When I joined ActionAid Haiti’s team in November 2010, about 10 months after the devastating earthquake of January 12, 2010, something particular caught my attention: ActionAid Haiti was responding to that emergency differently by helping survivors regain control of their lives.
Rather than simply handing out supplies (vital as those were in the first days after the disaster), ActionAid from the outset looked at how to support people in addressing the reasons why they were so vulnerable to the earthquake in the first place.
As well as addressing immediate needs, ActionAid took the time to develop a three year response plan. An action plan to help communities we work with to rebuild their lives in a sustainable way.
Port au Prince and beyond
Immediately after the quake, ActionAid with partner organisation COZPAM distributed tarpaulins and tents, food, hygiene, shelter and kitchen kits to some 11,000 families in Mariani and Philippeaux (neighborhoods in the south and east of Port-au-Prince).
But while the world’s attention – and that of many international organisations responding to the disaster - focused on Port-au-Prince, ActionAid also worked with our partner organisations in other cities. Together we reached survivors in areas such as Jacmel and Thiotte in the southeast, Jérémie and Roseaux in Grand-Anse (south), and Lascahobas and Hinche in the center of the country.
“Cash for work” was an important part of ActionAid's response with 5,680 families receiving US$5-10 per day for working on community projects in the first 7 months after the earthquake. The program supported those directly affected as well as so-called 'host families' who had taken in friends and relatives.
Many workers also donated part of their salary to support community initiatives such as credit funds or sanitation projects – an example of the chain of solidarity between Haitians that has helped people to pull each other through the worst of times.
Road to recovery
In Thiotte, ActionAid's cash for work programs constructed hundreds of kilometers of protective walls in arable areas to help protect people, land and homes from flood waters and landslides. In the neighborhoods of Roseaux and Corail in Grand-Anse, cash-for-work programs helped to build 22 kilometers of road linking communities to the nearby city.
Even if they are clay, these new roads make life easier in the area. Our community is not so cut off anymore.
"Now we can travel by car or motorbike, which was impossible before. We can easily transport our products to market and get to medical and education centers quickly," rejoiced Ruben Michel from the Mayor of Roseaux's office.
To help build young people's sense of autonomy and develop skills needed to enter the labor market and participate in Haiti's reconstruction, ActionAid trained over 600 men and women in masonry, tiling, electrics, plumbing, cooking and pastry-making.
Trainings like these are what young people like me need,
said 20 year old Joassaint Nelson, who lives in Philippeaux, a very poor district of Pétion-Ville (east of Port-au-Prince).
This training increased my self esteem and changed my views about myself. Now I feel more comfortable looking for work because I have qualifications.
ActionAid also helped farmers, particularly women, to start earning a living again, offering credit programs, technical support and goats to help strengthen animal breeding and agriculture. Thousands of families in Roseaux and neighboring areas can now process their crops cheaply and quickly since ActionAid and local partner KPGA set up a processing center and a dozen smaller corn mills.
Reviving farming incomes not only sustains families but also discourages people from turning to charcoal production which causes deforestation and increases risk of flooding.
Clona Etienne, a 34-year old farmer who supports 2 children, explains what a local mill means for her: "For as long as I could remember, my family always had difficulties... I had to walk for about 5 hours to have my corn milled. For a motorcycle ride, I have to pay 200 gourdes (4.66 dollars). And when I get there, the cost of milling is too high. Corn was no longer profitable for me."
"When the mill was installed, farmers, especially women farmers like me were relieved. Now it only takes me 15 minutes to reach a mill and I only pay 5 gourdes (0.12 dollars) to mill 4.2 lb of corn!"
Now we are encouraged to produce more corn because we can make profit out of it to pay school for our children and buy things we need,
Farmer Jean Fenel Jean-Louis adds: "Cassava products are lucrative but while we could grow the crop, we had no way to process it. Now, thanks to this center, we can grind our manioc to produce cassava products. Our income has increased significantly."
As after any disaster, one of the hardest challenges was to answer the question that concerns most survivors: 'How will I get my life back?' Three years after the devastating earthquake, I am proud to say that ActionAid has helped thousands of people to regain their confidence in the future and start to take charge of their lives once again.
Regaining hope is a critical step on the long road to recovery, and while this is just a start, it strengthens our conviction that the future can be brighter.