Housing repairs and latrine projects in Haiti help build dignified lives
By Sheldon C. Good
In a matter of seconds, the January 2010 earthquake turned Elumene Charles’ modest, concrete home to rubble. She lost everything.
Until recently, Charles was one of more than a million Haitians who over the past two years have been living in transitional housing, often in tent camps. About 600,000 people still live in crowded tent camps or temporary homes not made to last more than a few months.
Thanks to a housing repair project led by ACCESS, a Mennonite Central Committee partner, Charles and her six-member family have a new home.
Charles praised the improvements to her modest house.
“I feel safer now,” she says. “I thank MCC because they repaired my home in which I lost everything.”
ACCESS workers fixed her roof, reinforced the basement and added two upstairs rooms, which they’re still finishing.
MCC offers "solid structural repairs"
In total, MCC funds allowed seven masons and 30 handymen to repair 45 homes and build five latrines since early summer. The $180,000 project benefited about 250 people.
Rubble remains scattered along the unpaved roads by Charles’ home in the Boulard neighborhood of Port-au-Prince. Multiple non-governmental organizations are working nearby.
According to Patrick Pierre, ACCESS coordinator, the Charleses live in one of the hardest hit areas of the capital city.
“We are almost finished with most of the repairs, and people are always asking if there will be another project so they can add their name to the list,” he says.
Before the MCC-funded project began, MCC also trained the masons on safe building techniques.
James Mwangi, an associate professor of architectural engineering at California Polytechnic State University who worked with MCC during his sabbatical, inspected the homes that would be repaired. He also led a seminar for the seven ACCESS masons in October 2010.
“This made us very happy because that way people won’t build homes the way we had done before,” Pierre says.
After the earthquake, the Haitian government visited the Boulard neighborhood to determine which houses could be salvaged. ACCESS chose housing repair recipients based on this information.
As the masons began working, he said, people across the neighborhood noticed how their work was different — and better.
“Other organizations just repaired cracks, but MCC [helped us] make good repairs, solid structural repairs,” Pierre says.
Pierre works two days a week with ACCESS and has a full-time job with FONZOKE credit union, another MCC partner.
ACCESS began in 2004 and is an organization of mostly young people who want to support the neighborhood.
ACCESS members can participate in trainings on topics such as human rights, civic rights and environmental stewardship. They often work on cleaning up the neighborhood.
“We exchange knowledge and get to know each other,” Pierre says. “What keeps me in ACCESS is our dream of having an impact on this neighborhood and on Haiti.”
Working with MCC has helped him realize this dream.
“Not only did we invest ourselves, from beginning to end of this project, we wanted to make sure we put every penny into the community,” he says.
Importance of intimacy
MCC’s partnership with ACCESS isn’t limited to housing repairs. From February to April 2010, MCC distributed food for people in the area.
This year, two MCC Work and Learn teams cleared rubble in the Boulard neighborhood. Both teams came from Mennonite churches — one each in Canada and the U.S. From August to October 2011, ACCESS built five latrines with MCC funding.
These bathroom-like structures are essential for “safe intimacy,” Pierre says. “They need a space that is their own.”
Mariebelaine Sanon Buteau (right) and her family agree. They used a local church’s latrine before ACCESS volunteers built them one.
Cholera is an issue near the family’s cramped cluster of temporary homes that likely won’t withstand weather and inhabitation for more than three months. The American Red Cross comes by regularly to distribute water purification aids.
Nonetheless, Buteau is thankful her family now has private bathroom facilities.
“Now we have our own,” Buteau said of her new latrine. “You can’t live without it.”
Sheldon C. Good is assistant editor and web editor for Mennonite Weekly Review. These stories were written for Meetinghouse, a Mennonite editors group.