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Haiti: new home, new start


01_24_2013_eurasia_haiti.jpgElceus Vena, assiduously working on her house

By Jeannie McCann
Communications Manager at Habitat for Humanity Ireland

A few months ago, I had the honour of joining 600 volunteers from around the world on Habitat for Humanity’s 29th annual Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project in Haiti. During the weeklong event, volunteers, including the former US President, built 100 homes for families left homeless by the 2010 earthquake.

I worked with a team of volunteers on the home of Elceus Vena, a 38-year-old married mother of four.  Despite being seven months pregnant with her fifth child, Elceus worked with us onsite and embraced the opportunity to build her own home.

Human stories behind statistics
The team of volunteers had very limited French or Creole, but we found creative ways to communicate with Elceus. We learned that she lost everything in the 2010 earthquake. For the last three years she has been living in a tent made of plastic sheeting, corrugated iron and other scrap materials. When it was hot, it was scorching inside and when it rained the water came flooding in. It did not provide safety or security for her children. The family lived day-to-day and could not plan for the future.

Elceus is the very human face behind the shocking statistics of the 2010 earthquake. 190,000 houses were damaged of which 105,000 were destroyed. More than two million people were affected.

Three years into the recovery, 400,000 people still live in tents, and an estimated 70 percent of the population is unemployed. Land tenure remains one of the biggest obstacles to rebuilding efforts.

Raising collective voices
The 155 houses that were built during last year’s Habitat for Humanity Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project are a beacon of hope. Houses are becoming homes; bushes and flowers are blossoming and a community is taking shape. Habitat Haiti is supporting the community to become self-sustaining, healthy and strong. This is part of a much larger recovery programme aimed at giving people the tools to rebuild their homes, lives and livelihoods.

Elceus’ new home is the beginning of her journey on the upward spiral out of poverty. My lasting memory is of the pride on Elceus’ face as we painted her new home a bright, vibrant pink. She dreams that her children will “go to school, go to college and get work”, just as any mother does. Her new home is the beginning of making these dreams become reality.

“It’s been difficult for us over the past couple of years but I finally see some light now that we will have a home again,” said Elceus.

This incredible experience with resilient, gracious people like Elceus, has inspired fellow volunteers and me to raise our collective voices with Habitat for Humanity’s to bring the world’s attention back to Haiti and the 400,000 people who will spend this Christmas with no simple, decent, safe place to call home.