Community: A Solid Foundation for Reconstruction

Community: A Solid Foundation for Reconstruction

Publication info

Amanda Person

There’s a sweeping vista from the hilltop neighborhood of Aztec, past the low, sprawling rooftops of the Carrefour district of Port-au-Prince, to the blue waters of the Caribbean. It’s this kind of long view that CARE takes, as we work side by side with Haitians still recovering from the devastation of the earthquake of January 2010.

Workers for CARE’s Neighborhood Improvement Program (NIP) are filling potholes and preparing the ground for a new paved walkway and concrete steps up the steep hillside – currently a rock-strewn, rutted path, sometimes more than a 45-degree angle. Aztec, mostly inhabited by rural migrants to the city, is inaccessible by motor vehicle. Jobs and schools were always hard to reach. After the earthquake toppled many of the poorly built houses, they seemed impossibly remote.

Our More Beautiful Neighborhood Project (Katye Nou Pi Bèl in Haitian Creole, part of the NIP) provides needed infrastructure – but more importantly, it serves as a common goal that unites the community, building solidarity and organizational skills that will serve them for years to come. CARE creates a space for dialogue, allowing local people to choose projects like the walkways or new water systems, according to their own priorities.

“We facilitate bringing together existing smaller organizations in a network, to form a platform that can plan and oversee improvements with CARE’s support,” explains Marceau Jocelyn, a project supervisor. He recruits volunteers like Emmanuel Beauvoir, a 32-year-old pre-law student, and then steps aside to led them take the lead.

With some training and mentoring, Haitians have the will and energy to build their own future, says Emmanuel. “There are a lot of community organizations that are ready to work towards development, participate and contribute. It’s the people of Haiti that are living the reality every day and have a lot to offer in that process.”

So far the project has provided the community with more than 550 yards of paved walkways and three water kiosks. CARE also has helped the community organize a Disaster Risk Reduction Committee to address prevent future disasters and respond to emergencies at the local level.

Emmanuel first felt the call to leadership in the early days after the quake, when he helped organize an emergency encampment where his family and other neighbors took refuge. He has helped many displaced families find permanent homes: the camp is now empty. Some families, like his own, found rented housing; others are creating permanent structures out of temporary shelters provided by CARE and other agencies; and still others have left the congested capital for the countryside.

Now he works to help CARE rally the community around projects like the Aztec pathway. Each project is “a drop in the bucket” in view of the country’s enormous needs, acknowledges Emmanuel. But these are learning opportunities. And crucially, the more communities band together, the better they’ll be prepared for future crises that will, inevitably, come.

CARE Haiti Country Director Jean-Michel Vigreux says promoting disaster preparedness and resilience is at the heart of CARE’s earthquake recovery work. “Because Haiti is subject to disasters very frequently – it’s very sensitive to climate change – CARE takes a long-term perspective. In all our development work, we assume that there will be disasters happening in the future, and we need to prepare the population to be able to overcome those shocks.”

Preparedness means an organized and ready citizenry with a healthy relationship to government. Officials like Dierry Léger, deputy mayor of Carrefour, are working with CARE to promote more sustainable, disaster-resistant reconstruction – including, crucially, proper adherence to building codes, neglect of which made the earthquake far more damaging than it might have been.

“There is a problem with construction, the way people build houses. They don’t respect building standards,” the deputy mayor says. “Organizations including CARE have been able to provide some training to masons and other technicians working in this area, so those are some changes. We need to continue to train construction bosses to build according to norms, to make proper mortar and reinforce concrete, things like that.”

Another crucial issue that must be addressed to encourage sustainable reconstruction is the legal status of informal settlements like Aztec. Few residents have official title to the land and have tended to build haphazardly. In many cases, what few land records existed were destroyed in the quake. Even five years later, the issue continues complicate rebuilding.

“We have some new permanent houses in our community, and some people are still living in temporary shelters, but the question of land tenure is a problem in almost the whole country,” says Dierry – who is working with CARE to painstakingly document the ownership of various plots of land, so that residents can confidently invest in building solid homes.

CARE includes the municipality in every step of the design and implementation of programming like NIP, leaving a legacy not only of physical infrastructure, but of transparency, accountability, and equitable access to services – the basis of good governance.

Emmanuel is on his way home from class, climbing a freshly paved pathway recently completed by NIP in the nearby hamlet of Ti Sous. He turns and faces the sky, and he dreams aloud of a better future. “I hope this will be a neighborhood that has electric lights, that has a proper infrastructure, where people aren’t living in poverty, where everybody has a way to earn a living.”

He gazes down the long stretch of clean concrete, bustling with women carrying buckets of water and children clutching school satchels. “I realize that CARE can’t give us everything. These stairs, and the new water system we’re building together, are an important start. I hope CARE will keep helping us organize. Together, we can continue to progress.”

Written by Rick Perera, CARE's Development Communications Officer.


Emmanuel Beauvoir currently serves as a technical counselor for the Ti Sous neighborhood humanitarian committee. CARE is paving steps and walkways as part of their Neighborhood Improvement Project in the Ti-Sous neighborhood in Carrefour, Haiti. © 2014 Evelyn Hockstein/CARE