Open Doors and Open Hearts for Haitian Earthquake Survivors

Open Doors and Open Hearts for Haitian Earthquake Survivors

Publication info

Amanda Person

Nearly five years after the deadly earthquake that left more than 1.5 million Haitians homeless. Yvette Prévilia Fénélon, 60, is among those still living in tents at a makeshift camp called Mission des Citoyens Progressistes de Fontamara, but not for long.

Prévilia recently joined a unique CARE program that helps camp residents move into permanent neighborhoods – matching homeless families with residents whose houses remained standing but need repairs. Prévilia will be matched with a local family, who will receive CARE’s financial and technical help to repair their earthquake-damaged home in exchange for hosting Prévilia and her family, rent free, for at least a year.

But the first step is to re-establish their livelihoods. “I’m starting to rebuild my small business,” Prévilia said. Before the earthquake I had a small market stall selling fried foods, used clothes and charcoal. I lost my home and business in the quake.” Now she’s using her modest proceeds from the VSLA to buy new stock, selling charcoal by the roadside with the help of her grandson. Along with a son who drives a taxi, she earns just enough to support herself and three adult children who live with her.

When it comes time to selecting a host, CARE encourages participants to approach families they already know, with whom they feel comfortable sharing quarters. CARE will provide both families help in developing livelihoods, like Prévilia’s business. The objective is for everyone to become financially self-sufficient and be able to afford his or her own home over the long term.

“It’s one of CARE’s most innovative approaches, encouraging self-help and a sense of community,” says CARE’s John Augustin, who manages the program. “It’s a great example of how we’ve successfully transitioned from short-term relief to sustainable ways Haitians can mutually support each other beyond CARE’s direct involvement.”

Prévilia is one of the more than 400 families who have benefited from this approach already. Another 400 families will be added to the program soon, as will 500 new host families who have homes in need of repairs.

Immediately after the earthquake CARE executed a vast emergency response program, initially providing tarps, non-food items and shelter kits. Later, CARE provided more than 2,500 transitional shelters and hygiene kits. Currently CARE works in an integrated transitional approach that includes support to rebuild, close camps and rebuild neighborhoods.

Angélène Jean is one of the success stories. The 30-year-old, her fisherman husband, and their four children have moved from a makeshift shelter in their seaside community into the home of her friend Fleurime Gracia. CARE arranged repairs for the cracked beams and collapsed walls of Fleurime’s low concrete house, and provided training and seed funds for Angélène to start a small shop on the porch, selling groceries, soap and toiletries. Life has improved dramatically since the dark days after the earthquake.

“We lived under a tarp for four years. People were sick, and the heat was terrible,” says Angélène. “When the CARE organizers and engineers came to look at the houses, I was so happy, because I didn’t know what to do.”

Thanks to the work of John Augustin and his colleagues, every homeless member of the fishing community – 31 families in total – has successfully transitioned into permanent housing through the program. Every one of them has a rent-free home for at least 18 months. Local workers, hired and trained to complete repairs, have brought new skills to the community. And as both host and guest families develop small businesses and other income-earning activities, they are planning ahead for the future.

“We earn more than we ever did before,” she says. “We’re paying school fees for all of our kids, and hoping to save up enough so my husband can buy his own fishing equipment.” She’s already scouring neighborhoods looking for a place the family can afford to rent.

Her two older kids scamper out from the porch, thread their way between the closely placed houses and reach the open field that was crowded with tents and tarps until a few months ago. Today it’s empty, except for an impromptu soccer game.

As part of the transition process, CARE also plans when possible (depending on land ownership) to upgrade the former camp spaces into public areas that should help breathe new life into the communities. The future for Angélène, Fleurime and their neighbors still holds challenges. But one thing is certain: there are no more strangers in these narrow streets. They are a community.

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



Jean Angélène runs a kiosk out of the home she is temporarily living in with a host family, in the neighborhood La Montaigne 54, Carrefour, Haiti. © 2014 Evelyn Hockstein/CARE