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Haiti: Living with Courage

Medair provides safe shelter for Haitian families living in hard-to-access rural areas.

Yvonne’s collapsing home in Lacroix, Haiti.

Yvonne’s collapsing home in Lacroix, Haiti.

Yvonne and Emma standing on the land where Yvonne’s damaged house has been cleared from. She is preparing the ground to make it level and flat ready for the transitional shelter.

Yvonne and Emma standing on the land where Yvonne’s damaged house has been cleared from. She is preparing the ground to make it level and flat ready for the transitional shelter.

Yvonne outside her transitional shelter (WWS).

Yvonne outside her transitional shelter (WWS).

Every morning, 85-year-old Yvonne Deslorges makes the long, slow walk through the village of Lacroix to her ruined home. Ever since the earthquake, she and her family of nine sleep at a neighbour’s house and then return home to their unsafe dwelling to cook and wash during the daylight hours. At her age, and with her health declining, it is almost too much for Yvonne to bear.

“She is being strong for her family but you can see the weakness in her eyes,” says Medair’s Emma Le Beau. “She is struggling to cope, not knowing how they could ever afford to build back this life’s work, a home built with their own hands over many decades by each generation.”

Reaching La Montagne
In Jacmel and the surrounding rural areas, Medair is providing safe shelters for 27,000 people whose homes were damaged or destroyed in the quake–a programme made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and through the support of Medair’s private donors.

With the hurricane season now underway, Medair is working swiftly to provide people like Yvonne with safe shelters. In the rural region of La Montagne, with its remote villages like Lacroix, the urgency to respond is even greater.

“During the rainy season,” explains Emma, “the La Montagne region becomes very difficult to access because the road is so muddy. You also need to cross a wide, flooded riverbed, which can become  too deep for a vehicle to drive through.”

Access to La Montagne is difficult even when it isn’t raining. There is only one long, steep road that winds and climbs precariously through this mountain region and its scattered villages.

A Blessing
When our Medair team assessed Yvonne’s house, we talked to her about her needs and acknowledged her need for a safer shelter. With the space available on her plot, she was selected to receive a heavy-duty metal-framed transitional shelter. This shelter frame initially holds an anchored canvas covering to keep out rain and wind, with the opportunity to add permanent walls and a brickwork foundation at a later date to make it a long-lasting home.

And so, with the help of Yvonne’s family and friends, the Medair team demolished the damaged house, salvaged some building materials, and built a new transitional shelter on their cleared site.

“When someone helps you who does not even know you, it is a blessing from God,” says Yvonne.  “We have moved our furniture inside and we sleep very well at night now.”

In Terre Rouge
Meanwhile, in the nearby mountain village of Terre Rouge, 60-year-old Esperita Berdoite struggles to make sense of her life post-quake. She used to buy flour to make patties and sell them, but now she has no money to buy the flour, she has no income, and her time is spent caring for five people, three of whom are disabled and two of whom are young children. Her home sustained serious damage in the earthquake, so she went to stay with a neighbour.

“But after awhile, I moved back to my house even though it was still damaged,” says Esperita. “We slept outside because I was scared of it falling on me. When it was raining, we got wet. The disabled man living with me had to sleep on a chair to stay off the wet ground.”

Terre Rouge is a rural village with no electricity and few services; residents here do not even have a health clinic. Cars cannot access the village because of the poor quality of the roads—only trucks or four-wheel drives can make the trek, and even then, a river crossing is required. An estimated 400 homes sustained earthquake damage in Terre Rouge, but so far, Medair is the only NGO doing construction work here and helping residents move into safer shelters.

New Home for Esperita
The Medair team in Terre Rouge assessed Esperita’s house and decided to build a new transitional shelter on the site that used her original house as a base.

The shelter design chosen used imported timber (as deforestation is a major problem in Haiti), nails, cement, wire mesh, metal roof sheeting, and temporary plastic sheeting to keep the rain out while more permanent walls were built.

“With this shelter design, we fix the wire mesh to the timber structure on the inside of the walls and then we build the stone and cement walls on the outside of the wire,” says Mark Wooding, Medair’s Shelter and Reconstruction Advisor. “If another earthquake happens to strike during construction, the wire mesh prevents the walls from collapsing inward and causing further injuries or deaths.”

The community joined together with Medair to help build Esperita’s transitional shelter—the first one of its kind constructed in Terre Rouge. Esperita was delighted when construction was completed in five days and she was able to move into her “new” home.

“The first night we slept in the house, we were rolling back and forth like kids,” says Esperita. “We were giggling very loudly because we were very happy.”

Of course, even with a safe shelter, many needs still remain for Esperita and the people with whom she lives. They have no bathroom and no money to buy materials to finish the hole they started digging for a latrine.

“But after your assistance, our life is different,” she says. “We used to be concerned about where to sleep at night. Now, we are living with courage because we have a home where we can sleep.”

Medair’s urgent work continues today throughout these rural areas and in the city of Jacmel. Our teams are assessing the most vulnerable people and homes and providing safer shelter for thousands of families. This, in turn, helps people like Esperita to live with renewed courage in the wake of such a devastating disaster.

Medair’s transitional shelter programme in Haiti is made possible by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The Medair Haiti programme is also supported by Läkarmissionen and by ICAP Charity Day.
Medair arrived on-the-ground in Haiti within days of the devastating 12 January 2010 earthquake. Our team has conducted assessments of damaged homes, identified families in need of aid, and coordinated rubble clearance from properties to make space for new transitional shelters. Medair is currently building 2,060 transitional shelters and repairing 2,440 damaged homes in Jacmel and the surrounding rural areas.

This web feature was produced with resources gathered by Medair field and headquarters staff. The views expressed herein are those solely of Medair and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any other organisation.


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