Three years later: Haitians rebuilding communities, one person at a time
France Remy’s life took a drastic turn three years ago.
When Haiti shook on Jan. 12, 2010, she was volunteering as a nurse in Leogane, the earthquake’s epicenter. Her house totally collapsed, leaving her homeless like over one million other Haitians.
In the camp she has called home since then, France quickly got involved with a network of people working to respond to the changing needs of their fellow displaced people.
“During the first months after the earthquake, I saw the main work of nonprofits was focused in health, food, and emergency response,” she says. “After this I saw an increasing focus in installing tents and providing the basic conditions to live” in the camps.
Thanks to the generosity of donors, AFSC was part of the immediate emergency response, sending funds through partner organizations for medical supplies, meals, and shelter. But AFSC’s history in Haiti started many years earlier. For several decades, AFSC worked with rural communities in the remote Grand’Anse region in southwest Haiti. That program, now locally controlled, left in place a successful community health program and medical clinic that serves many towns and villages.
In the months following the 2010 disaster, as formal camps were erected for people who would not be able return to their homes, AFSC contributed to the development of temporary housing.
“I saw all people started to work together in a collaborative way after the earthquake in order to face the emergency,” says France. “The level of local organizing increased during this time.”
But the as months passed and conditions for many remained dire, people in the camps expressed the need for other kinds of assistance.
Camp security—to protect residents from theft and violence—was needed. Rather than impose security through force, AFSC worked with camp residents to bring safety through a network of safety teams, armed with flashlights, whistles, and walkie-talkies.
Since the earthquake, AFSC Haiti has worked to provide
humanitarian assistance, develop models of peace
education, and support livelihood projects, including the
2011 technical training that these young women attended
Around the same time, with an eye to building peace for the future, AFSC focused on educating young people by training them in conflict resolution, job skills, and how to work with the government on housing matters.
In Leogane, France’s camp, AFSC set out to build bridges between young people and community leaders and authorities by opening a dialogue on ways to rebuild community life.
“I met AFSC at my camp and decided to collaborate with them when I noticed they were the only organization working in conflict resolution, citizen organizing, and participation in Leogane,” says France, who took part in one of AFSC’s first trainings on urban planning and conflict transformation. “This peace network in Leogane is still working three years after the earthquake, giving a benefit to schools, communities, and local leaders.”
Today, AFSC is expanding this program through more than 12 community-based organizations in urban neighborhoods in Leogane, as well as Croix Des Bouquets, Martissant, and Site Soleil.
Louis “Nene” Ernet, who lives in Camp Corail in Croix Des Bouquets, says there’s a real sense of urgency among residents to organize and resolve their problems as a community. The camp still hosts more than 69,000 people.
In 2013, AFSC will build a network to connect
organizations working in urban areas with high levels
of violence. The local network will train 225 community
leaders (mainly youth) to promote conflict
transformation, negotiation and community leadership,
and risk anticipation.
“We are transforming our camp in a new community. We need to learn how to do it and how to organize ourselves; we need to learn how to resolve our problems,” he says. “We have permission to live here for just a few more years, and we have a lot of problems and needs to attend to.”
Ivan Monzon, AFSC’s country representative for Haiti, explains that Nene’s group is one of many new community and neighborhood groups who are looking for ways to support their communities with advice or training to face their conflicts.
From her own makeshift home in Leogane, France is rising to meet those needs; she coordinates a peace-building network with 10 other local organizations in areas affected by violence, working with Ivan and AFSC through the new expansion of the local peace networks in Port Au Prince.