“Building back better” is a buzz word in my industry, much as “Do no harm” guides the actions of Doctors. We shouldn’t just restore people to their previous state of poverty, but ensure that what is restored is an improvement to their life – restoring their dignity as well as those things which they lost in the earthquake.
We are trying to build new homes for vulnerable people in the community; most of our beneficiaries are elderly, disabled, or both. As part of this process we are mobilising skilled tradespeople from within those communities, training them in techniques of construction which produce shelters which are both hurricaine and earthquake resistant. Yesterday I went to see some of the training which our team was doing; watching them teach health and safety standards to a group of rural carpenters was quite bizarre, but then seeing the carpenters take on the learning about methods of improving the strength of a house, as they constructed paper models so enthusiastically, I realised that what we are doing here is vital. We don’t need to build back better, if we teach the people to build back better themselves.
I have been out to visit some of the shelters we are building. One is for an elderly, disabled woman – and her grown-up, disabled son. I have attached a photo of their home from before the ‘tremblement de terre’, and the one we have now built them. In the interim they were living in a shack made from the remnants of their homes, perhaps 3m squared. We have built back better for them – their new house has bigger floor space, and will resist disaster – but have we helped them better their lives? Before the earthquake they lived in poverty, with no income except what Wilfred earned through begging on the road; now, they have a shelter, but they still live in it in poverty, with no livelihood. As we are now starting to plan our projects for the next project year, these questions come into my mind, and I wonder if the donors who give us the funds will feel the same way. ….