Skip Navigation Links
Year of Mercy
Catholic News
Special Reports
Google Plus
RSS Feeds
top catholic news View Comments
Rubble to Riches: Haitians Make Most of Disastrous Situation
Barbara J. Fraser
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Saturday, October 30, 2010
Click here to email! Email | Click here to print! Print | Size: A A |  
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (CNS)—In one earthquake-ravaged neighborhood beside a steep ravine, residents are turning rubble into riches.

Not only are they using debris from damaged buildings to make concrete for new construction, they are also earning a living and learning to run what they hope will become a thriving new community business.

Next to a brightly painted, prefabricated wooden shelter, two women crank the flywheel of a small machine that grinds chunks of broken concrete into gravel or sand, which can be recycled into building material.

"Rubble is of no value until it is broken down into something that does have value," said Kevin Osborne of the U.S. bishops' Catholic Relief Services, who manages a rubble-recycling project. "There is a lot of rubble in Port-au-Prince that has to be disposed of or reused. It doesn't make sense to dump it somewhere" instead of using it to rebuild.

Raphael Altide's new two-room dwelling, a temporary shelter or "T-shelter" crafted in the CRS workshop, is built on a concrete pad made from recycled rubble. The area outside her door is filled with sacks of rubble that will be used for pads for her neighbors' houses.

The two rubble crushers nearby are the first phase of what Osborne hopes will become a community business that will manufacture building materials for constructing more solid permanent houses.

For now, CRS is committed to assembling 40 temporary shelters in the neighborhood, although the number could grow.

To qualify, residents must prove they own their lots. Those who lack legal papers can present neighbors as witnesses to their claims—an advantage of the neighborhood-oriented reconstruction effort. They also must break up the debris from their homes into chunks that can be crushed and recycled, a labor-intensive task performed with sledgehammers.

So far, more than 30 shelters have been assembled, thanks largely to Altide's persistence. After the earthquake left her and her neighbors homeless, she saw CRS' food relief efforts and asked staff members to help the neighborhood rebuild.

"When we came for the first time, we really didn't think there was much we could do," Benjamin Krause, CRS program manager for community resettlement and recovery, said of the labyrinthine neighborhood. "We didn't think we could physically bring the shelter pieces in" through the narrow alleys.

But Altide persisted—with neighbors chipping in to pay her bus fare to CRS offices until she convinced the staff—and the community business was born.

The neighborhood is "an experiment in trying to see what was the absolute minimum we could provide for people to help them get back on their feet," Osborne said.

Workers begin at 6 a.m. and are paid not by the hour, but according to the number of sacks of gravel they produce. The goal is to add cement mixers and, eventually, to help provide capital for small cement block-making plants, employing Haitians in the reconstruction of their country -- a task aid workers say will last for many years.

If there is a bright spot in the grim aftermath of the earthquake, Osborne said, it is the opportunity to rebuild neighborhoods such as Altide's with safer houses and water and sanitation systems.

"These women don't have any experience with business management, but they're leaders," Osborne said of Altide and her neighbor, Soly Santhia.

Altide, however, insisted she had not been a community activist before the earthquake.
"I have my 'children' here," she said, motioning to neighbors who gathered around as she showed off her house, "and I'd like them to be able to eat. Once you say something and you do it, people respect you."
CNS correspondent Barbara J. Fraser, winner of a 2010 Egan Award for Journalistic Excellence, traveled to Haiti with Catholic Relief Services in October.

More on Haiti Earthquake 2010 >>
More Top Catholic News >>

blog comments powered by Disqus

Come find us at: Facebook | St. Anthony Messenger magazine Twitter | American Catholic YouTube | American Catholic

An Site from the Franciscans and Franciscan Media Copyright © 1996 - 2016