The Haitian people are key to rebuilding

This week marks the third anniversary of the appalling earthquake in Haiti. I have written about this for the Catholic Herald and Ekklesia (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17774), and have witnessed myself the struggle to rebuild and recover.

From the word go, CAFOD has included Haitian expertise and knowledge in its response to the disaster, ensuring people who know the situation best are at the heart of programmes and planning.

CAFOD’s work with Caritas Haiti has helped them replace offices and equipment that were destroyed in the earthquake, and train staff to lead the recovery process. Since the earthquake, CAFOD has continued to provide major support in the water and sanitation sector, building latrines to accompany new homes as people move out of camps, rebuilding cholera units in hospitals, and teaching children in schools about the importance of good sanitation.

Driving through the capital now, the rubble has all been cleared, and the worst-hit buildings demolished. The majority of people have been moved from camps into transitional or permanent homes, and Port-au-Prince is busy with life and activity. Some of the public parks, previously used as camps, have now been cleaned and tended, and returned to former glory.

There is a sense that Haiti is at a new stage, not necessarily a moment to breathe fully, but at least to take stock and prepare well for present and future challenges. With this in mind, CAFOD has been working in schools in Port-au-Prince to ensure children are better prepared if another earthquake hits, with a programme of evacuation drills. These earthquake simulations educate youngsters on exactly how to find the safest parts to shelter inside a building before making their way outside safely and calmly.

With other schools, CAFOD has been working on hygiene education to help children avoid cholera and other waterborne illnesses.

In Solino, an area of Port au Prince the Haitian government considers too dangerous to work in, CAFOD is funding a project using puppets to communicate vital messages concerning hygiene.

CAFOD partner CRS’s Micheline Raymond said: “This is a very volatile community; there can be a lot of violence. No other NGO works in this zone permanently – others come and go, but we have an office here. The area is too dangerous for government people to do assessments here.

“There is cholera here, but not at epidemic proportions. People just don’t have enough money to buy clean water; there aren’t enough toilets or a good knowledge of hygiene.”

During the project workshops, children learn in the classroom through animated films with an all-puppet Haitian cast who tell a serious story in a fun and engaging way. At the end of the short film, with the help of specially-trained staff, the children make their own puppets out of everyday rubbish and leftover items to act out what they have learned.

During my visit to Peniel School, 27 children between 8-14 years of age – the girls with yellow ribbons in their hair - sang and laughed and enjoyed the class. By the end of the morning they were shouting out that they now knew to wash their hands after going to the toilet, and that drinking only clean water was vital.

One pupil, Bazil Christophe, 12, said: “I have never had cholera but I have been sick and I think it was because of bad water. Now I understand I must wash my hands and drink clean water. I’m going to teach everyone at home about what I’ve learned today in class.”

There are still many problems on the horizon for Haiti, and the impacts of the earthquake of 2010 are still ever-present in a country that was and remains the poorest country in the western hemisphere. But three years on from a massive natural disaster, the country and its people are walking firmly forwards, better prepared for the next unexpected turn in the road.

* See also: 'Seeking hope after catastrophe for Haiti', Ekklesia - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17774

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© Pascale Palmer is Senior Press Officer (Policy and Campaigns) for CAFOD, the official aid agency of the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

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