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Haiti: It Isn’t Just About the Houses

The bulk of the $12 million collected by the Christian Reformed Church for Haiti is bankrolling simple wood houses in five small communities of the Leogane region, where 85 percent of the people lost their homes. So far, half of the 1,700 planned houses have been built.

Leogane, the epicenter of the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake, is 29 cratered kilometers (18 miles) west of Port-au-Prince, and it’s where the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee’s International Disaster Response team has focused its rebuilding efforts.

The WASH program (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) has become more urgent with the spread of cholera in the region. It includes installing wells and latrines, handing out soap and purification tablets, and providing education on proper sanitary practices.

But sometimes a house and clean water aren’t enough. That’s the easy part. Much more complicated is alleviating people’s trauma and fear, which can keep them living in a tent even when their own home is undamaged.

I went with Cleeford Dalce to a small community meeting in Masson. Men and women of all ages gathered in a small clearing, along with children who should have been in school but whose parents can’t afford the fees.

Dalce is a social worker who goes into the tent camps both to conduct surveys to see who needs what and to help people with their fears.

Dalce told me of one woman whose home was deemed safe but who wouldn’t move back into it. “She was too afraid. After we talked awhile, now she lives in her house,” he said.

The meetings don’t always go well. Some are angry that they haven’t gotten a house yet. Others are angry that property owners receive priority. But the meetings give people a place to share their stories and fears and to learn stress management techniques.

“I had a bad stomach,” Mme. Henri told the small group gathered. She wore a white skirt and top that were startlingly clean in a place where recent rains had turned everything to mud. “I learned to drink more water, and I received counseling. Now it is much better,” she said. Another man shared a similar story.

After registering a number of families and giving them ID cards, Dalce led some stretching exercises, drawing laughter from many of the women.

As we climbed into the truck to leave, an older man pulled Dalce aside to speak privately. “He’s having trouble in his marriage ever since the earthquake,” Dalce sighed as he returned and climbed into the driver’s seat.

It isn’t just about the houses.

To support the work in Leogane, contact CRWRC at www.crwrc.org or 1-800-730-3490 (Canada) or 1-800-552-7972 (U.S.).

For more on CRWRC's work in Haiti, including video coverage, please visit http://www.crwrc.org/news.cfm?newsid=2366&section=23

About the Author

Gayla Postma is news editor for The Banner.

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