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Hope Remains In Haiti

PORT-AU- PRINCE - Despite the enormous challenges still facing Haiti nearly seven months after the magnitude-7 earthquake of Jan. 12, the president of Episcopal Relief & Development says he returned from a recent visit there with "tempered hope" for the country's future.

"I went to Haiti prepared to be horrified and depressed and heartbroken, and I came away from Haiti feeling hopeful," Robert Radtke told ENS July 29. "That is not to minimize the plight of hundreds of thousands of people who are living in woefully inadequate shelter or struggling in other ways, but I came away feeling convinced the Haitians are determined to help themselves. We owe the Haitians -- and anyone else for that matter who wants to help themselves -- our support."

Radtke, Abagail Nelson, the agency's senior vice president of programs, and Tammi Mott, its Haiti recovery consultant, spent July 20-22 in Haiti visiting with workers and Haitians helped by programs being run by the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti and its development arm, Centre Diocesain de Development et de Secours (CEDDISEC).

"There are signs of hope, but it's not going to be fast," Radtke said of Haiti's long-term recovery. "It's a long, long, difficult period ahead for Haiti for many years but the Haitians have proven themselves to be resilient -- determined to overcome adversity -- and there was nothing on this trip that led me to think that they won't continue to be that way."

Episcopal Relief & Development is supporting two CEDDISEC initiatives: a cash-for-work program and a plan for building transitional housing.

In recent months, Radtke said, Episcopal Relief & Development has mostly moved out of the initial post-quake relief work. However, because some diocesan churches are still the sites of survivor settlements, the agency is lending some support to that effort. During the first phase of the agency's support of rescue and relief efforts, it assisted more than 60,000 people with health care, food (some 217 tons), water, shelter, sanitation and other non-food items such as clothing, blankets and kerosene.

The transitional housing program, which Radtke called "the most hopeful for the long-term," centers on a new model for houses, developed by a CEDDISEC engineer after field visits and consultation with other international shelter organizations and the United Nations-recommended standards.

The houses are made of treated plywood with corrugated tin roofs. They are designed to be hurricane- and earthquake-resistant, because they are anchored 30 centimeters into the ground and into 50 centimeter high cinderblock and concrete foundations and have reinforced angles and joints connecting the roofs to the walls.

The size of the homes, which can be built in four to seven days, "respects the structure of Haitian families and their needs," which tend to be large and multi-generational, Radtke said. The houses are 18.2 meters long, larger than many of the provisional shelter models of other organizations, according to Episcopal Relief & Development. They also include an adjacent shower and latrine, which "mitigate against gender violence which is sometimes a problem in shared latrines and shared public bathing facilities," he added.

The families contribute "sweat equity" to their new homes by helping to build them or supplying meals to the laborers who do. Most often the houses are built on the sites of the families' previous home that was destroyed in the earthquake, Radtke said.

The homes are "transitional" because they are designed to last three years and it is expected that families will be able to afford to improve and reinforce them with such materials as cinder blocks as they continue to live in them.

"The sense of excitement and joy that people expressed as they were going back into a home was really delightful and exciting," said Radtke, who met with five female-headed families who were moving into their new houses.

CEDDISEC's cash-for-work program employs people mainly to clear rubble and recycle it to supply gravel for improved dirt roadbeds and to reinforce erosion-prone hillsides. The diocesan development agency has thus far employed 770 people in the program, about 40 percent of whom are women. For 20 days of work, team leaders earned an average of $154 and workers earned an average of $102.

The cash-for-work program is meant to give Haitians a short-term source of income, but "it's not going to be a long-term solution" the way the transitional housing program aims to be, Radtke said. However, the program is tied to CEDDISEC's efforts to promote community recovery through having Episcopal Church parishes lead communities through a process to identify the work that needs to be done and collaborate in accomplishing it.

Radtke called CEDDISEC an "extraordinary organization."

"They were doing really good work before the earthquake. They've been at the cutting edge of responding to the disaster since the beginning," he said of the staff. "But, they themselves are the victims of this disaster. Many of them are still living in tents in order to get their work done, sleeping on the pavement in tents in the rain. And, yet, they get up every morning and come to work and are professional and are committed. So, I have nothing but admiration for CEDDISEC."

"And our role at Episcopal Relief & Development is to support them, which is one of the reasons we have had people like Tammi and some of my other colleagues in Haiti as much as we have." Radtke added. "That goes outside our normal way of responding to disasters, but we felt it was very important to be present, to do as much as we could directly with CEDDISEC and their staff."

Radtke said that "the biggest challenge for anyone working in Haiti right now is infrastructure," which creates "a supply-chain bottleneck."

"The solution is for the Haitian government and the global community like the United Nations and the United States, to get a strategy in place to make the infrastructure in Haiti more robust so that aid and services can get to people," he said.

For instance, the New York Times reported early in July that international experts say it would take three to five years to remove all the debris from Haiti if 1,000 or more trucks worked daily; fewer than 300 trucks are hauling rubble now. Often those trucks are hampered by steep alley streets and unpaved roads.

Radtke, noting that Haitians were "not in great shape on January 11," were traumatized the next day by "one of the worst disasters one could imagine" and are now facing national elections in November.

"Elections in Haiti have almost always been proceeded by and taken place under political instability so you have a very volatile situation," he said. "You get the feeling that people's nerves are frayed and quite reasonably so."

Radtke also said that "the story in Haiti is the things that haven't happened since the earthquake," including epidemics, mass starvation and political violence.

"That's because of a lot of good work is being done, first by the Haitians themselves and being backstopped by the global community, which really stepped-in in important ways for Haiti," he said.

-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is a national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service and editor of Episcopal News Monthly and Episcopal News Quarterly


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