I just got back from Haiti, and it was quite a trip. The Fuller Center for Housing has been on the ground there since last spring and we’re starting to see some progress, despite the wide range of challenges that work in Haiti present. We’ve built 10 houses, six in Leogane and four in Saint Ard. The number looks a little modest until you realize that these are among the only permanent, affordable houses that have been built there since the earthquake.
There is some temporary housing getting built, but not much of that either. We decided early on that we wouldn’t go that route, primarily because too often temporary housing ends up becoming a permanent slum. We’ve seen temporary housing outlive itself by many years in places like Armenia, Peru and even here on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
I wanted to learn first-hand what it will take for us to ramp up the construction, and we are well poised to do that. The biggest challenge everyone there faces is land. Many, probably most, of the people living in tents today were in rented houses before the quake, which limits our ability to rebuild on the old house site. We don’t want to build for a landlord with no control over the rents that could be charged. The good news is that we now have land with clear title in Leogane where we’ll be able to build 30 to 50 houses, and the first two houses are going up.
I also visited our partners in Grand Goave, the Cooperative Baptists Fellowship and Conscience International, who are building a very innovative house using rubble encased in wire mesh. This is a system that not only creates a solid home, but helps recycle the mountains of rubble left from the quake. Once the house is erected it’s stuccoed inside and out, so the finished product looks just like any other home. The photo below shows a rubble wall in the background.
We also have a new site at a place called Balan that is very interesting. We’ll be building there with our Salvadoran partners Homes from the Heart. You can’t find Balan on the map, but it’s east of Port-au-Prince just outside of Ganthier on the shore of a saltwater lake called Étang Saumâtre. The people there are goatherds and live in daub and wattle houses with thatch roofs. They suffered few immediate effects from the earthquake, but have seen a large number of quake refugees move in creating severe overcrowding of the existing housing stock. The Jesuits have built a primary and secondary school there and are working on a water project that will bring spring water to taps throughout the village. They’ve also built a guest house that can be used for volunteer housing. You’ll be hearing a lot more about Balan as our work in
There is great urgency in this. Estimates are that over a million people are living in tent camps, where conditions are pretty grim. The camps are everywhere and will surely become breeding grounds for disease and unrest as time goes by. There is a camp behind the Notre Dame facility in Leogane where I stayed. I was up on the roof one evening overlooking the camp. It was dark and silent except for the kids who were giggling and playing, oblivious to the dire conditions life had put them into. But there is little hope for these kids if they have to spend their childhood in a refugee camp, and their laughter will turn to despair as time goes on.
Despite the overwhelming need and the huge challenges I remain hopeful about Haiti. It is a country in need of the many friends from around the world who have come to its aid. But we need to build the momentum there and do all that we can to help get families into simple, decent homes.