Lion May 2014 : Page 38

Home Sweet Homes for Haitians The shacks in Blanchard fell to pieces during the massive earthquake of 2010. Crudely constructed from wood, mud or irregular concrete blocks, the homes in the small community on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince were no match for the ferocity of the earth’s upheavals. Photos by Swoan Parker Mimose Joseph stands in front of her new home as her grandchildren and daughter-in-law enjoy the cool shade of the porch.

A Place of Their Own

The shacks in Blanchard fell to pieces during the massive earthquake of 2010. Crudely constructed from wood, mud or irregular concrete blocks, the homes in the small community on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince were no match for the ferocity of the earth’s upheavals.

Cite Soleil, which adjoins Blanchard and is commonly described as one of the world’s worst slums, took a softer blow. The quake destroyed no sewers or stores in the impossibly crowded slum because there were none to destroy, and the piles of rotten garbage strewn about remained undisturbed. But in quieter semi-rural Blanchard, where residents stoically eked out a living farming small plots, home after home was left shattered.

The homes had been spare and modest–dirt floors, often without windows, frequently covered partly in taro leaves to keep the rain out. But they were homes where often three generations ate together, slept and lived out their days as family.

Four years later, dozens of families at last reside in modest but new, comfortable and clean homes. Among them are Mimose Joseph and eight relatives including four grandchildren. Her husband died eight years ago. Her son, a factory worker, kept the family from starving. Her family now lives in a two-room, four-window, concrete-block home sturdy enough to withstand an earthquake. Joseph even had a say in her home’s exact location, its floor plan and the color of its brightly painted walls.

Amazed at her good fortune, Joseph stands regally on her front porch and reflects on her former home. “There is no comparison. Every day I pray to the Lord to say thank you for helping me put my family here,” she says.

Where there is help, there is hope for her community. “It has always been poor, but with support it is changing. I hope they will find ways forward for the children and develop our area,” she adds.

Lions of Norway recently finished building 50 homes in Blanchard. Each home cost just US$7,500. Lions employed local laborers to stimulate the economy. Other nonprofits in Haiti sometimes neglected to adequately consult with residents on their needs, built shoddy shelters with little durability or watched in dismay as projects failed to be completed. Norwegian Lions took precautions. They worked closely with Haitian Lions and with Ferdinal Joseph, a respected longtime resident of Blanchard.

Joseph was a pivotal figure. He identified those with the most need, helped families with required paperwork and documentation, responded to their concerns and smoothed disputes that arose among contractors, workers and families. He also kept things moving forward on the construction sites. Today, whenever he strolls through the community, residents flock to him to shake hands or update him on their lives. “This is the first time such a project came to our area,” he says. “Everyone is happy. It’s a good project.”

An improvement over what they had, the Lions’ homes account for ventilation, privacy and waste management. “We just asked that people be given a little dignity,” says Pierre-Richard Duchemin, the project leader for Haitian Lions.

Many Haitians who lost homes in the earthquake still live in “t-shelters,” temporary shelters built from plywood. These are likely to become permanent as NGOs pull up stakes and apply resources to more recent disasters.

Compared to the period after the earthquake, daily life in Blanchard is remarkably more upbeat. Cows and goats graze contentedly. Children on bicycles raise clouds of dust. Edriemps, Joseph’s brother, is high up in a coconut tree, releasing the fruit with a sweep of his machete.

“There are many problems in Portau- Prince,” concedes Mimose Joseph. “But there is only hope for the future. The fear is behind us now.”

Down the road Bernadette Octavius, a fiery 52-year-old with a deep, easy laugh, has just returned from the fields where she raises goats, chickens, cows and pigs. She ambles by a small hut, partially destroyed, that now contains feed. That was her home before the earthquake. Nearby is the tent she subsequently shared after the disaster with her husband and three grandchildren. Fevers raged within her when the tent was home. The illness is gone now that she lives in a Lions’ home. “It’s very beautiful,” she says of her home. “Every day I’m busy raising animals and working in the gardens. I love it.”

–Adapted by Jay Copp from a story in the Norwegian LION

Read the full article at http://mydigimag.rrd.com/article/A+Place+of+Their+Own/1683493/204893/article.html.

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