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GLOBAL DEVELOPMENT

Documenting a decade of change in Haiti

In January 2010 a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, destabilizing the country. Ten years later, WE Charity looks at 10 milestones from the rebuilding efforts in the countryside.

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GLOBAL DEVELOPMENT

Documenting a decade of change in Haiti

In January 2010 a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, destabilizing the country. Ten years later, WE Charity looks at 10 milestones from the rebuilding efforts in the countryside.

BY ERIN BARTON AND WANDA O'BRIEN

In the landlocked Central Plateau region of Haiti, tucked away in villages in the countryside, steady progress and significant development have occurred since the January 2010 7.0-magnitude earthquake that devastated the country. With a death toll in the hundreds of thousands and an estimated impact on three million people, aid organizations immediately responded to provide emergency relief in the aftermath. WE Charity was one of those on the ground, but, instead of going to Port-au-Prince, the organization set up operations far from the capital. The results have been transformative.

One decade later, WE Charity is pausing to recognize the efforts of Haitians who have uplifted their communities in the Central Plateau region. This narrative of positive change is not commonly trumpeted in headlines about aid in Haiti, but it should be. Because of the efforts of champion WE Charity team members, construction workers, dedicated community partners and devoted donors, WE proudly shares the following 10 pivotal moments, 10 years after the earthquake.

1. Rural roots: Established Hinche as WE Charity’s base of operations in Haiti

Haitian students play outside a new school built by WE.
Haitian students play outside a new school built by WE.

In January 2010, WE Charity had a choice: join the mass of aid organizations flooding the capital of Port-au-Prince to provide emergency relief to those nearest the epicenter of the earthquake, or double down on our global mandate of fostering rural development. WE Charity decided to establish its base operations in Hinche, located in the landlocked Central Plateau region, more than a two-hour drive from the capital along winding mountain roads. As internally displaced people flocked to the countryside in search of stable ground and family ties, the organization cemented itself as a long-term community development partner in the rural area, and channeled funding into comprehensive development that would address five key areas: education, health, water and sanitation, food security, and income opportunity.

Prior to the earthquake, rural residents who faced bleak economic options often left their land in the countryside to search for work in Port-au-Prince, which was not guaranteed. Partnering with community leaders and trusted development practitioners in the region, such as Partners in Health and Les Petits Frères et les Petites Soeurs de L’Incarnation, created the opportunity for WE Charity to not only support people through the earthquake aftermath but also to change the status quo in villages surrounding Hinche so people wouldn’t leave in the first place. The team started their work, one village at a time.

2. Block by block: Built model-school campuses in rural communities

Haitian students study outside.
Haitian students study outside.
Colorful classrooms built by WE in Haiti.
Colorful classrooms built by WE in Haiti.
Haitian students study outside a school built by WE.
Haitian students study outside a school built by WE.

The earthquake left children afraid to enter buildings for fear they’d be crushed, so WE Charity made sure its first rural school campus in Dos Palais was earthquake and hurricane proof, which served as a model for its development throughout rural areas. Work started in the spring of 2010, and two years later a brand-new campus was opened, with classrooms that were painted in a rainbow of colors chosen by the students, built to para-seismic and para-cyclonic standards by a leading Haitian engineer.

WE Charity hired community members as the construction crew, employing the parents of future students, thereby supporting economic development, encouraging school registration and fostering community participation and ownership. Further, WE’s engineer trained the local workers on para-seismic construction standards that they could replicate in their own homes and community buildings.

In 2011, when Haiti’s then-president, Michel Martelly, visited the Dos Palais campus, he stopped, surveyed the campus and started his speech to the gathered parents, students and community leaders by putting his hands on his head and expressing his surprise. He hadn’t expected to find a school so deep in the countryside that could serve as a model for the country.

WE Charity continues to provide quality learning environments in remote communities, including a village with no road access where construction materials must be hauled by mules in a three-hour trek through the mountain. As of January 2020, WE Charity has partnered with six communities to create high-quality and safe school campuses: Dos Palais, Manac, Terre Cassée, Marialapa, La Chanm and Kabayi.

3. Equipped the health care system

Medical workers unload hospital supplies.
Medical workers unload hospital supplies.
A medical worker assess a patient.
A medical worker assess a patient.

Immediately following the earthquake, WE Charity partnered with Partners in Health to fund relief efforts and coordinated medical shipments to equip urban and rural clinics and hospitals with urgently needed supplies to provide lifesaving care. Since then, the organization has continued to provide equipment where it is needed, including supporting oncology, orthopedics, pediatrics, radiology, urology and nutrition departments. WE has supported hospitals and health clinics in eight of Haiti’s 10 regions. This has resulted in approximately US$1 million worth of supplies being injected into the health system each year.

In addition to boosting the equipment in local hospitals, WE Charity funds regular mobile medical clinics, where local doctors and health practitioners travel to three partner communities to provide preventative healthcare education and treatment to communities.

4. Supported displaced and orphaned children

An orphanage built by WE in Haiti.
An orphanage built by WE in Haiti.

Protecting the rights of children is at the center of WE Charity’s work. Estimates of the number of orphaned and displaced children following the earthquake are as high as one million. Some of these children moved from the capital in search of family members in the countryside. To support at-risk youth, WE Charity constructed new dormitories for a girls’ home in Hinche in 2012 and 2013. The majority of these girls attended a locally supported WE Charity school, graduated with an interest in agriculture and have settled in the rural area.

Part of WE’s initial relief efforts also included supporting orphanages on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, to accommodate for the significant increase in the number of displaced and potentially orphaned children. The team provided these children’s homes with food, clothing, solar lights, water and medical supplies. The organization also invested in recreational, sport and cultural programming to provide spaces for self-expression and therapy.

5. Invested in water and sanitation programming to fight cholera outbreak

A hygiene block built by WE in Haiti.
A hygiene block built by WE in Haiti.
Construction of a hygiene block.
Construction of a hygiene block.

In the fall of 2010, cholera struck Haiti—the country’s first outbreak in over a century—after international organizations dumped waste into the country’s Meye Tributary System that flows into Haiti’s largest river and water source. The epidemic continued for nearly a year, with over 665,000 cases and more than 8,000 deaths. In response, WE Charity outfitted Hinche’s general hospital cholera ward, and also funded public health outreach and prevention programs (including a radio show). Most significantly, WE Charity ensured its students were protected where it mattered the most—in the schools’ bathrooms.

For each school campus, the organization constructed a hygiene block that protects local water sources and springs by not allowing sewage seepage to contaminate local waterways. The 20-foot impermeable pit latrines come with comfort seating, divisions for boys and girls, independent stalls for privacy, and gravity-fed handwashing stations. After each one is installed, WE hires a hygiene agent to supervise and train students to adopt strong hygiene practices. The hygiene block, paired with training and access to clean well water, eradicated cholera infection amount students in WE Charity–supported schools and also decreased other hygiene and water-related illnesses that had previously been present in the communities.

6. Supported play-inspired learning and arts programming

A school built by WE in Haiti.
A school built by WE in Haiti.
Haitian students play in a playground.
Haitian students play in a playground.

In 2011, WE Charity opened new classrooms in the community of Terre Cassée, including a classroom for early childhood education. The play-based, democratic-style learning environment was enhanced with toys and books. Through donor support, WE Charity has installed playgrounds and provided toys and puzzles on many school campuses. Teacher reports show that the cohort of students who played with toys in preschool learned to write more quickly because of improved fine motor skills, and grasped early math concepts (such as shapes, counting and colors) sooner.

Because of the quality of Terre Cassée’s infrastructure, in 2013 the Haitian government chose it to be part of the National Music School so that classical music training could be offered to vulnerable youth. WE has since expanded arts and music training across three additional school communities, and continues to ensure the distribution of toys and supplementary learning materials in all WE-supported schools.

7. Created long-term food security solutions

Haitian students help out in a school garden.
Haitian students help out in a school garden.
Haitian students learn in a school garden.
Haitian students learn in a school garden.

WE Charity’s food program is based on providing long-lasting solutions that are sustainable into the future, drawing on the expertise of a local agronomist. First in Dos Palais, and then in La Chanm, WE Charity established self-sustaining school gardens to provide meals for students, as well as teaching them effective farming methods. Many students who tend to the gardens become aspiring agronomists themselves, while their parents also receive training that improves their own agricultural know-how.

School gardens, kitchens and harvest storage systems have become staples when designing new school campuses. The success of the food program has resulted in the organization exploring the creation of an agricultural social enterprise in the coming years.

8. Local heroes: Responded to Hurricane Matthew

Haitians rebuild after Hurricane Matthew.
Haitians rebuild after Hurricane Matthew.
Construction to rebuild after Hurricane Matthew in Haiti.
Construction to rebuild after Hurricane Matthew in Haiti.

When Hurricane Matthew blasted through southwestern Haiti in late 2016, WE Charity’s Haiti team was called upon by hospitals and other community-based organizations more than seven hours away to help assess the situation and support relief efforts. The team didn’t hesitate. Construction workers from the Central Plateau region joined the WE Charity crew, loading the truck with tools to make the long journey. They repaired roofs torn from houses and assembled and delivered emergency food packages, health kits and solar lights.

The largest support the team provided was to the village impacted by the hurricane that was farthest from the road. No other aid had gotten through to Tanfie when the WE Charity truck arrived. The school in the village was missing its roof, the majority of houses had collapsed, and almost all farm animals had been killed in the three days the community residents withstood the storm. WE Charity got to work repairing the school, reinforcing the classrooms (this time with para-cyclonic engineering) and equipping the school with pedagogical materials and toys.

9. Celebrated parent graduates from goat-raising opportunity program

Graduates from a goat-raising opportunity program in Haiti.
Graduates from a goat-raising opportunity program in Haiti.

In 2016, the first cohort of parents graduated from the organization’s 18-month income-opportunity program, known as Granmoun Tet Nou. This was a major milestone for the Haiti team and its community partners. The program nurtures life skills, animal husbandry know-how and entrepreneurship, helping parents to create a livelihood that will pay for their children’s education and boost their family’s income. Every participant joins a solidarity group, takes part in weekly trainings and, one-by-one, receives a goat for breeding. Participants keep the mother goat, but give her first offspring to another member of the group, until all participants have at least one goat to raise. The goat becomes a self-sustaining source of income that helps families pay for school fees and materials, and provides a source of income for families to invest back into their own farms.

10. Installed solar technology to bring light where it was needed most

Light from solar technology lights up buildings in Haiti.
Light from solar technology lights up buildings in Haiti.

For many years, WE Charity distributed small solar lights to students to enable children to study at home in the evenings without risking the fire hazard of a kerosene lamp. In 2017, WE Charity installed the first set of solar panels at Marialapa school to see how the electricity would benefit the students and their families. With lights in the classrooms, the school campus became a community center. Students returned to the school in the evening for group study sessions and the community hosted movie nights for entertainment. Community members began to refer to the school as a “town square” and a point of pride.

From 2018 to 2020, WE Charity committed to providing Ste. Thérèse Hospital in Hinche with a sustainable solution to its frequent power outages and costly generator operating costs: solar. The first phase of solar panels helped ensure 24-hour coverage of the hospital’s emergency unit, including critical lifesaving devices. The goal of the second phase of the project, happening in 2020, is to make the whole hospital the first 100 percent solar-powered government hospital in the country. The solar electricity offsets the price of fuel needed to run the hospital’s generator, enabling the hospital to invest its dollars in patient care and medical services.

Erin Barton is WE Charity’s Haiti Country Director as well WE’s Chief Development Officer. Wanda O’Brien is WE’s International Editor.