Haiti: As long as there’s life there’s hope

Coco McCabe

Blog post by Coco McCabe

Oxfam America, Humanitarian reporter
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The earthquake that struck Haiti on 12 January 2010 had a devastating impact on the already vulnerable island nation, leaving more than 200,000 people dead and over one million homeless.

The humanitarian response that has taken place over the past 12 months has saved countless lives by providing water, sanitation, shelter, food aid, and other vital assistance to millions of people. Yet, as Haiti approaches the first anniversary of the earthquake, neither the Haitian state nor the international community is making significant progress in reconstruction. Oxfam published a report which looks at what needs to be done to rebuild the nation.

Here are some stories of how Oxfam has helped to put people back to work. No matter how big or small the loan was, these people have been able to get back on their feet and provide for their families.

Charitable Pierre

A small restaurant (canteen) owner, Charitable, 45, has four children and is pregnant with a fifth. She was a renter and ran her business from her house, which collapsed into a heap of rubble during the earthquake. Now, she’s re-opened in a makeshift spot across the street. Someday – when she has saved enough – she plans to rebuild a small house on a parcel her landlord has given her as a gift. “I’m happy, but I don‘t have the means to do it yet,” she said.

Before the quake, her business was doing well enough that she was able to support her family – including sending her children to school.

.rimg300 {float:right; width:300px; margin:0 0 10px 10px; font-size:90%}In the early monthes after the quake, Charitable served food to 80 of her most vulnerable neighbors.

Oxfam gave her a grant that she has used to restock her shelves with food items for sale. (She had also borrowed money from a “sol” earlier to begin the restocking.) Oxfam also gave her a fuel-efficient stove. And, Oxfam selected her to serve as canteen food provider in the early months after the quake – she served food to 80 of her most vulnerable neighbors a day for about two months.

In addition, Charitable participated in some of the Oxfam-supported business training. “They taught you how to manage your business so it wouldn’t crash,” she said. A plate heaped with rice and meat now sells for between 12 and 15 Haitian dollars in her restaurant, which includes a couple of small tables inside the shop where she sells packaged goods. Cooking is down outside.

Her restaurant seemed very busy the day we visited. She said she had been running it for about 30 years. “My mom died when I was little,” said Charitable. “So I know about life. A lot of misery.”

But she doesn’t dwell on her hardships. “If you get mad, hypertension might kill you. And God works with me also.”

She counsels patience with the pace of the recovery of her business. “You can’t be in a hurry. You have to be patient – and wait for God.”

A Haitian proverb Charitable offered: “Two prese da fe jou lov vri,” which means impatience doesn’t make the sun come up faster. For Charitable what this means is “you can’t be in a hurry. You have to be patient and wait for God. It’s about working hard. I didn’t have all this, but look at it now – and maybe in the future I’ll have even more.”

Gerson Almeda

Gerson, who runs Ger’s Barbershop, participated in Oxfam’s business training.

Gerson Almeda, 38, runs Ger’s Barbershop. The business is 25 years old and he inherited it from his dad. He has four employees and a younger brother working at the shop, which is open from about 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The barbers all work on commission.

He used the grant Oxfam gave him to help pay rent ($500 a year) to keep his shop open. It survived the quake nearly intact – only two mirrors broke – but business was slow in the months that followed. “It’s picking up a bit now,” he says.

He also participated in some of the business training Oxfam offered. He is helping to support a mother, brother, and sister. “It’s not a well-managed country,” says Almeda. “The government should be doing more. They’re very irresponsible.”

A Haitian proverb Gerson offered: “Tan gen lavi gen lespina,” which means as long as there’s life there’s hope.

Emanuella Joanna Raymond

Emanuella's store: a narrow room in a narrow alley.

Emanuella is 29 and the mother of two children. She received some business training from Oxfam – which she really loved. She said she wished she’d had that kind of training earlier because, she said, her business would have been even further along. She runs a small packaged-food store from a narrow room in a narrow alley. She started the business when she was 20 and still living at her mother’s house.

How were things before the earthquake? “I had a bigger store and this used to be the storage,” she said. “I used to sell wholesale things like rice. But now I sell retail.”

“Before the earthquake, there was a lot of activity, a lot of business.”

A Haitian proverb she offered: “Tan gen lavi gen lespina,” which means as long as there’s life there’s hope.

Jean Ilmane

Power cuts present a challenge for Jean's shop – he is a metal worker.

Jean Ilmane is a 35-year-old metal worker with a wife and two children. He said he has been able to support his family with his trade – as long as he can find work. He learned the trade at Gerard Shop in 1999, from the shop’s master, a man named Gerard Jean Pierre, 70.

When there’s electricity in the neighborhood, the shop can use its welder. But when the supply is cut, that presents challenges for the shop.

Jean Ilmane received a grant from Oxfam to purchase some new metal working tools, including a level, a drill, a hammer, a vice, and a chisel. He also participatedin some Oxfam business training.

What needs to happen for the neighborhood to become revitalized? “For me, it would be to have all the houses that were destroyed rebuilt.”

A Haitian proverb Jean offered: “Avan ke ou domi ou range kaban ou,” which means before going to sleep you have to make sure your bed is made.

In the Carrefour Feuilles neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Oxfam is helping to revitalize local markets with a series of strategic small-business grants. The program, which includes micro-credit loans for some people as well as training in business management, is benefitting business owners, five of whom are receiving shipping containers adapted so that they can serve as small shops. One of the criteria for participation is that merchants offer products locals say they need in their neighborhood, including food and hardware store goods.

Read more

Watch the video: Haiti: Rebuilding communities in Carrefour Feuilles

Read the report: From Relief to Recovery: Supporting good governance in post-earthquake Haiti

Oxfam's work in Haiti