November’s arrival marks a new beginning in Haiti as recovery from Hurricane Matthew begins to take hold, as our Programmes Manager Ailish O’Reilly describes here.
It’s a new day, a new month, and a new beginning!
We are back on Île à Vache since yesterday. It is a national holiday for most people, but not for all. After a meeting with Mayor Amazon, we head out to the zones he has allocated as our area of focus: La Fortune and the surrounding zones. We have information to gather on each household, and we need to assess the amount of material needed to repair the houses.
On discussion with the mayor, we have settled on a plan to distribute material to the individual houses, where the houseowner takes charge of their own repair work. Essentially, this means that we can supply more material to more homes. After our Shelter Upgrade programme of the past three years, there is plenty of skilled labour available. As it is family helping family, people will get the work done free or at a much lower cost than we would pay. Two local bosses accompany us; we will give them the job of distribution and follow up where needed.
The trip takes us on side-roads we have never traveled before. We arrive in a small, seaside village of ten houses. One houseowner swears he had a house, but that the storm took it away and the sand covered his concrete floor. After a minute or two of trying to find it by digging a machete in the sand, we tell him that, if he can uncover the base, we will accept his story; it seems genuine. We are more assured of his veracity when we get further down the beach and find the same tale, but, in this case, you can see the base just under the sand. There is no other evidence that a house once stood in this spot.
We take a break at one grass hut to drink a coconut; such is the measure of these people that they are shocked when we pay. Normally, this would be like getting a glass of water, but we know that coconuts are no longer in free and ready supply. This family has lost a lot; the least we can do is pay for our lunch.
Bernadette used to live in what a good estate agent might call “a beachfront property with uninterrupted views of the Caribbean Sea; in need of some repairs”, which they could list at a massive price. Bernadette, her two daughters, son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter now live in a lean-to grass house at the back of where her home used to stand. She lost three goats; four sheep; twelve food-bearing coconut trees; her garden of corn and manioc; and a large fishing net that her son used to catch fish for market. The latrine lost its roof and what was once her garden is now sand. “I had grass”, she assures us.
She thanks us for the tarpaulin that she received, for visiting her, and for giving her some hope that she will get help. I know that pictures can tell a thousand words but we don’t ask to take one. Our job today is to sit and listen to Bernadette’s story: that is what she needs and that is what we need to do.
We are on the road from 11am to 4:30pm, when we call a halt to the work and find a moto to head back to the village. We meet with our local team and go over the project. Tomorrow, we are heading out even earlier. We still have three zones to cover by foot.
In our regular project work, Calise gives an update on the 90 metre extension to the ‘road’ (i.e. cement path). All going well and to the current budget, we will do the same again, but we want to do it in stages. The second stage will be reward for work well done. We have a team of four working and, with materials to be brought in, the project will give employment to maybe twenty people by the time it is done. Jobs means money for families and the local economy. It is a very visible project for all those using the route to/from the market and school.
The message we are trying to send out is that yes, there will be work for people and, yes, our commitment to the community continues as always.
The past month interrupted but didn’t stop us.