In helping earthquake victims, life lessons for Haiti youth

Cabaret (Haiti) (AFP) –


In the hills of Cabaret, western Haiti, locals and young volunteers from the capital Port-au-Prince prepare cement, stationed between the wooden wall of Pierre Salnave Saint-Felix's new home, and the crumbling mud wall of the shelter he has survived in since 2010.

Unable to afford surgery for glaucoma, Saint-Felix is blind and prevented from breeding livestock. The earthquake in 2010 turned his life upside down: his home destroyed, he had no choice but to settle in this mountainside shelter, exposed to the elements.

"This is not a house, it is like being outside because the wind and the rain come in here as they please," the 62-year-old explained in a fragile voice.

"Look at the state of the walls today, less than two months after a friend came to repair them... it's a never-ending fight," he added, touching it with his fingertips.

Prioritizing his daughter and three grandchildren, who share a thin mat on the floor, Saint-Felix's health has suffered. Day by day, he is losing the use of his legs -- but hearing the young people mixing cement gives him hope.

In Haiti's remote mountain villages, youth-led nonprofit Techo is helping vulnerable families -- like Saint-Felix's -- build a decent home.

- A community effort -

The NGO, which works in 19 Latin American and Caribbean countries, is using its usual model of building temporary homes to tackle Haiti's extreme poverty head-on.

"Techo works to build temporary homes that communities can improve in the future, but we know that here in Haiti, these transitional units will likely be permanent," explained Pablo Bocco, Techo's director in Haiti.

"Therefore, we are building cement floors, the structure is obviously anti-cyclonic and anti-seismic, and the wood used is treated against termites."

"It is a slightly bigger model than those we have built in other countries, and we have added a front gallery because, socially, it's something that Haitians appreciate," he said with a smile.

The organization prides itself on listening to the needs of communities, and allowing them to participate in the construction of their future housing if they are able.

"We like to give responsibility to the communities," Bocco says.

"We tell them, 'Why wait for the government to do something, if we can find a solution by coming together?'"

- Learning respect -

Since 2010, 2,500 Haitian families have benefitted from the program. In the hills of Cabaret, 10 small wooden houses have been built -- but the impact spreads much further, to the capital 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) away.

"I don't have money to offer to help these people, but I can work with them -- their lives will not radically change, but it's a bit of progress," said Pierre Delusma, who has volunteered with Techo for two years.

"After spending time with a community, I return home a better person. If you live these experiences, you can't be unkind to people, you have respect for others and live better," Desulma said.

"For me, this cleavage of 'city people' and 'country people' has no reason to exist: we are all men."