‘Rebuild Haiti’ makes progress
Mark Kelly, Baptist Press
April 06, 2011

‘Rebuild Haiti’ makes progress

‘Rebuild Haiti’ makes progress
Mark Kelly, Baptist Press
April 06, 2011

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Southern Baptist rebuilding efforts

in Haiti since the devastating earthquake 15 months ago have made good progress

— and the improvements are as much spiritual as physical, leaders in the effort


“Rebuild Haiti,” a cooperative Baptist venture to put as many as 6,200 families

in decent housing by the end of 2013, has completed 796 homes, with another 130

nearing completion, said Jeff Palmer, executive director of Baptist Global

Response (BGR). Haitian Baptists also are participating in the initiative as

are the International Mission Board, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and

Florida Baptist Convention.

“In the aftermath of the earthquake, getting an effective program of rebuilding

was very challenging,” Palmer said. “Moving people and money into the country,

assembling all the supplies needed, just dealing with the nuts and bolts of

getting things done in a place devastated by the earthquake was hard. Doing it

in a way that enables Haitians to stand on their own, rather than continue the

dependency patterns of the past, made it even a greater challenge.”

Photo by Nathanael Hollands

When volunteer medical professionals are unavailable for Southern Baptist relief efforts in Haiti, Esther, left, steps in to help. An 18-year-old Haitian who dreams of one day attending medical school herself, she has learned the basics of tending wounds and visits patients house to house.

Fritz Wilson, director of disaster relief and recovery for the Florida Baptist

Convention, said the decision to use local labor and supplies has multiplied

Rebuild Haiti’s impact.

“A key component in the strategy is that we are purchasing materials from

in-country sources, work is done by Haitian men whom we have hired from the

communities, local churches are helping us identify the people who need the

houses the most, and we are building homes back where people lived before the

quake so that they do not have to relocate,” Wilson said. “This means we are

impacting the communities much more than just providing houses, by putting

money back in the economy, providing jobs and elevating the church’s status in

the community.”

The Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake killed 300,000 people and left more than 1

million homeless. Even before the earthquake, Haiti’s people were the poorest

in the Western hemisphere. Currently, only about 2 percent of the rubble had

been cleared and aid officials said clearing all the rubble would fill 1,000

trucks a day for more than 1,000 days.

More than $11.2 million has been donated to the Baptist relief effort through

various channels. The Florida convention reported the $7 million they received

included $171,665 sent by individuals, Sunday School classes and individuals

specifically to build houses. State Baptist conventions also have gotten

involved in Rebuild Haiti, like the Kentucky Baptist Convention, which has

earmarked $200,000 for the effort.

The challenges of rebuilding communities from the inside out are being met as

partners in the joint venture demonstrate a spirit of cooperation and work

alongside Haitian believers to achieve a shared vision, Wilson said. He noted

that Haitian Baptists assisted in designing a 12-by-16-foot cement block “transitional

home” for quake survivors and looking into the future at what kind of

communities would reflect God’s love for Haitians.

“The brightest spot in this is how the partners are all working with a common

mission and vision,” Wilson said. “It is much like the tribes of Israel working

on the walls of Jerusalem. Each group working on our own section, but we are

tying it all together to push back the darkness.”

Communities like the Port-au-Prince suburb of Damien need more than just

physical rebuilding, Palmer said.

“Most disaster recovery efforts focus on the externals like reconstructing

buildings, but Christian recovery also understands the need for an inner change

that creates new lives,” Palmer said. “In Rebuild Haiti, we are encouraging

community members to lift their eyes beyond their own needs to the needs of

others. We have structured the initiative to encourage people to take

responsibility for their future and work hard to make a better life for the

entire community.

“What we see happening in Damien is not only is a community getting new houses,

they are also getting a new community,” Palmer added. “As the houses are being

constructed, we see more people helping and sharing to ensure that everyone

gets what they need. For example, one widow received a house but didn’t have

enough money to furnish it. The local church members used their own money to

buy her a bed, chair and small table.”

The change in Damien has been dramatic, said Jo Brown, who works with her

husband David to direct BGR work in the Americas.

“When our assessment team arrived in Damien after the earthquake, the community

felt very eerie,” Brown said. “I was ready to leave the moment we got there.

People were sitting on the ground, staring blankly into nothingness. We saw

practically no businesses.

“A year later, Damien has been transformed. Many small businesses have cropped

up. People at the building sites — all ages, both male and female — are

carrying block and needed items to the sites. We see hope and hear laughter.

People smile and greet each other and stop to talk.

“Where I once felt fear, now I am able to walk alone in this community, even

after dark,” Brown added. “Each morning before work is started on the sites,

the U.S. volunteers join hands with the Haitians and sing and praise God. The

focus is not on what the North Americans are doing, but on God’s provision.”

The change in Damien is a good example of a vision to see “people experiencing

a full and meaningful life with hope and peace that inspires them to raise

their families in confidence, build their communities with dignity and share

this life with others,” Palmer said.

“We see homes built, but people are being built up as well. We see communities

working together for the benefit of all and we see people whose lives are being

literally transformed” by the message of hope Baptist volunteers are living out

among them and sharing verbally, Palmer said.

“I want to thank Southern Baptists as well as others for their gifts and

volunteerism that is such a key part in this transformation that we’re seeing,”

Palmer added. “And I want also thank our Haitian partners who are opening up

their lives to the transforming power of God.”

People in Damien and other Rebuild Haiti communities won’t forget who helped

them find new life when their world was in a shambles, said David Brown.

“Our friends in Haiti want their friends in the U.S. to know how thankful they

are to God that they were not forgotten in that desperate hour,” Brown said. “Haiti

has such a long way to go, but we have begun to see the first fruit of what we

believe will be a harvest of new life in Haiti.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Kelly is an assistant editor and senior writer for Baptist

Press. Barbara Denman, director of communications for the Florida Baptist

Convention, contributed to this article.)

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