Building Homes, Empowering Haitians

We’ve had many delays as we rebuild in Haiti, but we’ve heard some great news. Our new Haitian staff are getting the hang of home construction and are taking on more responsibilities. This is exactly what we want to happen and truly an answer to prayer.

Since the earthquake, Humanitarian Aid organization World Concern has employed thousands of Haitians to clear rubble and repair or replace houses that were damaged or destroyed. More than 600 homes have already been repaired, and crews continue to complete approximately 80 homes per week. Now, we’re on to a new phase: assembling 500 “house-in-a-box” kits.

The following entry is from Scott Mitchell, who is from Seattle and overseeing the construction. The homes were in shipping containers, but the containers were held up in customs in Port-au-Prince for several weeks. It was a big frustration and delayed the unloading and construction schedule.

Here’s some of what Scott said on his blog:

I have been in Haiti 52 days. I was brought down here to build shelters I remember thinking before I left I had to put up 7 shelters a day to make it work. This is shelter number 1 of 500. By the grace of God He had different plans!

The team assembling 500 kit houses.
The team of workers hired to construct 500 "kit" houses in Haiti.

The picture here is the shelter team that will be doing the work. We all were pretty happy that this one shelter is put up. We took time at the end of the day to just thank Jesus and ask for more grace. We all need it. I don’t know where I would be without it.  We should be putting one up in the field next week. I am excited to see what God is doing with this team.

There are those that are here to learn, and learn they did. The difference between Monday and Friday was huge—going from never using a drill to now building a complete structure using nothing but screws to hold it together. They went from moving individual pieces of metal out of a container to putting roof structures that they build onto a shelter. They went from bug-eyed wonder to wonderful smiles of joy and a sense of competence. They went from not knowing a thing about metal to teaching others about metal.

A team from Steel Elements that was brought in to build the jigs (jigs are templates to build the building by) was amazed at the progress. They even went from a “good luck” mindset to an attitude of “they are really going to get this and do well.” They worked very closely with our foreman and despite the language barrier, by the end of the week they were communicating fairly effectively. Our guys learned a lot from them and I am pretty sure they learned a lot from our guys.

I feel blessed by God with the quality of foremen that we have found. Honestly, I don’t know where we found all of them but I am impressed. By the end of the week they were coming up with solutions to problems that we faced, they were pushing the Steel Element guys aside and doing the work themselves. They were eager and willing to do the work. It was evident that some of them took home a set of plans and studied them. They want to do a good job, and by God’s grace they will. I think it might take a few shelters for them to really get the hang of it, but they will get it down and they will produce a great finished product.

Learn and act.

Staff Profile: Jillian Thorp’s Story of Survival

Jillian Thorp talks with engineers in Haiti.
World Concern Haiti staff member Jillian Thorp talks with engineers overseeing house repairs. Photo by Frank Thorp.

World Concern attracts people who feel called to help in the world’s most desperate situations. It attracts staff members willing—even longing—to live in poor, troubled places, and serve.

Jillian Thorp is one of those people.

Jan. 12 had been an emotional and busy day for Jillian. She was finishing one of several meetings at her office at another nonprofit in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, that day when the building began to sway. “It was almost like having a dizzy spell, then things started to fall off tables,” she recalls. A coworker grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her under a door frame. “About 10 seconds later, everything came down around us.”

Jillian and her coworker were both trapped from the waist down on the first floor of a two-story building. A door had fallen on top of them, miraculously protecting them from being hammered by debris. Another miracle is that Jillian had fallen with her cell phone. Although she couldn’t call out, she received several phone calls from friends in the U.S. and was able to tell them she was trapped and needed help. The last call she received was from her husband, Frank, who was working about six hours north of Port-au-Prince. “He said, ‘We’re coming,’” she remembers. Then the phone line cut, leaving them without communication.

Three hours later, Jillian heard someone calling her name. It was two other coworkers who had come back to see if she was safe. She was able to call to them, and they began digging with their bare hands. Eventually they had to leave to get more help and tools to break up and remove the concrete that surrounded her. She and her coworker were trapped for 10 hours. Frank arrived about an hour before she was freed.

“They pulled me up onto the roof,” said Jillian, who was gasping for fresh air and reeling with the realization of what she’d just been through. “The house had completely pancaked. I could see that the only place I could have survived is where I was. It was just a complete miracle that I was there and the way the house fell, that I was protected and we made it out.”

As an American, Jillian was able to be treated for her injuries at a hospital in the Dominican Republic and then fly home to the U.S. the next day. She struggled with survivor’s guilt, leaving behind those who had become like family and who had risked their lives to rescue her. “Why did I make it through something like that when so many others didn’t?” She wondered.

She returned to Haiti, just five weeks after the disaster. “I’ve just got to try,” she told herself. “I’ve got to see if there’s something still in me, that I could help these people.”

Jillian heard about World Concern from family members at home, researched the work we do, and saw it as a shining example of a successful aid organization. She liked that we have a 30-year history in Haiti, and that nearly all staff are Haitians. “So many organizations brought in so many people, so many foreigners, who didn’t understand,” she said. With a background in advocacy and a degree in diplomacy and conflict resolution, “It felt just right,” said Jillian, who accepted the position of Program Support Manager for the Emergency Relief Team in March – just two months after the quake.

“It’s been so healing for me to work with an organization that’s so supportive. It’s been a blessing,” she said. “I was looking for a higher purpose. I got through this earthquake. There’s got to be a reason.”

Jillian understands the frustration people feel, watching from afar, at the pace of the recovery efforts, but being involved in it every day, she sees much progress. “There’s such hope for the future of this country, but there’s a long way to go for sure. There are some  hard decisions in front of the humanitarian community … we can’t figure it out in one day, or even a couple of years,” she said. “But we have 617 homes we’ve repaired. That’s 617 families who have returned to their homes. We have just over 2,000 people employed through Cash for Work,” which is World Concern’s program to employ local people to clean up rubble and rebuild.

“Whether you see it when you walk down the street or not, when you look at World Concern and you see those, it’s significant,” Jillian said.

Along with the entire World Concern staff, Jillian shares great compassion for the Haitian people. “They’ve been through a lot, but their spirit is so resilient. They still have dreams. They know all this money is coming into this country. They try to take ownership of this project – to be a part of the rebuilding process,” she said. “It really should be their own. The U.S. didn’t fall apart, Haiti did. Ask Haitians what they want and ask them to help us do it. World Concern is really great at that.”

Jillian Thorp's collapsed house.
This is all that was left of the building Jillian was in when the earthquake hit. Photo by Frank Thorp.
Jillian and Frank Thorp.
Jillilan and her husband Frank are grateful she survived the earthquake and continue to work in Haiti.

We Love You, Haiti! Sincerely, Washington State

A school desk bound for Haiti
World Concern Haiti Country Director Christon Domond inspects desks with Susan Talbot during a visit to our headquarters last month. The desk is one of dozens being loaded today into a shipping container bound for Haiti.

It’s like an enormous care package for Haiti from all across Washington.

Today, just south of Seattle, a 40’ shipping container is being packed with a variety of supplies to help children in Haiti, just in time for the new school year. We’re loading up dozens of desks, uniforms and school supplies for more than 1,300 kids. All of the items were donated – most by donors in Washington.

Eighty-seven desks from a Washington State University dorm in Pullman will be put to use in classrooms in Haiti, and a Port-au-Prince hospital will receive 25 patient tables and cabinets from an assisted living home in Bellevue.

Imagine the delighted smiles when 1,320 kids open packages filled with school supplies, hand packed with love by donors and churches around the Puget Sound region. The Kids’ Healing Kits also include soap, toothpaste and other hygiene items, as well as stuffed animals and other toys to help the youngest earthquake victims heal from emotional trauma.

Volunteers and homeless men hired for the day are helping World Concern pack the 40’ shipping container inside of a warehouse in Sumner. From there, the container will be trucked to a rail yard, then loaded on a train bound for New York. The final leg of the trip will be on a ship, the MSC Austria, which is scheduled to arrive in Port-au-Prince on Aug. 29.

We’ve put some thought into what we’re shipping. Our staff in Haiti has either requested these items, or has found areas where these items will fill a critical need – an important piece in making sure humanitarian aid helps communities, rather than hindering the healing process.

Thank you, donors and volunteers, for making this giant care package possible!

To read more about what we’re doing in Haiti, click here.

What looks different in Haiti now

The following is a report from World Concern’s Jacinta Tegman, who is in Haiti this week with a team from the Seattle area:

A Hatian boy outisde his newly repaired home.
A smiling young boy outside his newly repaired home in Port-au-Prince.

It has been almost four months since I was last in Haiti. When I was here in early March the city of Port au Prince was just ending a critical response phase. Some streets were impassable because of rubble. Very little business had started up. Schools were not in session and the normal hustle and bustle of the city was missing. I think the Haitians were still in a state of shock. As a part of World Concern, I was able to see the transition from phase one — meeting the immediate needs of water, food, shelter, and family reunification — to the road ahead of rebuilding lives

I can really tell a difference in the city since March. Much of the rubble has been cleared and there are signs of construction everywhere. Lots of street vendors are out, school children in their uniforms rush to class, and the remaining piles of rubble have become part of the city landscape.

As difficult a time as the people have had, there is little room for prolonged grief as little ones still need to be fed, work must be sought out, and the very real need of adequate housing is reaching a critical stage. We drove by camp after camp of tents, and the tents look like they can’t survive much longer.

The road ahead to sustainable recovery is a long one. Yet, even now I see signs of progress and for these people progress is made one small step at a time. When I was here in March, World Concern’s Cash for Work program was in a pilot stage. A few small groups were clearing the rubble of where they once lived, earning a salary to provide for their families and gaining hope that they would be able to leave the tent camps. Now World Concern employs 2,100 workers. Not only have massive amounts of rubble been cleared but homes have been made habitable and new, safer homes are being built.

Is there more to do? Absolutely! But I am so thankful for what has already been accomplished. When I looked into the eyes of a little boy standing outside of his newly repaired home, I know that there is hope in Haiti. In the middle of all this tragedy hope shines brightly. It takes so many to make this possible and I am profoundly grateful that I can say to these people that despite all the challenges they face, people are praying for them, people are giving to help them, and we will walk with them all the way through to full recovery. Isn’t that what Jesus sent us to do? I am so privileged to represent so many that have given to relieve their suffering. God bless you for your compassion.

Help Wanted: Darfur Refugees Find Work

Chad refugee
Mohammed, a 21-year-old refugee from Darfur, works in World Concern's Cash for Work program.

Stone by stone, 21-year-old Mohammed builds back a bit of his dignity. The tall, lean young man works with several hundred other refugees in 100 degree heat in Eastern Chad, picking up rocks, and dropping them into rows.

He joins other men, and many women wearing bright traditional dresses, to build these low rock walls on hillsides to reduce erosion.

The task: simple and exhausting. The outcome: dignity and freedom.

What I saw today was amazing. Darfur war refugees had an opportunity to work.

“This I like,” Mohammed tells me in English. “I buy clothes. I eat. It’s for my family.”

Mohammed left his home in Darfur, Sudan, seven years ago. He says Janjaweed rebels killed his father and many other family members, shooting rocket propelled grenades into his village.

Since he fled, he’s been living near Goz Beida, Chad. He’s in one of several camps here. In spite of his current life, he does not want to return to Sudan. All told, more than 400,000 people are refugees or   internally displaced in Chad.

Because Mohammed and thousands of others are not at home, they have seen that finding work is an incredible challenge. Because they can’t work, they can’t provide for their families beyond what they are given.

World Concern’s program, called Cash For Work, allows them to earn an income, giving them some financial freedom again, while also improving their environment.

The low walls, called bunds, slow the rain runoff down hillsides. This encourages water to soak into the ground, raising the water table. Within a year, it will be a good place for farming and a better place to drill a well.

The influx of refugees has exacted a toll on the local environment, as they have torn down trees to burn for firewood. The rock walls – and tree replanting – are helping to heal the land.

For Mohammed, he treasures each opportunity to earn money. He enjoys learning, and says he likes America. His future remains uncertain, but he now has more of a chance to direct it on his own terms.

Learn more and take action:

Comfort in a box arrives in Uganda

Seattle-based Swaddle Designs donated cozy baby blankets now being distributed in Uganda.
Seattle-based Swaddle Designs donated cozy baby blankets now being distributed in Uganda.

It must feel a little like Christmas morning in Uganda right now as people there unpack a shipping container filled with some of the highest quality clothing and custom flannel baby blankets-stuff that anyone here in the U.S. would love to own. The gifts made the voyage all the way from Seattle, bringing comfort to moms and babies at rural maternity clinics and meeting the needs of children and adults living in refugee camps.

Ten thousand articles of clothing — shirts, pants and more — donated by ExOfficio and worth a quarter million dollars, are being handed out by World Concern through partner agency Pilgrim Uganda to those with the greatest need. Among them are traumatized former child soldiers. Now young adults, these victims are struggling to erase the memories of being forced to kill against their will. With the basic need of new clothes met, they can focus on the healing work at hand.

The baby blankets, made by Seattle-based Swaddle Designs, are coveted by even celebrity moms. These same soft, organic cotton blankets will soon be wrapped around infants in remote bush areas during outreach visits, thanks to this global baby shower. Imagine the looks on the Ugandan moms’ faces when they receive their plush gifts. These blankets are not just about luxury, they’re actually good for babies. Swaddling reminds newborns of being in the womb, prevents over-stimulation and helps them sleep better.

Giving stuff like this feels good, but we only do it if it will not adversely affect local economies. That is the case here, as those we are helping are extremely poor, living in slums after being displaced by war. They simply don’t have money for clothes — and a clean baby blanket is an answer to countless mothers’ prayers.

Don’t you love thinking about donations here making their way from here to the far corners of the world? Such practical ways to spread a little warmth to those in dire need.

Moms and babies will receive blankets at rural clinics in Uganda.
Moms and babies will receive blankets at rural clinics in Uganda.

The Kind Gift Of Humanitarian Aid

World Concern's Susan Talbot recently traveled to Haiti to help bring in donated items for families suffering after the earthquake.
World Concern's Susan Talbot recently traveled to Haiti to help bring in donated items for families suffering after the earthquake.

A lot can be done with a phone, email and good relationships. In the case of World Concern’s Susan Talbot, she’s been able to use her skills to generate $61 million worth of humanitarian aid for the poor in the last year. That’s $61,000,000 worth of in Gift-In-Kind (GIK) donations, which is anything donated that is not money.

$61 million is tough to put into perspective. But consider that this is helping nearly 5 million people. It’s 5 million people who have received a variety of resources, including medication for intestinal worms, a wheelchair to find mobility again, or a computer to become connected to the digital age for the very first time.

“All of our GIK is field driven,” Susan told me. “I don’t start collecting items until our staff tells me they need items. We don’t just hand out stuff in the field. It all has to have a function or collaborate with what we are doing. It needs to have a purpose rather than just giving out commodities.”

Where does Susan get these GIK humanitarian donations? They come from many sources, including schools, farmers, businesses – and medical supply companies.

Bringing in commodities is a tricky business, though, because when you are trying to help a community, you could end up hurting it instead. The way Susan and the rest of the World Concern team does it, though, is carefully considered.

“We provide supplies in a crisis, like food, when the marketplace is not functioning,” Susan says. “When commodities are available locally, we try to avoid giving away those things. It works against what we are doing. It makes no sense to support women in a microfinance shoe business, and then bring in a shipment of shoes.”

Building relationships with the people we serve is important. Skill-building is important. Teaching people is important. World Concern does that, equipping people to know how to stand on their own two feet once we are finished working with their community. Susan knows though that coming alongside people in need with a tangible good, though, can help change – or even save – a life.

Learn more about our Haiti response.

Contact Susan.

World Water Day – A Critical Humanitarian Need

High tension as communities in Haiti need clean water in the days after the 2010 earthquake. A reminder of the humanitarian aid needed for World Water Day.
High tension as communities in Haiti need clean water in the days after the 2010 earthquake. A reminder of the humanitarian aid needed for World Water Day.

In the hours after the Haiti earthquake, World Concern took an inventory of the basic needs facing people who had lost everything. Food, water and shelter were the top three. But when it came right down to it, water was the single greatest need. Within a few days, people would be fighting for their lives – desperate for a drink.

When I visited Port-au-Prince a week after the quake, one of the most tense moments I encountered was a fight about water. People wanted it, and we were trying to meet the need as best we can. But the need was too great. Water truly equals life and survival.

Today is World Water Day. If you have the opportunity to run the tap and receive clean water today, consider yourself privileged. One in six humans have to live using an unclean source for drinking water. It means they walk miles to get a drink, and waterborne diseases like typhoid and intestinal parasites become a part of their lives.

In post-earthquake Haiti, broken sewage lines intermingled with water lines, making the water dangerous to drink. In places where we work in Africa, poor sanitation leads to contaminated water sources. This contaminated water leads to disease and parasites, which slows learning, stunts growth and prematurely kills millions of people.

Only though community hygiene education and improved water sources are we able to change the equation. At first, it may be through an emergency supply of bottled water, like in Haiti after the earthquake. Longer-term, our humanitarian aid may include improving water systems, or even inventing them entirely, as we do in dozens of poor communities throughout the world.

For this World Water Day, you can change the life of someone in desperate need, by digging a hand-dug well for $300, to benefit several families, or investing in a machine-drilled well. A share is $100, the entire well is $3,000. It will will transform an entire village. (And with grants we get a 5:1 match on machine drilled wells in Kenya!)

So here’s to good health, and safe water – even to families in Haiti and in other hurting places around the world.

Water wells in Kenya installed by humanitarian organization World Concern provide hope to communities in Kenya suffering from water-borne disases. World Water Day brings awareness to the problem.
Water wells in Kenya installed by humanitarian organization World Concern provide hope to communities in Kenya suffering from water-borne disases. World Water Day brings awareness to the problem.

Kindergarten Humanitarian Raises $3,641 For Haiti Earthquake

Six-year-old Jonathon Kane gives World Concern President Dave Eller a handful of checks after a week and a half of Haiti fundraising.
Six-year-old Jonathon Kane gives World Concern President Dave Eller a handful of checks after a week and a half of Haiti fundraising.

When a disaster like the Haiti earthquake happens, it’s sometimes difficult for me to see an upside. But today, I saw an example of the something beautiful amidst the chaos. In this case, it took the form of a smart and outspoken 6-year old humanitarian named Jonathon Kane.

Shortly after the Haiti earthquake, Jonathon was captivated by television news coverage of the earthquake. He felt compassion for children in Haiti, telling his mom “their eyes look very sad.” He wanted to do something and asked his mom Susan how he could help. She said money would be the best thing, so Jonathon emptied his piggy bank of all $6.37.

“We couldn’t get there on a plane to help, but what we could do is donate money,” Susan told me. And that’s exactly what they did. But along with Jonathon were hundreds of other children at Cedar Wood Elementary in Mill Creek, Washington, who also decided to reach out to help children in Haiti.

In total, they raised $3,641.

I met Jonathon this afternoon when he, his mom and big sisters Melissa and Kristen brought by a fistful of checks for World Concern’s Haiti relief. What’s clear to me is that this amount of money, along with matching government grants for the relief, will make a real and significant impact on the lives of hundreds of people who are facing a life-and-death crisis. Not bad for a child who had $6.37 to offer.

Jonathan tells me that he feels sorry for people in Haiti and he cares about them. “I hope this money goes to replace stuff to make new homes,” he tells me. Many children acted like Jonathon, donating their birthday money, their piggy banks, their life savings – with no regard.  On the first day, they raised $700.

One of Jonathan’s sisters, Melissa, told me something that seems to be painfully true. She says that she found it more difficult to collect money from students who are older. “It’s interesting to see how much more willing little kids were to give whatever they had.”

This compassion reminds me of the kind of compassion Jesus has called us to when facing a need like this one, a need that clearly we have been called to address. He calls us to a faith that knows that we will be taken care of if we step out and give, not to receive anything in return, but give because it is simply the right thing to do.

When we grow older, I believe our vision becomes clouded by the world. Jonathon sees hurting eyes and does not look from them, but instead acts on his instinct – knowing that his decision was the right one to make.

Kristen Kane helped her little brother collect donations for Haiti.
Kristen Kane helped her little brother collect donations for Haiti.
Jonathon points out Haiti on a globe as Heidi Williams with World Concern watches.
Jonathon points out Haiti on a globe as Heidi Williams with World Concern watches.
The Kane family dropped off checks to World Concern after a successful fundraiser for Haiti at Cedar Wood Elementary in Mill Creek, Washington.
The Kane family dropped off checks to World Concern after a successful fundraiser for Haiti at Cedar Wood Elementary in Mill Creek, Washington.

1,000 Crosses For World AIDS Day

It’s tough to break through the noise. People have got places to go. They’re lost in thought as they walk, talking on the phone, worrying about their own lives.

That’s why it was so cool to see a moment in time where people could pause and reflect, even briefly, about the enormous human cost of a pandemic.

It’s tough to miss what amounts to a graveyard on a college campus.

Seattle Pacific University students helped me place 1,000 white crosses with red ribbons on their campus, for World AIDS Day 2009. 1,000 represents the number of people who die from AIDS worldwide in a four hour period.

Big numbers make my eyes glaze over. That’s why the crosses are so important.

Every cross represents a name. A life. A mom, dad, son or daughter. Someone with a smile, with hopes for the future, with interests and passions.

I was able to spend a day with children orphaned by AIDS in Kenya last year with Christian humanitarian organization World Concern. I was amazed at the way they played and horsed around and kicked around a soccer ball. I took They are children – and they find themselves with nobody to watch out for them.

It’s awesome what World Concern is doing to help people with AIDS, and those left behind, in Haiti, Zambia and Kenya. Such critical needs, of food, water, income, education.

It is the calling of Jesus to care for widows and orphans, and this is exactly what AIDS has caused: 15 million orphaned boys and girls. This is essential work. As one person said about this grassroots project to raise awareness for AIDS, “This looks like Christ.”

For more information and to see how you can protect one orphaned child: