ITECA, a Development and Peace partner in Haiti, built earthquake-proof housing in the aftermath of 2016’s Hurricane Matthew. These withstood the Aug. 14 earthquake. Photo courtesy ITECA

Luke Stocking: An ode to sustainable development

  • September 4, 2021

“We didn’t have any houses destroyed.”

These are not words you will hear coming out of Haiti very often these days as the country was devastated again by an earthquake on Saturday, Aug. 14. These words, though, are true, and they remind me why it is so important to be committed to sustainable development. They are words that make me proud to work for Development and Peace – Caritas Canada.

These words are the testimony of Elifaite St-Pierre, manager of ITECA, one of our Haitian partners. ITECA is an acronym that in French stands for The Institute for Technology and Animation. Animation in this sense does not mean bringing pictures to life but rather, as its mission statement reads, “accompanying and supporting peasant communities in their efforts to change their living conditions.”

ITECA oversaw the building of 25 earthquake-resistant houses in the commune of Cavaillon following Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Earthquake resistant housing is, obviously, built at a higher cost and requires engineers who are knowledgeable in the technology. The funds for the project were raised here in Canada. St-Pierre says, “We didn’t have any houses destroyed. We have two or three that have suffered breakages, but the structure has resisted, it has not fallen. For us, this is a very good result. This was truly an important opportunity to test the quality and sustainability of the homes.”

The 25 houses were built as part of a $1.8-million project that also repaired hundreds of other homes damaged by Hurricane Matthew and rebuilt the agricultural capacity of the region.

The construction cost for each house was about $9,000. Beneficiaries were expected to contribute labour to the construction of the houses and cover costs of materials — about 30 per cent of the cost — which was provided to them in the form of a loan. The earthquake-resistant construction was done under the supervision of an engineer. On Aug. 14 they passed the test.

The houses are very simple and may not look like much to middle-class eyes. They consist of two bedrooms, a common room and a veranda. Some do not even have electricity. But they are safe, and in an earthquake the difference between life and death.

“If I had been in my old house, I’m not sure I would still be alive,” Marc-Yves Milien says, recounting how violently the earth had shaken. Milien is a street vendor who once lived in a flimsy shack that was destroyed by the hurricane in 2016. For two years he lived with his children in a makeshift shelter made from corrugated iron.

The project provided him and his family of eight with a proper home. “Life is so different,” he says, putting his hands on the walls of the home that resisted the 7.2-magnitude earthquake perfectly.

After an earthquake, many people will not sleep indoors until they feel safe, fearing that an after-shock may collapse their home. Jean-Meyer Exantus is another beneficiary of the housing project. The father of four slept outside of his ITECA built home with his family the first night. He feared that it might not hold up, but his fear was short-lived. They were back in their home feeling safe the very next night.

Cavaillon was hit hard by the earthquake. Everywhere else in the commune one can see houses reduced to rubble or cracked so badly that no one dares to go back. Even the Catholic church was destroyed.

St-Pierre points out that there were 12 houses in the area built by another NGO that did not stand. It is a point of pride that ITECA takes the time and care necessary to do things properly and to reach the margins. As St-Pierre says, “Many NGOs, when there are disasters, prefer to work near large cities, where there is more visibility. The needs are great in remote and marginalized areas.”

In our partnership with ITECA there is no rush to have things done as quickly as possible simply to please our donors. The relationship we have with ITECA is one of trust that has been built up over many years. Partnerships of trust and tested by time are the ones that yield the best results — as the Cavaillon housing project demonstrates.

While people can understandably want to see results as quickly as possible, the generosity of so many Canadians could have been wasted in the minutes that it took to cause all the damage. But because things were done properly, it is a good news story. We didn’t have any houses destroyed.

(Stocking is Deputy Director of Public Awareness & Engagement, Ontario and Atlantic Regions for Development and Peace.)

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