Haiti earthquake: How CARE rebuilds alongside local people

Gellia Voltaire from Carrefour Haiti in her new shelter provided by CARE. These shelters may be basic but they are a real improvement on the makeshift camps many have lived in since last January.

63-year old Gellia Voltaire sits on a mattress in her newly built shelter in Carrefour, Haiti. She is wearing a doctor’s coat she bought at a local market. It still bears the name of a Miami hospital and the employee who once wore it.

Just west of Port-au-Prince, Carrefour suffered severe damage when the earthquake struck on January 12, 2010. Life has never been easy here, but since the disaster things have become almost unbearable.

In 35 seconds the earthquake transformed 90 percent of Carrefour into a heap of ruins.

Gellia’s tiny frame looks almost lost in the spotless white garment. "I used to be quite chubby”, she says with a grin. “But ever since the earthquake, I just grew skinnier and skinnier. Life was very hard…  But now I have a house and I am gaining weight again", she laughs and rubs her belly.

What helped Gellia be able to live again and begin to put on much needed pounds?

“I subscribed to CARE’s list of people in need for a shelter”, she explains. “My house was completely destroyed. All I had left was one mattress.”

CARE prioritises the most vulnerable: widows, chronically ill, families with children, female-headed households.

"The carpenters did not ask for anything"

When Gellia was selected to receive a shelter, she needed to organise five volunteers to help her set it up. CARE provides the materials and two trained carpenters to support construction.

“The carpenters did not ask for anything, they just came and helped me.” Gellia still seems amazed that this was free of charge.

Gellia did not sit around and watch the others work for her - she got involved! While CARE provided the cement, she found water, sand and grit to mix it up.

“I did not have money, so I just went around the neighborhood and asked for support.”

This sense of community is strong in Carrefour and across Haiti. CARE makes use of this and engages people who receive a shelter in every step of the process. They are informed about its design and purpose and also suggestions on how to extend it. They take part in its process of construction. This helps people embrace their new home and feel responsible for its maintenance.

Haitians have a distinct way of answering the question “how are you”. They say “pas pi mal”, which literally means “not bad”. This is a means of neither bragging nor complaining, in case things actually are going really great or very bad.

For Gellia, and others in her position, life is “pas pi mal” right now. They share one chapter of their life story. It starts with the end of their world in January last year, and leads to a wooden frame, plastic tarps and a tin roof by autumn. The next pages will have to be written carefully to lead to a happy ending.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.