This week I have taken the ECHO representative (ECHO are the European Union’s humanitarian activities funding body) for Haiti around our project sites, so that he can see what his money is in the process of provising. Donor visits are always a little nerve-wracking; you never quite know what the communities are going to say to them when they are asked questions, and you just hope some stupid little thing doesn’t make you look like an un-professional organisation – and instead that the rep will come away with the impression that you are a supremely professional organisation delivering high quality work in an entirely appropriate manner and are worthy of increased funding.
I took him to see the first shelter we have built, up in the mountains. This was our pilot house; we put it up, and through the process learnt better ways to do it again on a larger scale (we have 499 more shelters to build this year) and we got feedback about improvements to the design. I remember sitting with Tom, our previous construction advisor, as he designed this shelter. I can remember him playing around with it so that for no increased cost we could provide for the people a house which was what they wanted, as well as being hurricane and earthquake resistant. In the photos you can see a tradition Haitian ‘Creole’ house – and also our shelter. I am so proud of how similar it looks to the traditional houses that have always been built in these mountains. I look around at other designs that the other Agencies are building and I feel overwhelmingly proud that, although we are aware that our verandah doesn’t meet hurricane resistance guidelines, it does fit into the local landscape with a greater ease. It is not just a house of practical purpose, which will stay standing in a natural disaster, but one where the owners can feel at home, broadly similar in look and style to the home that they lost. A place where they can start again, somewhere that feels slightly familiar.
The first shelter that we have built has been for two old ladies who were living together in a shack made of … well, anything they could find, really. Pieces of tin, banana leaves, cardboard, plastic. You can see it in the photo, to the left of the new house we have built for them. You might mistake it for a pile of debris, so look closely. The two ladies themselves at sat in front of it. One of these old ladies was there when the ECHO rep saw the shelter, and he asked her a question. “Who built you this house?”.
She pointed up at the sky and said, “God did”.
The ECHO rep persisted, “But which organisation came and built this house?”.
“God built this house for me”.
“The European Union fund Tearfund to built shelters, so the European Union has paid for this house for you”.
“God gave it to me”.
I walked away smiling to myself, thrilled at the thought of giving 499 more families the same gift from God.