Haiti earthquake: Jean Angélène's story

Jean Angélène with one of her four daughters in the kiosk which she runs out of her new home which CARE has helped to restore

Jean Angélène and her family were among the more than 1.5 million Haitians left homeless after the deadly earthquake that hit the country five years ago. They, along with thousands of others, had to live in tents in makeshift camps that sprung up in the aftermath of the disaster.

This was until they joined a unique CARE programme that helps camp residents move into permanent neighbourhoods – matching homeless families with residents whose houses remained standing but need repairs. People like Angélène are matched with a local family who host them, rent-free for at least a year. In return, the host family receives CARE’s financial and technical help to repair their earthquake-damaged home.

When it comes time to selecting a host, CARE encourages participants to approach families they already know, with whom they feel comfortable sharing quarters. CARE provides both families help in developing livelihoods, like Angélène's shop. The objective is for everyone to become financially self-sufficient and be able to afford their own homes in the long term.

She, her fisherman husband, and their four children have moved from a makeshift shelter in their seaside community into the home of her friend Fleurime Gracia. CARE arranged repairs for the cracked beams and collapsed walls of Fleurime’s low concrete house, and provided training and seed funds for Angélène to start a small shop on the porch, selling groceries, soap and toiletries. Life has improved dramatically since the dark days after the earthquake.

“We lived under a tarp for a long time. People were sick, and the heat was terrible,” says Angélène.

When the CARE organisers and engineers came to look at the houses, I was so happy. I didn’t know what to do before.

Makeshift tents similar to what Angélène lived in before joing CARE's programme © CARE / Evelyn Hockstein

Makeshift tents similar to what Angélène lived in before joing CARE's programme

Thanks to the exceptionally hard work of the community and the CARE team, every homeless member of the fishing community has successfully transitioned into permanent housing through the programme. Every one of them has a rent-free home for at least 18 months. Local workers, hired and trained to complete repairs, have brought new skills to the community. And, as both host and guest families develop small businesses and other income-earning activities, they are planning ahead for the future.

“It’s one of CARE’s most innovative approaches, encouraging self-help and a sense of community,” says CARE’s John Augustin, who manages the programme. “It’s a great example of how we’ve successfully transitioned from short-term relief to sustainable ways Haitians can mutually support each other beyond CARE’s direct involvement.”

“We earn more than we ever did before,” Angélène says. “We’re paying school fees for all of our kids and hoping to save up enough so my husband can buy his own fishing equipment.” She’s already scouring neighbourhoods looking for a place the family can afford to rent.

Her two older kids scamper out from the porch, thread their way between the closely placed houses and reach the open field that was crowded with tents and tarps to shelter people after the earthquake. Today it’s empty, except for an impromptu football game.

Boys play football in an open area which formerly housed displaced people after the earthquake © CARE / Evelyn Hockstein

Boys play football in an open area which formerly housed displaced people after the earthquake

Immediately after the earthquake CARE executed a vast emergency response program, providing initially tarps, non-food-items and shelter kits. Later on CARE provided over 2500 Transitional shelters and Hygiene kits. Currently CARE works in an integrated transitional approach that includes support to rebuild homes, close camps and restore neighborhoods.

As part of the transition process, CARE also plans, where possible, to upgrade the former camp spaces into public areas that should help breathe new life into the communities. The future for Angélène, Fleurime and their neighbours still holds challenges and there will be other disasters to come. But they have established a strong community here which will be more prepared for future shocks. 

CARE's picture

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