Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Brethren disaster project in Haiti is close to completing five homes.

A series of reports from the new Church of the Brethren disaster relief project in Haiti are showing swift progress, with five homes already nearing completion. The project was initiated earlier this year by Brethren Disaster Ministries and the Church of the Brethren Haiti Mission following the destruction caused by last Fall’s hurricanes.

Jeff Boshart, who is serving as Haiti Disaster Response Mission Coordinator, has provided the progress reports. He is working in Haiti with Klebert Exceus of Orlando, Fla., who serves as Haitian consultant for the project. The project is funded by a grant of $100,000 from the Church of the Brethren’s Emergency Disaster Fund.

The five homes close to completion are in the Fond Cheval area, a mountainous region near the town of Mirebalais. The area was heavily affected by the storms, and also is served by one of the Church of the Brethren preaching points as well as a Brethren-related school.

The five homes are "nearly finished except for one final outer coating," Boshart said. Fifteen more homes are to be worked on in Fond Cheval. In addition, a "house-by-house selection process" is being carried out to identify families to be served in the Mont Boulage area, where Boshart and Exceus received a list of 34 families affected by storm damage, have made 28 home visits, and have selected 21 houses for work. The project is budgeting $2,000 for each house.

"The personal stories of these families are all too familiar in Haiti," Boshart reported. "A family of six children can only afford to send the first three to school. A widow who had one whole side of her home collapse has moved away and hopes to come back if her children will help her rebuild. Young couples with no education and several children who have little hope for ever moving beyond subsistence living.... In general these families have one or two beds, some sleeping mats, a few cups and bowls and silverware, three or four chairs, and a few bags of clothing."

The project is working close to a school started by a Brethren preaching point in Fond Cheval, Boshart reported. "School fees at the small school started by the Brethren preaching point are only about $13 for the year but there are still families that can't afford to send their kids," he said.

With the unemployment rate at around 60 percent, many Haitians are desperate for work. The families being served in Fond Cheval are taking part in the building work, Boshart said. Recipients of homes carry water from a distance to mix the cement, and also help transport sand and other building materials. Also, some laborers will be paid for their work.

When the home repairs get started in Mont Boulage, villagers who are not being served will be paid in food and cement to do the heavy work. They will be responsible for their own home improvements. As the hurricane response progresses, Brethren Disaster Ministries will endeavor to bring in small groups of US Brethren to work with local Haitians once volunteer housing, safety, and transportation are definite.

In another aspect of the project, Boshart has met with a doctor and pharmacist connected with IMA World Health to talk about cooperative work to provide medicines and support to a hospital and clinic near an area flooded in last year’s storms. Boshart and Exceus also met with Church of the Brethren members in Gonaives and others in need of rebuilt homes in that area, as well as with an ecumenical pastor’s group that may work with the Brethren through a micro-loan program. They visited people who are living in homemade tents in Gonaives following the storms and flooding.

The pastors in Gonaives "shared that things are slow to return to normal," Boshart reported. "Some people are starting to move back into their homes.... Typhoid and malaria continue to be present in high levels.... UN food and water deliveries have ended.... Those who haven't left the city to live with families or move back into flooded out homes are living under homemade tents made out of bed sheets and tarps and what pieces of plastic they can find. We went to visit these tents and it is really tragic."

"It will be quite a challenge," Boshart said of the Church of the Brethren project in Haiti, "but the Haitian people are no strangers to hard work and sacrifice and seem to be eager to get going."

Source: 3/12/2009 Newsline Special

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