“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.
Haiti was established as an independent nation in 1804 by defeating Napoleon Bonaparte’s army and abolishing slavery—the 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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