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Haiti mission is volunteer focus

Teams rebuild, repair hurricane-damaged homes for residents still living in tent cities.

BY MONICA OLIVAS | October 18, 2009

With many survivors still living in tents and makeshift shelters in Haiti, volunteers from Brethren Disaster Ministries are rebuilding 100 homes devastated by last years hurricanes. Managing such a large international project is a new experience for the Brethren who are often active in U.S. domestic disaster response.

“It’s a very slow recovery there. There are still people living in tent cities and provisional housing in various parts of the city,” says Jeff Boshart, Haiti project coordinator for the faith-based organization.

After Hurricanes Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike killed 326 people and left thousands of homes damaged or destroyed last year, the organization sent in assessment teams to determine the best response. Since then, volunteer teams have been working with residents and local churches to rebuild and repair homes damaged by the storms.

“Since we’ve started we’ve been working as hard and fast as we can,” says Roy Winter, Executive Director of Brethren Disaster Ministries.

While they cannot change the vulnerability of the region to future weather-related disasters, they can change the location of these new homes. They are building the homes outside of the flood zone in hopes that this kind of tragedy won’t happen again.

“If possible we encourage people to find their own land for relocation,” says Winter. But, in some instances blocks of land had to be purchased to keep the process going.

“We’ve tried to give the people as much ownership as possible,” he said.

The goal is to build 60 homes in Gonaives and another 40 homes in the rural mountain areas. The work in the rural areas has been a little easier on re-building efforts because residents don’t have to be moved.

“That was a little simpler fix, we could put people back on the same piece of land. The people owned that land,” says Boshart.

This is the first international mission Brethren Disaster Ministries has completed on its own. In the past it has provided support to other organizations including Church World Service. While they are not done yet, the rebuild seems to be a success - uniting volunteers, local churches and residents. The group is on track to be done with all 100 homes by December.

Building on the success of the Haiti project, the Brethren may consider other locations. “If there is opportunity and need we would do a similar response,” Winter said.

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