PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (BGR)—Smiling through her tears, Madam Maris thanks and kisses the Southern Baptist volunteers as they handed her the keys to her new home.
For nearly two years, the 70-year-old Haitian woman has lived in a tent. She’d lost her husband, two nephews, her arm and her home in the earthquake that decimated the Haitian city of Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12, 2010. Now, she and her niece finally have a chance to start over.
Theirs is one of many new beginnings Southern Baptists have helped provide since the 7.0-magnitude quake rocked Haiti, killing 230,000 people and leaving millions more injured, homeless or both. To date, Southern Baptists have given over $11 million in aid. Many have volunteered their time and skills to help Haitians recover.
At first, Southern Baptist aid workers focused on the most pressing needs—medical care, food and basic shelter—that would serve as a witness to the love of Christ. But they also sought more long-term solutions to help Haitians break the cycle of dependency that keeps them mired in extreme poverty.
Since the quake destroyed or damaged millions of houses, the vast need for housing captured the attention of Southern Baptist relief planners. They developed a project called “Rebuild Haiti,” a joint effort involving Haitians and Southern Baptists.
By the time the housing project ends this spring, Rebuild Haiti will have constructed about 2,800 houses in 30 communities. Baptist Global Response, International Mission Board, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Network, and Florida Baptist Convention all have contributed to the effort.
“This sounds like a lot, and it is a lot in such a short period of time,” said retired missionary Carter Davis, who has worked with relief efforts in Haiti since the earthquake. “But the real effect is seen when we recognize how many persons are now in substantial houses and not in tents or other shelters.”
Since the average Haitian family is six people, an estimated 16,800 Haitians are now in stable homes
instead of tents. Many of these homes were built on original foundations, keeping families that owned land from relocating and losing their property. These projects also revived local businesses and put Haitians back to work.
“Almost all the labor was done by Haitians,” Davis said. “This provided income for many and stimulated the local economy by purchasing the materials from local stores.”
“It was a cooperative effort,” agreed Jeff Palmer, BGR executive director. “Haitian Baptists and [other] Haitian workers actually built more of the houses than the volunteer teams. But the teams were good for coming down and interacting, sharing their faith, as well as just giving encouragement to the local people that ‘Hey, somebody cares, and they’re coming from the outside to help us rebuild our homes.’”
Florida and Haitian Baptists were able to make significant contributions, in part because of their 17-year partnership in the country, Palmer noted. Just in the joint Florida-Haitian effort, 124 new churches were started, 56 church building were repaired, and 1,000 homes will be built by the time Rebuild Haiti wraps up in March.
The earthquake was a surprise to Haiti and the world, but the Florida Baptist response should not have been, noted Craig Culbreth, lead strategist for the Florida Baptist Convention’s Missional Support Group.
“Florida Baptists have been heavily involved with Haiti since April of 1995. The efforts of Florida Baptists after the earthquake—feeding, medical relief, rebuilding churches and building homes—was all based on the foundation of 17 years of work,” Culbreth said. “It is an amazing thing to see what God can bring forth from a disaster. He was able to use Haitians alongside dedicated Southern Baptist volunteers to change thousands of lives—some forever.”
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