Methodist church from West Lawn, Pennsylvania, renews spiritual energy working in Haiti

Methodist church from West Lawn, Pennsylvania, renews spiritual energy working in Haiti

The Rev. Jeff Raffauf has had many international experiences with members of his congregation on mission trips to several different countries, but building Fuller Center homes in Pigñon, Haiti, has taken these spiritual journeys to an even higher level. Five teams from the church have worked with The Fuller Center for Housing in Haiti over the past two years, and each team comes back invigorated — as so often happens with church groups who take Global Builders and U.S. Builders trips through The Fuller Center. In a new article from the Reading Eagle, Raffauf and others talk about how these trips impact Haitians, why they support the work and how their faith grows through the work.

Complete Reading Eagle article

Fuller Center Global Builders

Seven years after the devastating Haiti earthquake, Fuller Center’s work flourishes

Seven years after the devastating Haiti earthquake, Fuller Center’s work flourishes

Seven years ago, a devastating 7.0-magnitude struck Haiti, which already had long been the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Tens of thousands died, and at least 200,000 homes were damaged or destroyed.

In its wake, hundreds of millions of dollars from caring individuals and concerned groups flowed in to nonprofits aiming to help Haitians in their time of great need. Unfortunately, so much well-meaning aid was either wasted or misused. In the vast majority of those cases, it was not the result of corruption but of not understanding how to help.

However, amid all the problems were success stories. A small, grass-roots Christian nonprofit — The Fuller Center for Housing — provided some of the most visible examples of effective, enlightened charity … in the form of 188 simple, decent, safe homes built in partnership with Haitians.

Partnership is the key word in that last sentence. While many U.S.-based nonprofits parachuted into the country and tried to dictate every movement, The Fuller Center relied on the same approach that has proved so effective in communities across the United States and in 20 countries around the world — supporting local leaders on the ground. In a country like Haiti where there is a long history of troublesome, ineffective government, it’s especially important to have partners on the ground who can navigate such complicated territory.


Fuller Center Global Builders in Pignon, Haiti.

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Make sure your gifts for Haiti aren’t squandered: Support proven grass-roots effectiveness

Make sure your gifts for Haiti aren’t squandered: Support proven grass-roots effectiveness


Support disaster recovery in Haiti

After a massive 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti in January of 2010, killing more than 200,000 people and destroying about the same amount of homes, the outpouring of support for Haitians was impressive.

Millions of Americans, Canadians and others took to their smart phones and computers or whipped out their checkbooks and gave generously. More than $9.5 billion was raised for Haiti in the two years following the quake. The vast majority went to charities with a lot of name recognition and nonprofits with already sizeable budgets and bureaucracies.

But there was a problem: Haiti was and still is a very difficult place to work. The typical major nonprofit relief style of parachuting into a disaster zone and managing the effort rarely worked. And when it came time to rebuild homes, most Haitian families instead found themselves in tents or flimsy transitional shelters. As they waited for permanent, safe homes, the spotlight faded from Haiti and attention turned to other disasters. Tents and temporary shelters became all too permanent.

With just 12 percent of the $9.5 billion originally pledged for Haiti, The Fuller Center could have partnered with Haitian families to rebuild every single home destroyed by the quake.

Meanwhile, a small, grass-roots Christian housing ministry was called to help Haitians build permanent homes. While less than $1 million of that $9.5 billion was directed to The Fuller Center for Housing, the nonprofit founded by Millard and Linda Fuller in 2005 nevertheless began to set the standard for nonprofit work in Haiti. Since 2010, The Fuller Center has built more than 185 permanent homes. To put that impact in perspective, with just 12 percent of the $9.5 billion originally pledged for Haiti, The Fuller Center could have partnered with Haitian families to rebuild every single home destroyed by the quake.

Too many tents and "transitional" houses would become permanent in Haiti in the years following the 2010 quake.

Too many tents and “transitional” houses would become permanent in Haiti in the years following the 2010 quake.

Years after The Fuller Center began working in the country, stories began to surface about millions of dollars meant to help Haiti instead being wasted, misused or utterly squandered. Headlines like “How the Red Cross raised half a billion dollars for Haiti and built six houses” began to show up in people’s Facebook and Twitter feeds. (The Fuller Center, by the way, built those six houses with a grant from the Red Cross. Unfortunately, it was the only Red Cross grant offered to The Fuller Center.)

How did The Fuller Center succeed where others failed? Well, myriad reasons.

One, The Fuller Center practices “enlightened charity” in which families are full partners in the building process — whether that’s in Haiti, Nepal or here in the United States. Long before the quake hit Haiti, decades of well-meaning handouts created a culture of dependency in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country. That culture of dependency was exacerbated by many relief efforts following the quake. It’s not easy to change such a mind-set in one person, and it’s even tougher to change the mind-sets of millions.

Few were interested in The Fuller Center’s partnership approach at first. A few families accepted the offer of a hand-up to build east of Port-au-Prince in Croix des Bouquets and west of the capital near Gressier. Slowly but surely, people began to notice that Fuller Center partner families were empowered, while those waiting around for handouts remained diminished.

Another major factor in The Fuller Center’s success internationally — and particularly in Haiti — is that the ministry works through local partners who already have an established presence on the ground. These local leaders are best equipped to work with third world government and deal with cultural nuances and often complex or vague regulatory environments.

One of those partners in Haiti was Grace International, which recognized the impact The Fuller Center was having house by house. They sought to concentrate that kind of impact in a single location. What resulted was a 56-home community called Lambi Village, a place where children’s laughter fills the tropical air and families have carved out a sustainable, healthy way of life in the countryside.

Haiti's Lambi Village is home to 56 Fuller Center partner families.

Haiti’s Lambi Village is home to 56 Fuller Center partner families.

The community was completed in 2014 thanks to the hard work of Haitian locals, teams of Fuller Center Global Builders volunteers and financial support of private donors and groups like the United Church of Christ, which, to date, has funded the construction of 32 Fuller Center homes in Haiti.

That success only planted more seeds of hope in Haiti, and The Fuller Center’s work has continued to grow. Since Lambi was completed, a more traditional Fuller Center partner formed in the northern town of Pignon, which remains busy hosting Global Builders volunteers and has built more than 25 beautiful new homes.

Fuller Center home in Pignon, Haiti.

Fuller Center home in Pignon, Haiti.

Yet another reason The Fuller Center’s work remains a success in Haiti is that unlike many larger nonprofits, the housing ministry works to help families build healthy lives outside of large third-world cities and slums. Those ugly images of flimsy shacks, filthy streets and sad faces from Port-au-Prince are opposite of what our volunteers witness in the countryside. Haiti is a beautiful country of happy families. You just have to look — and work — in the right places.

And while The Fuller Center utilizes volunteer labor (mostly from the United States), it also provides employment for Haitian laborers, especially masons. The volunteer teams work alongside locals instead of taking work from them. In fact, they support many other professions, including cooks, drivers and hotel staffs.

Fuller Center Global Builders volunteers work alongside local laborers.

Fuller Center Global Builders volunteers work alongside local laborers.

I would like to be optimistic and believe that in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, more people will search out the effective, grass-roots nonprofits like The Fuller Center who are making a direct, tangible impact in Haiti. But I fear there will be a repeat of massive amounts of well-meaning charitable gifts being sent down the usual, familiar paths. Again, millions likely will be squandered.

I’d urge anyone who wants to help Haitians to do your research. Visit the nonprofit’s website and peruse their financials. If they are not easily found (you can find The Fuller Center’s here), be wary. If they don’t have a record of transparency (The Fuller Center has received GuideStar’s Platinum rating for transparency), keep looking. In short, make sure your good will is not squandered. We saw enough of that six years ago.

The Fuller Center intends to expand its work in Haiti yet again in the wake of Matthew as the ministry is in active discussions with individuals and organizations planning to help residents in the Les Cayes/Port Salut area, which was among the regions hardest-hit by the recent hurricane. With your support, The Fuller Center will have a direct, permanent impact for more Haitian families and show other organizations how to get the job done right. Extend a hand-up that empowers families and lights a beacon of hope for a country desperately in need of it.

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West Coast – A Look Back At Day 1

Days 6 and 7: Wrapping up the job

Days 6 and 7: Wrapping up the job

(The Fuller Center’s Leah Gernetzke recently accompanied a team of women to Haiti for a build. This is her blog post about the trip’s final days.)

Today we had a major breakthrough – we received the shipping containers full of concrete molds for the concrete bricks that form our Fuller Center homes. That might not sound like much, but considering these containers have been sitting in port for the past eight months due to hostilities after the 2010 earthquake – it is.

So, we spent a majority of our morning hauling these molds into a warehouse outside of Grace International. It was a little monotonous but necessary, and it’s a good reminder that with this type of work, flexibility is as essential a tool as a pair of pliers on the worksite.

From late morning into early afternoon, we helped the women in the outdoor kitchen cook again. We spent about an hour doing this until lunch, which consisted of peanut butter and jelly, hamburgers, salad, spicy coleslaw, papaya and fried plantains.

After lunch, we went to the worksite for the remainder of the day. We began laying the concrete bricks with mortar, which is an exciting next step because it means we’ve finished the foundation and are on to actually building.

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Day 5: "The ones who carry the nation"

Day 5: "The ones who carry the nation"

(Fuller Center communications specialist Leah Gernetzke is in Haiti documenting a week of building by a team of women from the U.S. This is her latest report.)

If it’s possible to live a lifetime in one day, today would be that day. Today is burned into in my mind and memory eternally. We were off the construction site, and so we got a break from building houses to build new relationships and insights instead.

In the early morning our group spilt in two – half of us went to the girl’s home (orphanage), and the other half helped a group of women prepare for the Lord’s Kitchen, a program run by Grace International that distributes rice and beans to the hungry children in the surrounding tent camp community.

The kitchen is a covered outdoor area in which women in colorful skirts and shirts pace back forth in well-worn shoes, standing over blackened and dented pots and pans that smell like supper. Their fingers search for stones in piles of black bean splits that come from a white mesh bag labeled “Peak Nutritional Power House. High fiber, low sodium.” They pluck stems off greens, knead bread, stir the rice, and sing and talk while preparing nourishment for the almost 500 kids who will soon pass through their kitchen. Our group sits with the women, mimicking the comforting repetition of movements passed through the ages. We also sing, laugh and talk. In this kitchen, we’re not business people or professionals or whoever we are in the States – we’re simply women providing food for children, and that womanhood creates a distinctly communal feel that transcends culture, age, and all other differences.

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Days 3 and 4: We are the world

(Fuller Center communications specialist is documenting the work of a women’s Global Builders trip to Haiti. This is her latest report.)

I’m writing with a pen and paper, sitting cross-legged on the ground, surrounded by mountains, a distant view of the ocean, palm trees, meandering cows, horses, goats, a frenetically cheerful hog, and small groups of children. Two men making concrete bricks with a press form a rhythm in the background, and women singing to their children while bathing them in the front of their homes in Grace Village form a harmony.

In other words, it’s an almost bucolic scene here on our worksite in Lambi, where The Fuller Center hopes to build 60 houses on seven acres. But only almost – the dilapidated shacks serving as homes still line the outskirts of the site, a reminder of all the work that still needs doing. 

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Day 2: Let your light shine

Day 2: Let your light shine

(Note: Fuller Center communications specialist Leah Gernetzke is accompanying a work team in Haiti to document their journey. She is sending blog entries when she can get internet access.)

We awoke at dawn this morning to roosters crowing and horns honking. This island is anything but sleepy. Rising early is a way of life here, and Sundays are no exception. After getting ready, eating breakfast, and getting in the van we joined the crowds of people attending church, which seems to be one of Haiti’s lifelines, based purely on my own observations – for one thing, a myriad of signs all over the city of Port-au-Prince read "Merci Jesus." There are Merci Jesus car washes, barber shops, taxis, auto shops and pretty much everything else. There’s no doubt about the people’s religious devotion.

Obviously church is no exception. Upon arriving here today, smiling young girls in immaculate white dresses sat outside the gate, the sun slanting in perfect triangles across their faces. Inside, throngs of well-dressed Haitians and a few missionaries gathered to worship beneath an open structure loosely covered with a canopy of material covered with “U.S. AID: From the American People” stamps.

The pastor at the church, Tabernacle of Grace, is Johnny Jeune’s father, Joel Jeune, the founder of our partner organization Grace International. This morning he had an interesting sermon about the importance of working for ones money, and of not accepting handouts. God’s blessings fall on those who earn it, he said. The people wear expressions of strength, faith and hope while he’s speaking. 

Considering church is where Haitian people gather spiritual sustenance for the week, Jeune’s job to motivate, inspire and nurture people is one that can’t be underestimated or overlooked.

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