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Strong Futures

In the past year, Dini and Mansura have been surprised how their house transformed from just a plot of land to the beautiful home it is today. Their home was built in partnership with students from Grand Rapids Community College’s M-TEC Program. Since 2005, GRCC students have helped Habitat Kent build 33 homes. GRCC President Bill Pink attended the home dedication and handed Dini the keys to their new home.

“Our students are thrilled to do this kind of work because it gives them real-world experience and it also gives them that taste of actually seeing how their work brings about such good joy for families,” President Pink said.

“As we do well for others we do well for the whole community.”

Dini and Mansura have been living in a small apartment that seems to get smaller every day. Their son Nuredin (3) and daughter Amira (1) share the same cramped room and the apartment doesn’t provide enough space for them to play.

Dini and Mansura planned to purchase a home for their growing family but they were unable to qualify for a traditional mortgage. They were seeking a permanent housing solution when a family member told them to visit Habitat Kent.

“We had a plan but we didn’t think we’d get this opportunity in this short of a time,” Dini said.

They explained that because of the homeownership education courses Habitat Kent offers, their family is equipped to maintain their home for the future. Now Dini and Mansura have new plans for their future, including finishing the basement, preparing their children for school, and furthering their education to grow in their careers.

“I never imagined this,” Dini said about the Habitat experience, especially relating to sharing cultures with volunteers, donors, and staff members. Dini said he was humbled by the people who have donated their time and money to help someone they’ve never met.

“No matter who they are [Habitat volunteers] are helping everybody regardless of their background.”

Because of you, Dini and Mansura have a healthy, stable, and affordable home where their family can and plan for a bright future.

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GRPS Students Build Habitat Home

While most students associate the end of the school year with studying for exams, cleaning out lockers, and longing for summer, a group of Grand Rapids Public Schools students were celebrating a project that took the entire school year to complete.

Juniors and seniors at GRPS’ Academy for Design and Construction (ADC) spent the 2017-2018 school year partnering with Habitat for Humanity of Kent County to build a new LEED-certified home. More than 200 GRPS ADC students have partnered with Habitat Kent over the last 12 years, and this is the eleventh house they’ve built.

From framing in the humid days of late September to installing windows in the bitter cold of January, students had to learn how to work together to overcome obstacles with support from Habitat Kent staff and ADC instructors.

“We’re like a family because we built this,” said ADC student, Alex, at the end-of-year celebration inside the family room of the new house.

“It took a lot of hard work and teamwork.”

Students learn valuable hands-on construction skills as well as knowledge of energy-efficient home building techniques and materials. But the most valuable part of the program is that the students help a homebuyer build a safe, stable, and affordable home.

Cassandra, the homebuyer, applied for Habitat’s homeownership program because she had a need for housing, the ability to pay an affordable mortgage, and a willingness to partner with Habitat. She’s been able to meet and watch the students work on her new home this past year.

“I think it’s really important that [the students] learn how to build a house for their [own home] when they grow older and also if they work in the construction trade.”

Cassandra is working hard to wrap up her sweat equity hours, which include construction of her home and other Habitat homes, financial courses, and homeownership training. She hopes to move into her new home by the beginning of the new school year.

Every single task students completed, every single hour they spent on this house is going to make a lasting impact for Cassandra and her family, and even their own future. To close the celebration, Alex perfectly summed up what the program is all about.

“[This house] was built with love.”

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Habitat Haiti Affiliate Summit

“We are supporting people not projects.”

This March, I had the opportunity to represent Habitat Kent at the 2018 Habitat Haiti Affiliate Summit. The summit provides an opportunity to experience how tithe support is building strength and stability in Haiti.

Habitat Kent gives a small percentage of our unrestricted funds to Habitat affiliates in developing nations around the globe to meet the need for affordable housing. This “tithe” expands Habitat Kent’s local efforts and provides housing solutions around the globe. Tithing unifies Habitat’s impact beyond languages, borders, and cultures.

Barth, a long-time Habitat Haiti staff member, described the tithe partnership at its core.

“Because of you guys, we are alive.”

Habitat Kent has been a tithe partner with Habitat Haiti for almost 10 years, but this was our first time seeing their work up close.

History

Haiti was established as an independent nation in 1804 by defeating Napoleon Bonaparte’s army and abolishing slaverythe first nation to do so in the “new world.”

Habitat Haiti was founded in 1984, one year after Habitat Kent began in Grand Rapids, Michigan. For 25 years, they were working in a similar capacity as us—one home, one family at a time.

Then on January 12th, 2010 a devastating earthquake hit Haiti and changed the course of Habitat and the nation forever.

Because of the immense need, Habitat Haiti had to address problems at the basic human level. No longer was building homes the sole focus—but providing access to shelter, water, and food became essential.

For eight years, Habitat Haiti has helped rebuild the country from the ground up.

Homeowner Marieange has lived in the Simon Pelé neighborhood for over 40 years. She partnered with Habitat Haiti to retrofit her home.

Simon Pelé 

Along with three tithe partner representatives and Habitat Haiti staff, I visited the Simon Pelé neighborhood. Located in the capitol city of Port-Au-Prince, Simon Pelé is an area that has housed some of Haiti’s most vulnerable citizens even before the 2010 earthquake.

In Simon Pelé, 30,000 people live in less than 1 sq. km (0.62 mile) area and most earn below $1 per day. There is limited access to clean water, poor infrastructure, and the houses are not strong enough to withstand future natural disasters.

Habitat Haiti’s strategy since 2010 has been to work with community leaders to identify the people most in need. Through building relationships in Simon Pelé, Habitat Haiti is a trusted partner in a community where other organizations are unwelcomed—or that others have overlooked altogether.

Since 2010, Habitat Haiti has reconstructed or retrofitted 660 homes to withstand future environmental events.

We met Marieange, a homeowner who has lived in the neighborhood for over 40 years. Habitat Haiti partnered with her to retrofit and insulate her home to protect against the elements.

 “We don’t have to worry that water is leaking through anymore,” Marieange said.

Through Habitat Haiti’s WASH Program (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene), 2,479 people have been received materials for sanitation and Aquajif water treatment. Improper water treatment has caused severe rashes and bodily issues for children in the neighborhood.

Another way to reach the community is to educate the next generation. We visited a local school where a young student sang a song about hand washing and sanitation.

“Habitat is as if the Lord himself came down and brought a lot of blessings in this community,” said Sampson, the school director.

In response to the needs in Simon Pelé, Habitat Haiti has also supported job training, gender awareness campaigns, installing solar power lamps, road and walkway building, and latrine repair and maintenance.

Josephat is a Habitat homeowner in the community of Santo.

Santo

Santo is a community an hour west of Port-au-Prince, just outside the town of Léogâne. The area was the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake where homes, businesses, crops, and infrastructure were devastated.

In 2011 and 2012, Habitat volunteers and local construction workers built 300 new homes as part of the annual President Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Projects.

We visited with Josephat, a homeowner who has expanded his home and planted mango trees in his backyard.

“It’s really important to care for something you get like [a house],”Josephat said. “It’s showing love and respect for a blessing.”

“So I keep it very clean and keep it well maintained to respect the blessing that came my way.”

Like all Habitat revitalization projects, success begins after the hard hats and tools are put away.

The Santo Community Council is a group of men and women who help lead the community. We had an opportunity to sit down with their leadership to learn more about Santo and how they are continuing to improve their quality of life.

Habitat Haiti’s work goes beyond the homes and neighborhoods.

Filling the Gap

Beyond rebuilding homes and communities, Habitat Haiti is also working as an advocate and leader within the country to create more access to housing.

The HOME (Home Ownership and Mortgage Expansion) Program is a partnership between Habitat Haiti, World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) and the Affordable Housing Institute (AHI). The program aims to unlock the potential of the housing market and demonstrate the viability of private/public sector partnerships to reduce the housing deficit in Haiti.

Through micro-loans, providing incentives to market stakeholders, and mortgage experimentation, Habitat Haiti is stimulating the real estate development market. Housing is becoming relevant for market investment, development, and demand, which helps Haitian families access homeownership opportunities.

Land tenure is at the heart of economic growth in Haiti. Unfortunately, one of the long-term challenges of the earthquake was rebuilding land tenure.

People in Haiti have become used to not having access to accurate legal information, so legal ownership of land for housing has become unclear and unstable at best. And without free and clear ownership of land, families could lose their home at any time. Habitat Haiti has created the Haiti Property Law Working Group to address the needs of land tenure and educate citizens and organizations on how to legally acquire, sell, and maintain land ownership.

Habitat Haiti is bringing together experts in housing law  to raise awareness and work toward solutions. They’re creating innovative ways to make information accessible to everyone so people are empowered to make informed legal decisions.

These strategies are part of a long-term effort to change the mindset from a traditional idea of land ownership to a legal and documented system.

Habitat Haiti’s goal is to build 500 new homes in the south by March 2019.

What’s Next for Habitat Haiti?

In the fall of 2016, Hurricane Matthew hit the southern part of Haiti, destroying 200,000 homes and debilitating the agriculture center of the country.

Habitat Haiti has the construction expertise, resources, and skills to sustainably rebuild this community. By educating local builders and working step-by-step with homeowners, Habitat Haiti is helping these communities come back stronger than ever.

Their goal is to build 500 homes in the south of Haiti by March 2019.

But the need is still great and Habitat Haiti is thinking creatively to reach more families affected by the earthquake. They are doing this through distributing house repair kits and educating homeowners on how to retrofit their homes.

Beyond the south of Haiti, Habitat will continue to expand homeownership opportunities near Port-au-Prince, working holistically with the private sector, the legal system, and homeowners to build safe, sustainable, and affordable housing.

Habitat Haiti staff and tithe partners alongside members of the Santo Community Council. (Courtesy of Habitat Haiti)

A Shared Vision

The weight of Haiti’s turbulent history of Western interference, internal struggles, and environmental disasters is matched only by the people’s will to discover creative solutions and take on every challenge with joy, humor, and determination.

Through my experience at the summit, I learned that Habitat’s model is flexible enough to solve systemic problems and strong enough to retain the core attributes of our shared DNA.

I saw firsthand how innovation is spurred on by challenges. Habitat Haiti staff have the passion and commitment to battle injustice and provide people with the basic rights of humanity.

I was thankful to experience the struggle and beauty of Haiti. Even with its complications, it is clear that listening to the community, allowing them to lead, and building sustainable housing will create long-term impact.

Habitat Kent staff, volunteers, donors, and homeowners know the challenges of this great work. Through our tithe partnership, we are holding the hands of our Haitian brothers and sisters so they can innovate and solve problems. We support their foundation so they can build upwards. This goes beyond financial support—this is a spiritual support.

Our destiny is tied together through a vision of a world where everyone has a decent place to live. 

Habitat Haiti has brilliant people working on the most challenging problems a society can face. Habitat Haiti builds to meet basic needs and strives to solve systemic issues. We are honored to be a tithe partner with Habitat Haiti and be a small part of their work to build strength and stability for all Haitians.

And I am thankful to call them friends and partners.

 

By Luke Ferris, Habitat Kent Communications Specialist 

Click here to learn more about Habitat Haiti.

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