Build a House in Haiti

The French ruined the newly free nation of Haiti after 1803 by suing for the value of their slave plantations lost to the revolution. The unenlightened Haitians, being ex-slaves and mostly uneducated, agreed, rather than suing France for a couple centuries of unpaid labor as they should have, and it took nearly a century and a half to clear the debt.

But the Americans were worse, beginning with President Thomas Jefferson. He, being a slave owner, was worried that the slave rebellion in Haiti might inspire an American slave rebellion. To discourage that, he meddled with the Haitian economy to ensure their failure and poverty. We followed over the next two centuries with various invasions and occupations, support of dictators and bad leaders, suppression and kidnapping of good leaders, trade embargoes and dirty dealings, and the usual demand that Haiti deal with us as a free market against our heavy government subsidies. Is it any wonder Haiti is such a mess?

Then the earthquake struck, and everything fell down, killing lots of government officials, at least 220,000 others, and leaving thousands of orphans.

The French, then the US, have ruined Haiti
ever since their independence in 1803.
Then the earthquake struck.

In the three years and several months since, the monumental work of saving Haiti has been going on, but only about half of the help promised by the US and others after the quake actually arrived, leaving hundreds of thousands of Haitians trapped in blue-tarp refugee camps, with no employment and precarious health conditions. Recent reports have been discouraging. As usual, once the disaster was no longer news, people forgot about it. The promised aid either didn’t arrive or was misspent, leaving 400,000 still homeless three years later. But there are also bright points.

A number of excellent NGOs were there long before the quake, but found their mission transformed by the huge long-term commitment required post-quake. Among those was Habitat for Humanity, which worldwide provides a new or rebuilt home every 5-1/2 minutes. Habitat’s usual worldwide plan is to require able bodied people who need a house to invest a significant amount of sweat equity, meaning that they work long and hard for it, and are acutely aware of the value of the home they are moving into. But all that was changed by the quake and the sheer volume of need. The immediate need was for shelter, any shelter, and Habitat and others contributed many thousands of kits to build blue-tarp temporary shelters.

Next came the impossible task of building more stable homes for the hundreds of thousands in the camps. Over 4,000 upgradable shelters have been built by Habitat, a tiny part of the need. These have a permanent cement foundation, wooden frame, tin roof, and plywood walls (shown below with a proud new owner). These homes can be expanded and made permanent with cement block walls as economic conditions improve. So far, over 300 “core” homes have also been built. These are stronger and more permanent from the first, and are also expandable.

Habitat 1

But, despite the desolate conditions, what Haitians need and want most is gainful employment, not homes. Unemployment is about 60%, and with permanent work they could buy or build their own homes. For many NGOs, their work is basically nullified if they fail to provide permanent opportunities for their clients. This is true everywhere in the world.

The best NGOs have caught on to this. In Haiti, Habitat trained 6,600 people in construction, construction business practices, financial literacy, and health and hygiene. More than 2,100 have found outside jobs through Habitat. Paul Farmer’s Partners in Health has provided work to Haitians for a large percentage of their operations in Haiti, everything from doctors to rural workers who regularly check on patients in far away homes.

The need is enormous. In spite of our debt to Haiti for having ruined so much for so long, our government is not helping much. Every dollar you and I send is enormously helpful.


The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s