PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Breezes flutter the sheer fabric hanging in the doorway of Gladys Joseph’s new home in Cabaret, 24 miles outside Haiti’s capital city of Port-au-Prince. There’s room in the yard for her children to play. And, for the first time since she was sent to Haiti’s capital city as a child, she’s able to have a garden — corn, beans, manioc and okra.
Five years after a devastating earthquake tore across Port-au-Prince and surrounding towns, Mennonite Central Committee has spent $16.9 million to help Haitians recover. Despite the many challenges that remain, MCC’s work continues to positively impact Joseph and many other people — both in the capital city and in rural areas.
An additional $2 million is allocated for earthquake recovery projects in 2015 and beyond.
In the months after the Jan. 12, 2010, quake, MCC responded to immediate needs, providing food assistance, cash allowances, water filters and thousands of MCC comforters and relief kits.
MCC sent teams of structural engineers to inspect the safety of public buildings and to instruct masons in safe building techniques.
Even as aftershocks rippled, MCC’s Haitian partners and other Haitians in nonprofits and government called for a broader response that reached far outside Haiti’s overcrowded, sprawling capital.
With the death toll growing, they pointed to the inadequate housing in the city, the lax building standards that compounded the tragedy of the quake — and the lack of opportunity in the countryside that led so many people to converge on Port-au-Prince in the first place.
MCC, with decades of experience working in Haiti’s rural Artibonite Valley, responded — dedicating more than half of its earthquake response funds to projects in education, livelihoods, housing, water and agriculture there and other areas outside the capital city.
Cash-for-work projects paid people who had fled the capital and their hosts to protect the natural water supply and improve irrigation systems. As cholera became a threat, MCC established kiosks providing clean water.
Building a village
In Cabaret, MCC and local partner Christian Center for Integrated Development used support from the Canadian government through the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada to build a village with 100 homes, a market, playground and community center.
Joseph, who lost her rented home in Port-au-Prince in the earthquake, recalls what a relief it was to no longer impose on friends or to rear children in a space that was not her own.
“When you stay with someone else, it’s like being humiliated. Your kids can’t play, can’t make noise, can’t run,” she said.
Joseph found it hard to believe that she would really be able to get a house — even up to the day she moved in. Coming to receive the keys, she brought no furniture, bedding or other belongings.
“I didn’t bring any [thing] except for this child,” she said, holding her youngest.
“There’s more advantages to living here,” she said of her new home in Cabaret. She has a cistern to capture rainwater that she uses for cooking, bathing and washing clothes. In addition to vegetables, she is cultivating cherries, papaya and citronelle for tea in her garden.
‘We eat better’
In the town of Desarmes, MCC’s work has helped produce a different crop — vocational school graduates from Ecole Profesionnel de Desarmes (Professional School of Desarmes) who are working in trades, from agriculture to mechanics.
Thanks to classroom studies and practical training in mechanics at the school, which was re-energized through MCC and a grant from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, 28-year-old Dieunold Sterling now has the knowledge to complete complicated repair jobs he once would have had to turn down.
It’s a change that boosts his income and opens opportunity for his family.
“We eat better is the first thing,” he said. He has easier access to credit, which is helping him pay off his professional school debt and pay school fees for his oldest child.
And through his studies, his vision grew for a future in his hometown, not Port-au-Prince.
Before, he said, he wanted to fix motorcycles. Now, he dreams of a full-service garage where he could employ other graduates, a shop selling parts and maybe eventually new motorcycles, which people drive to other towns to buy.
What he’s done so far, he said, is only the beginning.
“I’ve got a shop here, but I want to have an enterprise,” he said.