When The Fuller Center for Housing accepted the call to help Haitians rebuild their homes and their lives after the devastating January 2010 earthquake, it was with the understanding that The Fuller Center is not a disaster relief organization. If The Fuller Center was to partner with anyone who shared concern for Haitians, both parties had to be in it for the long haul.
They also had to operate with a model all too unfamiliar in Haiti — one that is not a handout and that empowers Haitians to help themselves rather than contribute to a culture of dependency that has long existed in Haiti, partly due to the well-meaning yet often counterproductive efforts of so many nonprofits.
The Fuller Center found the right partners in Haiti who were dedicated to the philosophy that a hand up works better than a handout. Partner Homes from the Heart, which already was working with The Fuller Center in El Salvador, has constructed 70 permanent homes in the Croix-des-Bouquets area east of Port-au-Prince. Meanwhile, Grace International will see its 56th home completed during a Fuller Center Global Builders trip taking place Oct. 19-26. Counting a handful of homes built on small parcels of land in other areas, there are now 152 Fuller Center homes in Haiti.
And while some other nonprofits have wound down their work in Haiti as the spotlight has turned to other disasters and third world problems, The Fuller Center’s productivity grows each year despite operating with a much smaller funding base than larger charities. As a grass-roots Christian organization, The Fuller Center is able to shun costly bureaucracy and maximize the impact of donors’ gifts.
Crucial to The Fuller Center model, though, is having outstanding volunteers. Perhaps no group represents this any better than the team heading to Haiti Oct. 19-26 to complete the Lambi community. It’s a team of all-stars, featuring several volunteers who’ve been team leaders on multiple Global Builders trips to Lambi. Having helped get Lambi started, they are eager to see their vision of a healthy, happy community completed. And, they are hopeful that this community model will be replicated nearby as a Lambi II (possibly called Heritage Village).
We asked the veteran team leaders who are going on this build to share their thoughts about what completing this project means to them as they look back at the community’s start and ahead to the future. Here is what they had to say, in their own words:
KAYE HOOKER, Michigan
I first went to Lambi in March 2011 and worked on the very first duplex. Jeanette and Cynthia helped us every day as they worked to build their new homes.
There was a huge open area and this one duplex going up. At that time it was so hard to imagine that we would have a village one day. Everything was happening on a belief and a prayer.
As I sat in the airport in Port-au-Prince waiting to go back home, I was already making plans to lead another team. I made a commitment to myself that I would see Lambi through to the very last house. As I led (or co-led) team after team, the village grew and I knew that the families really had found home.
As I prepare to make this last build in Lambi, it is with a huge sense of accomplishment — not for me but for the residents of Lambi. They all have worked so very hard to make Lambi a community. They have worked incredibly hard over the past three and a half years and deserve all the credit for creating and sustaining this village.
I am sure there will be much laughter and tears as we complete these last homes but also a great sense of anticipation as to what the new Village, Heritage Village, will bring. And, yes, I will be there for that, as well. I have built all over the world, and the Haitian people are what keep me coming back.
JOE McBRIDE, New Jersey
I was really fortunate to be in Lambi working on the second duplex in January of 2012 and now at the completion of the project as we build the 28th duplex and will have a chance to appreciate the progress that has been made. The number of tents at the site has decreased as families were able to move into their new homes, homes that they helped build. It is no longer possible to take in the entire scene as there are so many houses.
One thing that hasn’t changed since that first experience is what I see as the spirit of Lambi, a sense from the very beginning that this was going to get done. From the hard-working families living in the crowded tents enduring rainy seasons and a long wait to build their house, the cooperation between Grace International and The Fuller Center with people working hard on-site and in the back office, the skilled Haitian masons, carpenters and the bosses toiling tirelessly in the heat, the committee members who gave a political structure to the growing town, the many generous donors who contributed the capital to see this through, and finally to the hundreds of volunteers, many who have returned time and time again — each contributed to the sense of a shared goal.
Haiti isn’t the easiest place to work. There are problems with logistics, resources and a general lack of infrastructure, combined with extreme poverty. There are many projects that never get off the ground, many that are abandoned well before completion when it is found good intentions and a vision are not sufficient. The completion of the Lambi Village is a stellar achievement and a testament to the ability of the Lambi families to overcome adversity.
What I hope for the future is continued success for the families of Lambi and a hope they are able to pursue new opportunities for education, employment and health care. Also, I hope they will join us in the construction of 82 new homes at Heritage Village.
AMARA NENG, Massachusetts
I first visited Haiti in 2012. Two years later, I am just as excited and nervous about being there as I was on that first trip, perhaps even more so this time since we are now reaching an important milestone. To me, the completion of Lambi I is profoundly significant because it means that we have not just built homes but rather we have helped to build an entire community, a thriving community.
I am tremendously proud of the people of Lambi, the local volunteers, the international volunteers, The Fuller Center, Grace International and so many others for the work that has been accomplished to date — 56 sustainable homes, 56 families no longer in tents and 56 families whose lives have been made better. Wow, just wow.
I have been asked on occasion why I do what I do. After much reflection, I realized that I do it because, without question, the experience has made me a better person. Through my work at Lambi, I have met some of the most selfless, hard-working, grateful and deserving people that one could ever hope to encounter, and as a result, every single day I am reminded that there is a lot of good in the world. We all sometimes forget. I see the good in the dozens of selfless volunteers that work alongside me, and I see it in the strength and perseverance of the people of Lambi and Haiti, in general. For me, the completion of Lambi I exemplifies this good.
My hope is that the momentum we have enjoyed at Lambi I will continue into Lambi II and beyond. For the people who have already received homes at Lambi, my hope is that as they no longer have to worry about adequate shelter, they can focus on improving their lives even more day by day. My hope for those still without shelter at Lambi, and in the rest of Haiti, is that they continue to persevere and keep hope alive, and that soon, every single family will be out of tents. I am humbled and grateful for the experiences thus far and look forward to our future progress.
DAVE DOBSON, New York
Getting involved with the work at Lambi has been a highlight of my retirement years. There are so many ways in which I feel blessed in being a tiny part of the development of this community. Working with so many fine volunteers from around the globe, becoming friends with folks young and old from the Lambi Village, being inspired time and again by Jonny Jeune (of Grace International).
There is nothing like trudging once again up the hill to the tool shed feeling kinda tired and then the tug of a small hand and a “hey you” gets you back on track. Working with my kids several times at Lambi was a special blessing also. And I would be remiss if I didn’t say thanks to my church, Presbyterian Church of Mount Kisco, for their financial and hands-on support from day one. On to Heritage Village!
THE REV. JOAN MacPHERSON, Massachusetts
It has been a huge gift to have been to Lambi with folks from our church since the earliest part of the Lambi construction. So many friends made in the village and the joy of seeing how much has improved with each visit. It was particularly wonderful to hear about the October planned celebratory build when we were there this past February. But I wasn’t going to participate. Time away is limited. We are going back again next year. So many reasons to pass this by, but …
Just after getting home from our last build, a former team member showed me pictures of our first trip and read from her journal. That trip was in September 2011. One building had been completed, two families living there. We worked on building 2 — houses 3 and 4. Most of Lambi was shacks and tents. Looking at the photos from that trip, I was struck by the drabness of the village. There was gray concrete and rusted tin. There were no plants or gardens. It was such a contrast to what we had just left — brightly painted houses, green and flowering plants, the community center full of life and vibrancy.
I started to cry when I realized that I have been able to watch this community take shape. I got to see God’s moving through Jonny Jeune to create something of incredible hope. I saw people become leaders and support for others in need. I knew in my gut that it would be life-changing to be part of the build in October.
So, I am going, and so is another member of our church (Main Street Congregational United Church of Christ, Amesbury, Mass.). We get to step into the power of love in action — how lucky are we?!