Shelter Kits enable Haitians to ‘Build Back Better’

Australian ShelterBox Response Team (SRT) volunteer, Peita Berzins has just returned from Haiti where she has been heavily involved in getting much-needed aid into the stricken country. Peita, a retired teacher and author from The Entrance on the NSW Central Coast was working as part of team that included fellow Aussie, Art Shrimpton. This was Peita’s second deployment with ShelterBox, having previously helped in our response to flooding in Malawi in 2014.

Australian ShelterBox Response Team (SRT) volunteers, Peita Berzins and Art Shrimpton have joined the relief effort in Haiti
Australian ShelterBox Response Team (SRT) volunteers, Peita Berzins and Art Shrimpton joined the relief effort in Haiti.

Peita reports on her experience below:

I’ve just returned from my second deployment with ShelterBox, to Haiti, a country in crisis. Moreover, Haiti continues to struggle with the profound aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, with the vast majority of its population living in dire poverty. There is a deep bitterness that the billions of dollars in foreign aid which poured in after the earthquake largely did not reach the needy or alleviate entrenched problems.

Today the strong message from the Haitian government about shelter aid is that tents may be used for medical or educational purposes, but not housing; it is shelter kits that are needed here. The message is “Build Back Better.” The two strong tarpaulins, tools and building fixings found in a shelter kit provide a flexible shelter solution that beneficiaries can use in versatile way – providing roofing, or walls, or repairing other structures.

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The cultural, historical and social context of the ruling “Build Back Better” is that in the capital Port au Prince are unruly tent cities, where people still live after the earthquake. These cities are dangerous, no-go areas; hence, a different response is required in the cyclone-affected areas to the south and west.

Our first distribution of shelter kits and NFIs (non food items) will occur this week in the cyclone affected areas to the south, in and near Les Cayes, where we plan initially to work with a local community NGO, 410 Bridge.

I was part of the second team in, and I learned a lot about Logistics. This involves the transiting of kit (in our case, 3000 shelter kits, 6000 LuminAID solar lights, 5800 mosquito nets, 3000 Thirst Aid water purifiers, 3000 water jerry cans) through customs via a consignee, into a warehouse, onto trucks and out to our beneficiaries. This requires developing good relationships with each of these people, as well as keeping track of stock control, planned arrivals and distribution spreadsheets. I was guided by our excellent ICC (In Country Coordinator) Richard Innes (UK) and Logs whiz Lesley Garside (UK).

Peita and Art in the warehouse
Peita and Art in the Chatelaine Cargo warehouse

In the real world of the Haitian capital, Port au Prince, our first delivery of stock arrived at the airport, but then we had the local national two-day holiday for Halloween (November 1 and 2) when everything shuts down!! This resulted in a back-log and delays – a typical part of Logistics and the lives of ShelterBox Response Team Members!

Finally, when our consignment was delivered to the Chatelaine Cargo warehouse, we worked hard, alongside international young volunteers from the NGO All Hands, packing the NFIs into “handbags” to accompany the shelter kits. Team members, Ashton Josephs(UK) and Art Shrimpton(AUS), with help from Dave Ray in HQ, worked out terrific practical guidelines, illustrated and annotated in the native Creole, to assist in ‘Train the Trainer’ sessions and be disseminated to leaders in the local communities. These guidelines include practical advice on building stronger structures and effective ways of securing tarpaulins.

I left Haiti last week knowing our distribution is in good hands with our ShelterBox teams in Port au Prince and in the field. From a broader perspective, clearly Haiti’s problems are serious and long-term; at least we can hope that our supplies to the people in the Les Cayes area go some way to improving their immediate circumstances. 

You can help our efforts in Haiti and other countries affected by disaster by donating to our disaster relief fund, The ShelterBox Solution.

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