunite in a more spacious home where they feel comfortable in all weather conditions and safe in the event of another earthquake.”
“The area looks so different compared to those months following the earthquake,” said Florance Paul, Medair Field Communications Assistant. “Almost 20,000 people have safer shelter. You see the Medair houses everywhere you look!”
While Medair has made significant progress in the Sud-Est district, some areas of Haiti have struggled to rebuild and half a million people still need safer housing.
“Medair is fortunate to have worked in an area where good progress was possible,” said Manuel Jagourd, Medair Haiti Desk Officer. “Security issues were minimal, the logistics of reconstruction in the mountains were overcome, and the communities really supported this work and fully participated in the projects. Slowly but surely we have seen an area transformed.”
Medair made a key strategic decision to focus on communities instead of just building up camps. “Our policy was to get people back onto their own land,” said Manuel. “Insecurity and cholera risks in camps are hard to tackle.”
Medair did assist with the construction of one camp, Mayard, in partnership with other organisations. People who live at Mayard were those who rented before the earthquake.
They now have their own homes and gardens on the site. There is a football pitch and home industries are burgeoning.
“I first saw the site at Mayard a year ago when it was just rows of tents,” said architect Mark Wooding, Medair’s Reconstruction Advisor. “Now the area has more than doubled. What is most exciting is that nature has re-entered the landscape: the long views across this large site are of terracotta houses nestling among green trees, with a football match going on in the centre, knots of inhabitants gathered in the shade in different corners, and people outside their houses getting on with the daily task of living.”
Medair incorporated community participation into all of our Haiti projects. We provided widespread training in safer construction techniques and offered employment opportunities to hundreds of residents.
“We wanted—and needed—the communities’ participation to run this large-scale construction project,” said Vanessa. “People wanted to participate—sometimes to learn, sometimes to be part of rebuilding their communities, and sometimes to earn income for their families. Every house built has been a partnership and we are very thankful for that.”
In Haiti, the physical work of rebuilding the country—carpentry, masonry, and roofing—is typically seen as men’s work. This puts women—who head more than 40 percent of the households—at a disadvantage when it comes to earning paid work in the country’s reconstruction.
“Women are more likely to use their income in food, health care, house improvements, and schooling for their children,” said Miriam Lopez, Medair Shelter Project Manager.
Medair places a high priority on employing women on our reconstruction teams. Over the last two years, we increased the number of women participating in our cash-for-work (CFW) workforce to roughly 20 percent, and almost all of them have been on carpentry and construction teams.
“The male workers respect me,” said 27-year-old CFW worker Marise Météllus. “The first day of work I was tired. Now, I can work as hard as the men. Everything the men can do, I can do it too.”
Early in 2011, Medair started working in a new area, the mountainous Côtes-de-Fer region—which takes many hours to reach, by car and on foot. When we first visited this region, people were still living in chicken huts, makeshift shacks, and tents. We found that access to water was very limited and open defecation was commonly practiced, magnifying the risk of cholera outbreaks. “The level of vulnerability was extremely high,” said Vanessa.
In response, Medair targeted the most vulnerable households for permanent housing, including latrines and rainwater collection systems. In 2011, we built 100 homes in Côtes-de-Fer. “In 2012 we hope to build or improve a further 900 houses, address water security, and provide latrines and hygiene training for these same families to minimise the threat of cholera and other waterborne diseases,” said Manuel.
“As we reflect back on our two years in Haiti,” concluded Alycke, “the most common thanks we hear from people is for somewhere safe to sleep, for restoring their hope and for the new beginning that Medair has offered to families and individuals.”