As a project officer for Cross Catholic Outreach, I was based in Haiti for years, and my father is Haitian as well. So I have traveled across Haiti countless times, from the southern peninsula all the way up to the “far west,” which is what we call the remote territories in the northwest corner of the country. In all those years of travel, I’m constantly amazed at how the entire country seems to be in a perpetual state of construction. Even homes seem to be in a perpetual state of being built or rebuilt.
I know the reason for this activity. Much of the construction work is tied to the Haiti earthquake of 2010, which is approaching its 10th anniversary. Since that disastrous quake, there has been a major effort among builders to adhere to international safety standards, and that means more time and care are going into the building process.
Unfortunately, it’s an entirely different story in Haiti’s poorest communities. There, impoverished families in Haiti have neither the means nor the ability to build their homes to withstand earthquakes, floods and hurricanes. As a result, the poor of Haiti face a housing crisis. The only homes they can afford to build are makeshift dwellings – and those are damaged or fall down every time Haiti is hit with a natural disaster.
Walk through one of Haiti’s rural villages or urban slums and you are likely to see the kind of shanty houses common among the poor. They are typically tiny, primitive shelters made of mud, sticks, plastic sheeting, scrap metal and dried palm fronds. And the living conditions inside are pitiful. Most are crowded — often shared by multiple generations – and offer no privacy, electricity or sanitation.
Thankfully, generous benefactors are coming to the rescue of families like these, and the new houses they are helping to construct will last — and have an impact — for generations to come.
Currently, Cross Catholic Outreach works with three partners in Haiti — Kobonal Haiti Mission, Pwoje Espwa (Project Hope) and Bethsaide Mission. In 2019, we worked with these three ministries to build 93 homes for poor families, from the Central Plateau to the Southern Peninsula.
I recently spoke with our Kobonal ministry partners, discussing the steps they are taking to ensure each home is built to the highest-quality standards.
First, rather than making cement blocks on-site (which is the less-expensive approach) Kobonal uses professional-grade cement blocks to ensure that the foundations, slabs, walls and support columns are of the highest quality. Second, the Mission makes sure that all concrete foundations are constructed of quality cement that is machine-mixed rather than hand-mixed. And third, the Mission purchases roofing material constructed of galvanized steel, ensuring that the poor will be protected from rain, wind and storms.
According to Bernard Philo-Jacques, director of Kobonal operations, ensuring quality construction is just part of Kobonal’s commitment to excellence. This partner is also committed to changing lives. Recipient families receive spiritual support so they may lay a solid foundation for a better future. “In addition to receiving a house, the Mission helps lift up families so they can improve their lives,” he says. This deepens their faith in God, and expands the Catholic community.
In my visits to the communities in and around Kobonal, we come across some heartwarming stories. Among these are the testimonies of Amonise and Venise Laurent, ages 13 and 10, who I first met over a year ago living in a cramped mud shack, along with their mom, dad and four siblings. Their living conditions were so miserable, I wasn’t surprised to learn that fevers, stomach ailments, skin rashes and eye infections plagued the entire family.
Over a year has passed now, and a miraculous change has taken place. Thanks to the generosity of Cross Catholic Outreach donors, Amonise, Venise, and the rest of the Laurent family have a sturdy new cement-block home. Their lives have been transformed!
For a family who previously lived in a dilapidated shack, this gift is an unimaginable blessing. Gone are the dour expressions I saw on the children’s faces a year ago. Today, they smile, laugh and play games with each other. The joys of their childhood have been restored.
The Laurent family is just one of the 80 Kobonal families whose lives have been forever transformed in 2019 by a safe and secure new house. These families were coming from situations where they had no protection from storms, from the wind or the rain. They had no privacy, no security. That all changed thanks to the generosity of our donors!