An Advent of resilience: the story of the hardy houses

By Minaz Kerawala, Communications and Public Relations Advisor

The house in which Laroche Carole lives with her three children survived a major earthquake in Haiti earlier this year.

I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built.

Luke 6:47-48

“They still stand tall, although destruction stretches as far as the eye can see,” wrote Vincent Larouche in Quebec’s premier French-language daily, La Presse, on August 19, 2021.

The journalist was referring to a group of exceptional houses that withstood a magnitude 7.2 earthquake that had struck Haiti just five days previously. The houses that Larouche found standing owed some of their sturdiness to the solidarity of thousands of Development and Peace ― Caritas Canada’s supporters.

Solidarity after the storm

Days after the devastating Category 5 Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti in October 2016, Development and Peace launched an appeal for donations, to which Canadians responded with characteristic generosity. That allowed our partners to meet the affected populace’s immediate needs for shelter, hygiene supplies and food and to help women ensure their communities’ food security over the medium term.

Development and Peace had decided to support partners who could help the most vulnerable groups in the remotest regions of the country, where most agencies lacked the connections and capacities to operate and where relief efforts usually reached last.

That decision was pivotal to how the houses that survived the August 2021 earthquake were built.

For the people, with the people, by the people

Our partner, the Institut de technologie et d’animation (ITECA), spearheaded the post-hurricane reconstruction program in the rural Haitian commune of Cavaillon, where hundreds of houses had been damaged beyond repair. Given the limited budget, it was initially decided to rebuild 100 houses.

Before breaking ground, ITECA extensively consulted the local community to properly understand its needs and aspirations. ITECA’s director, Chenet Jean-Baptiste, also did not want “people to passively wait on handouts and relief operations.”

The community wanted the new houses to be earthquake- and hurricane-resistant. To preserve people’s sense of agency, it was decided to make the building process as participatory as possible. These twin imperatives posed several challenges.

Given the added costs that higher-quality, more participative construction would entail, it was finally decided to limit the project to building only 25 new houses. Families were asked to do the site excavation work on their own and to contribute building materials worth just under a third of the $9,000 cost of each new house.

Even this relatively modest contribution proved quite burdensome. Although it took them some time, the families met the conditions cheerfully and proudly. Still, it was not until many months later that the houses were finally built, after scores of logistical hurdles connected to the remoteness of the region were overcome.

Noé Lacombe, the head of a local civil society coalition that collaborated with ITECA on the project, said, “Today people are proud of their houses and the sacrifice they made, in order to build them. It was a process that respected their dignity.”

A proven approach

After she moved into one of the new houses, which she had worked hard to help build, Laroche Carole, a mother of three, said, “I like everything about my new home. I had nothing, but today I have a house where my family can live.” Her sentiments were echoed by Exil Jean-Claude, who called his new house “a great wealth,” especially appreciating that it came with a water tank, a precious amenity in an area where clean water can be scarce.

Built with their sweat and to their specifications, the houses were always cherished by the people. Their worth in the people’s eyes, however, appreciated manifold after the August 2021 earthquake. In addition to claiming over 2,200 lives, the quake destroyed or damaged more than 137,000 houses1. But barring minor damage, mostly sustained by owner-added extensions, those 25 houses stood strong.

Nor was it the first time that houses built with Development and Peace’s support had survived a disaster. Not even the gusts of Hurricane Matthew could destroy houses that ITECA had built after the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

These hardy houses are concrete proof of the value and validity of Development and Peace’s long-term, people-centric approach. Only sustained, patient and farsighted work can make communities thus resilient to natural disasters, conflict and climate change. And such work is not possible without your support.

Also read:

  1. Reported by Haiti’s Directorate General of Civil Protection (see report in French).

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