Three years ago, Marie and her family lived a “decent” life.
But that changed on Jan. 12, 2010 when a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck 25 kilometers west of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, killing an estimated 220,000 people, and displacing around 1.5 million. It caused billions of dollars of physical damage in a country that already had an unstable economy and infrastructure.
Marie’s family home was destroyed and together with her three children, they have been living in a small rented room in Gressier, west of the capital. “It’s been very stressful,” the 38-year-old school teacher told Lutheran World Information (LWI). “My husband died in the earthquake. We could not find his body and could not even give him a decent funeral. The children and I were left without support. It has been difficult to have enough money to send the children to school.”
But soon, Marie and her three children will move into their own modest new home at a model resettlement village in the Gressier area. The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Department for World Service (DWS) program in Haiti has constructed the village with support from its partners. It was dedicated on Feb. 15, 2013.
“It [such a home] is something I had not even dared to hope for,” she said.
Decent housing is a basic right
It is all part of LWF’s contribution to the country’s recovery, noted Perolof Lundkvist, LWF representative in Haiti. “We are working with the people of Gressier to build a model village that others can emulate, because housing and a decent standard of living are basic rights for all Haitians,” he said. Through this project, the LWF hopes to inspire all reconstruction to follow the principle to ‘build back better’. “We want to participate in the common project to build for the future with the people here,” he emphasized.
Rudelmar Bueno de Faria, global program coordinator for LWF/DWS in Geneva noted that more than 300,000 people are still displaced three years after the earthquake. “We need to stop focusing on short-term solutions. LWF Haiti is working with local communities and the government to shift from short-term humanitarian aid to long-term recovery and development,” he added.
LWF’s work in Haiti started with emergency relief assistance in 1983, and evolved over the years into development initiatives in collaboration with local partners. After the earthquake in 2010, the LWF became involved in rapid response support to the affected communities.
Construction of the housing project began in August 2012, and the model resettlement village will be inaugurated on 15 February 2013. It will provide permanent dignified housing for 150 families who lost their homes in the earthquake. The village will be environmentally sustainable with solar panels and a green wastewater treatment plant. The homes are earthquake and cyclone resistant.
LWF partners which contributed to the project include the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Church of Sweden (CoS), Lutheran World Relief (LWR), the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF), Dutch organization for development cooperation ICCO, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) and the Haitian government.
Community ownership and joint responsibility
Built on some 58,000 square meters of land provided by the Haitian government, the project has been developed on a local model of co-ownership. Residents will be homeowners and take joint responsibility for shared facilities such as the community center and other services that make up the model village.
To be selected, families needed to have been residents of Gressier prior to the earthquake, to have lost their homes in the disaster and not currently own a home. Homeowners will contribute a down payment of $1,034 (around eight percent of the total cost of each house), and pay monthly fees toward community costs for maintaining the common assets such as the piped water supply and waste management systems.
Marie said she was able to come up with the down payment thanks only to a loan from the school where she teaches. She plans to offer her services as a teacher to support the community education programs.
The Gressier village model will be run on a holistic, community-based approach with continued support to the residents’ livelihoods and a focus on democratic governance. There has been strong cooperation with the national and local authorities in the project’s development.
The village will house approximately 900 people, many of them in female-headed households, and some with family members with disabilities. There will be 10 micro-savings unions serving 300 people.
Lundkvist noted that while the village model offers hope to one community, there is still a huge challenge in housing people in the poor Caribbean nation. “Reconstruction has to be a prioritized area for our interventions in the country in order to contribute to a normalized life for all the families that still remain in provisional housing and in camps,” he added.
It is estimated that out of the $7.5 billion in humanitarian aid that went to Haiti after the earthquake, only $215 million has been spent on permanent housing. About $1.2 billion has gone into short-term solutions such as tent camps, temporary shelters and cash grants for rent.
Still, the model village project is a new beginning.
Jean lost his home in the earthquake. For some time he and his wife and two children were living in a tent on their church’s property but a storm destroyed it and they had to move out.
The 39-year-old teacher and legal practitioner said he is very satisfied to be moving into the Gressier village with his family. He has been living alone in a small room in the school where he teaches in Port-au-Prince.
“For the first time in several years, the family can now live together again. I could not have afforded a decent house without the LWF; now I have been able to find a new house through a participant’s contribution that I could afford,” Jean explained.
Jimmy lost a number of family members in the earthquake. Since then he has been living with his seven-year-old son in his sister’s home. He said he is “very, very happy” to be moving to the model village.
“I would like to become a member of the village management committee to work towards a clean environment,” he added.
LWF Haiti liaison officer Marlene Grundstrom contributed to this article.