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Jan11FriThree years after the earthquake, The Salvation Army's Integrated Family Support Project is helping Haiti's most vulnerable. January 11, 2013 Interview by Kristin Fryer
On January 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, leaving thousands dead and one million homeless. Since then, The Salvation Army has been providing relief and support to vulnerable Haitians, helping them to rebuild their lives and their country.
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In March 2012, the Army expanded its services in Haiti, launching a five-year $3.6-million Integrated Family Support Project (IFSP), which is funded entirely by The Salvation Army in Canada and Bermuda. Kristin Fryer, staff writer, spoke to Jodel Pierre, project manager of the IFSP in Delmas, Haiti, about the project's goals and the progress it has made so far.
On a personal level, how did the earthquake affect you and your family?
It was a difficult time for my family. Immediately after, communication was impossible because the phones were down. For the first few days, we did not know whether our family members were alive or dead. Because of the earthquake, gas stations were not open, so we had to walk long distances to check on family and friends.
All around us, it felt like the end of life itself because all of the infrastructure had collapsed. We did not have electricity and food was very scarce. Everywhere you went, you saw bodies in the streets and people crying because they had lost their homes, jobs or family members.
I lost my nephew in the earthquake. He was in a building that collapsed and we were told that everyone in the building died. We never saw his body.
How would you describe the situation in Haiti today?
We are rebuilding. Even though life is more difficult now, and the economic situation is worsening, we are trying to move forward and have hope for the future.
The Salvation Army's Integrated Family Support Project (IFSP) has four components: housing, vocational training, livelihood support and agricultural support. Tell us about the permanent housing project.
We plan to build 260 houses in total, each housing a minimum of four people. We started building houses at the end of November 2012.
This component is important because many families lost their homes in the earthquake and now live in tents. Even now, three years after the earthquake, though millions of dollars have been spent in the housing sector in Haiti, we still have around 100,000 people living in tents.
The living conditions in the tents are poor. Tent cities do not have basic sanitation or electricity, and the people who live there are exposed to all kinds of violence, including sexual assault.
In each area of Haiti where The Salvation Army is active, we have collaborated with the local corps and conducted assessments to identify the most vulnerable people in the community. Those people will be the beneficiaries of the housing project.
This project will be completed in collaboration with the beneficiaries, who will participate in the design and construction of the homes. If possible, they will also provide some financial resources.
What kind of vocational training does The Salvation Army provide?
The vocational training is targeted for vulnerable young adults aged 18-35 who are not receiving any support from their family. They are in a situation where they cannot pay school fees, but want training so that they can support their family in the future.
We offer two levels of training: formal, which will take place at a vocational training school, and informal, such as training from NGOs that are working in a specific sector. For example, we are working with Architecture for Humanity, an NGO that provides training in construction.
Both are short term—nine months for the formal, four to six months for the informal. The training will be mostly hands-on so that the young adults will be able to enter the workforce immediately after finishing the program.
The majority of these training programs are construction-related—building, sanitation, electricity, renewable energy—because that is the main sector in Haiti providing people with jobs.
How many people will be assisted?
Our goal is to help 1,000 young adults. We have started with 150 because we want to monitor the process and learn from it. After that, we'll increase the number. Currently, about 120 young adults are in the formal training program; the rest are doing informal training with Architecture for Humanity.
Those in formal training will receive a professional certificate that is recognized by the state. This is beneficial because all employers in Haiti recognize this certification. If they have this on their resumé, they will be prioritized when they apply for jobs.
What is the goal of the livelihood support program?
For this component, we have prioritized woman-headed households because, as we say in Haiti, women are the engine of our economy. There are women in every kind of business.
Yet, woman-headed households are among the most vulnerable. Without a husband to provide support, these women struggle to make enough money to buy food, pay rent and educate their children. And without any support, they are also more exposed to assault and other types of social violence.
The Salvation Army will provide these women with loans so that they can start businesses. But they won't be working alone; they will be organized into solidarity groups.
What kind of businesses will the beneficiaries operate?
It will depend on the opportunities available in the area. One example might be making and selling mamba [Haitian peanut butter]. With the loan, the women would be able to buy peanuts and bottles, make the peanut butter, package it and then sell it at the market.
The women will analyze the opportunities in their area and then prepare a business plan together. We will support them in creating and implementing this plan, and will monitor the progress of their business.
There may be some overlap between the livelihood support component and the vocational training component. For example, if we train someone in auto repair and then see that the individual does not have sufficient support to open their own repair shop, we will refer the person to the livelihood support program so that they can obtain a loan to buy tools and materials and start their own business.
How has this component been implemented?
At this point, we have provided loans to 50 people, but we have identified and trained more than 200 beneficiaries. We teach the beneficiaries how to conduct their business in a sustainable way so that after the loan period ends, they can continue their businesses. Once the businesses become profitable, they will be obliged to repay the loan.
The agricultural support component is similar to livelihood support, but for farmers. We will provide the most vulnerable farmers with loans, and they will invest the money in agricultural production and livestock.
Why does the IFSP have a separate livelihood support program for the agricultural sector?
Agriculture is one of the most important sectors in Haiti. By supporting poor farmers, we will improve their quality of life, but we will also support the Haitian economy and that will strengthen our autonomy as a nation.
It is important for us to be a self-supporting country. Haiti used to sell mangoes, rice and other things in the international market. Now, we are buying our basics from countries such as the United States, Japan and China. This is partly why the exchange rate is very high. If we support the agricultural sector, we will also be supporting the country as a whole, our currency and the government of Haiti.
What do you hope this project will achieve?
By the end of the project, I hope we will be able to say that The Salvation Army identified the most vulnerable people and provided them with appropriate services. At the IFSP, we take into account not only the needs of the people, but the individual persons, their background and their right to live in a different way and to receive support in a manner that does not affect their dignity. They are receiving support because they are in need and they are children of God.