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Building a new Haiti from the rubble of tragedy

In the labyrinth of narrow laneways that cut through Villa Rosa, Saul Darbouze leads us to the place he calls home. The path changes from concrete to mud as we enter further into this tangled web of side-streets and alleyways. Eventually we arrive at our destination, a small white building fronted by a porch on which Saul’s three dogs sleep. Home sweet home.

Saul is still settling in. His memories are still raw of his old house, which stood on the same spot, and of his wife who died when it crumbled to the ground. They had raised a family there together but when the earth shook on January 12th, 2010, the home they had worked so hard to build crashed to the ground, destroying everything. 

Haiti anniversary collage


Top left: Sauvah Anderson (29), who studies welding at the training centre in Fonds Parisien which Trócaire constructed using donations from the Irish public.

Top right: Saul Darbouze at his new home, which was funded by donations to Trócaire, at Villa Rosa in Port au Prince, Haiti.

Bottom:  Trócaire has used donations from the Irish public to fund the building of 1,500 houses and the repair of a further 1,500 ( Photos: Eoghan Rice / Trócaire).

As a driver for his local parish, Saul was on the road when the earthquake struck.

“I was driving the car when it started to shake,” he recalls. “The nuns who were in the car asked me, ‘what are you doing?’ and I said ‘it’s not me, it’s the ground’. I had to leave the car and walk home. I was very worried for my family. When I got home, everything was destroyed.”

Homeless and grieving, Saul was forced to build a shack out of corrugated iron to live in. It was a pitiful existence, in no way suitable for a man of 74 years of age.

“It was a very difficult life,” he says in his understating way.

After 11 months in the shack, Saul was thrown a lifeline by people in Ireland. Through donations to Trócaire, a new house was built for Saul, allowing him to recover and get his life back on track. He looks around at the devastation that is still evident in the Villa Rosa district of Port au Prince and he says he feels “very lucky” to have a permanent roof over his head. He knows that in Haiti even something as basic as shelter cannot be taken for granted. 

“People should have access to the minimum they need to survive,” he says. “I am lucky because I can survive but many others cannot. People should be able to live with respect.”

The Haiti earthquake was one of those disasters so big that it was almost too difficult to comprehend. At 4.53pm on the afternoon of January 12th, 2010, people were going about their daily routine. By 4.54pm everything had changed. Entire cities brought to the ground, 250,000 bodies lying lifeless under the rubble.

The earthquake lasted just 33 seconds but during that time Haitians died at the rate of up to 7,500 per second. Thirty-three seconds that changed a country forever.

People in Ireland opened their hearts to Haiti, donating €7.58m to fund Trócaire’s relief operation. Half of this money was donated at parish collections all over Ireland. The response was enormous, and so too was the relief operation.

In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, Trócaire used donations to provide food for 1.5 million people, healthcare to 1 million people and shelter to 160,000 people. In the days and weeks that followed the earthquake, Irish donations were used to keep people alive.

Haiti anniversary collage 2


Top left: Azor Bebie (24) at her new home in Villa Rosa, Port au Prince: “Our house was destroyed in the earthquake. It was a terrible moment. It was so unexpected. I can’t explain what it was like.” 

Top right: Jocelyne Dece with her daughter Yolande at their new home, which was paid for by donations to Trócaire. “I love my new home,” she said. “I want to thank the people who made it possible. There are so many people who need homes like this. I pray for them.”

Bottom: Villa Rosa in Port au Prince, Haiti, a densely populated area where one third of houses were either destroyed or damaged beyond repair by the January 2010 earthquake (Photos: Eoghan Rice / Trócaire).

Having provided short-term emergency relief for people left homeless by the earthquake, we have now moved into long-term projects aimed at rebuilding Haiti and bringing real change to people’s lives.

Two hours drive east of Port au Prince, Sauvah Anderson is preparing to do his bit to help with the reconstruction. Sauvah was trapped for two hours underneath the rubble of his school when it collapsed during the earthquake. Fortunately for him, he was on the top floor of the building when it collapsed – most of the pupils in the classrooms below were killed.

He was rescued and left Port au Prince to return to his home town of Fonds Parisien, where Trócaire had teamed-up with the Carmelite Sisters to build a training centre and school for almost 300 young people. The centre, funded entirely by Trócaire, equips the students with skills needed in the reconstruction of Haiti, including welding and masonry. Sauvah is hoping to use his new skills to help the country.

“I would like to do this type of work and stay in this area,” he says. “I am Haitian so I need to participate in the reconstruction. It is an obligation. You can’t wait for others – if you don’t do it yourself nothing will get done.”

Across Haiti, there are thousands of people such as Saul and Sauvah; people who have been given hope through housing, education, health and training programmes funded by Irish donations. Through these long-term programmes, Haiti is beginning to see glimpses of light.

It took centuries of conflict, misrule and exploitation to make Haiti the way it was and that cannot be reversed in just two years. We must dig deep into the rubble of that tragedy and build a new Haiti. Only by working with the Haitian people over time can we begin to reverse the impact of generations of abandonment and exploitation. 

The donations received for Haiti after the earthquake have made a massive difference. It has saved lives. Our task now is to let people live. 

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