Haven Building in Haiti

Haven building in Haiti2

When Leslie Buckley went to work in Haiti in 2004 he was moved by the poverty he witnessed.

So in 2009 he launched Haven with his wife Carmel to assist rural districts with housing and shelter. Then on that fateful Tuesday afternoon, January 12th, 2010 an earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale, hit the capital city Port au Prince. We all remember the terrible images and news reports that followed. Most buildings were destroyed and people had to move out into the streets and sleep on pavements or in their cars. They created shacks out of rubble and debris they found so Haven began erecting houses for those left homeless.

Three years on, Haiti is no longer in the news. But Haitians are still living with the consequences of the earthquake damage. Over 360,000 people continue to live in tented camps.

Last November Dubliners Robert Hanly, Tom McManamon and Patrick Cumiskey travelled to Haiti with Haven to assist with the charity’s Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project programme, which is a week of home building. The three friends chose Haven because they retain such a small percentage of the funds and do everything possible to keep costs down, so as much money as possible goes to the Haitian people.

Robert, Patrick and Tom raised €4,500 each by teaching self-defence courses, taking part in Movember and running race nights here in Dublin. The Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project was organised through a partnership with Habitat for Humanity a US charity, to reduce Haven’s expenses. Ex-president Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn are big supporters of this charity as is the singer Garth Brooks and they were there as volunteers too, along with approximately seven hundred other helpers.

Despite mixing with celebrities, the Dublin lads were living in small tents in a compound in Christianville, Léogâne, which is located 29km west of the capital Port au Prince. Robert told us about his experience,“although we were all well-travelled, we’d never seen poverty on the scale that we saw in Haiti. Usually there are pockets of poor people or ghettos, but everyone there is poverty stricken”.

A memory that remains with him is of “the children scavenging in dumps and sewers for plastic bottles. They gather them up into huge plastic bags and then they can get $1 for twenty of these bags and that‘s the money they use to buy food”.

The Haven and Habitat for Humanity volunteers got up at half five each morning and travelled to the building site. The Haitians, who were to move into the new homes, assisted each day. Each house had a team of nine or ten working on it. Despite the harshness of the poverty in the displacement camps where they still lived, Robert recollects how happy and joyful the soon-to-be homeowners were.

Everyone worked in extreme heat and humidity, forty degrees and over. They had to erect the walls, windows, doors and roofs, securing them with hurricane clips. But all Robert remembers is the “great craic and laughs we had and all the Haitians smiles”.

They communicated through pigeon French. Robert says each new owner was asked if they had any particular requests for their home. “Colour was the main thing”, he smiles as he remembers. “They all loved picking the paint colour. They didn’t care if the walls were slanting or if there was a leak in the roof, they just wanted a bright colourful home”.

The volunteers finished up at five each evening, dripping in paint and sweat, mixed in with sun cream & insect repellent and “all we were able for was a few beers and then straight to bed, but we slept so soundly, after all that hard work and laughter”. But on one of the evenings, Garth Brooks did give an impromptu concert and everyone stayed up later than usual.

At the end of the eight-day build, there were a hundred new residences for families to move into. Some of the volunteers had been there previously and they were just so delighted to see the progress and improvements made to the homes built over the last few years. The proud homeowners attached a front porch or an extra bedroom. They planted up the gardens with plants and flowers and assembled garden sheds. The houses were spotless, as they had such great self-pride in them.

A sad reminder of the chaos in Haiti is the fact that each home has two doors. In case of a break-in, if an attacker comes in through the front door at night, they are not trapped. They can run out the back door. This sense of violence was also very evident in the camp where the friends stayed and Robert recalls that “security was tight with heavily armed guards and barbed wire fences ran round the outside of the compound”.

Haiti is only the size of Munster; however there are approximately 10 million people living there. It is impossible to carry out a census and there is no way to gauge the demographics of the inhabitants. This whole Caribbean nation is a shantytown. Robert says that “Napoleon Bonaparte funded all his European wars out of the agricultural profits made in Haiti, as the land is so fertile”. He clarifies that land ownership is a major issue because of disputes. “No-one knows who really owns what land, so buying land to build new homes takes a long time, while land ownership is being confirmed”.

Haven will continue to erect safe and permanent housing. They have begun training Haitians to support themselves, in the areas of construction, agriculture, hygiene promotion, water and sanitation and solar power installation and maintenance. Once the housing projects are completed, education will become Haven’s sole focus.

Haven continues to raise finance for the building project and the Haven Rugby Luncheon is taking place on March 8th 2013 in the Four Seasons Hotel in Ballsbridge. Email info@havenpartnership.com to reserve your place and get to meet George Hook and Paul O’Connell.

Haven: www.havenpartnership.com
Email: info@havenpartnership.com
Telephone: 01 681 5440

Tracy O’Brien