Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Haiti: T-Shelters, Catholic Relief Services, and Lent

Japan's earthquake, earlier this month, is still very much in the news. I've written about that before in this blog, and elsewhere. (Apathetic Lemming of the North (March 29, 2011) Folks in Japan still need help.

So to folks in Haiti.

A year ago last January, about 300,000 Haitians were killed by an earthquake. Survivors still have a great deal of work ahead, putting their country back together. Happily, they're getting help: from quite a few places.

Which reminds me of Lent.

Stick with me: there really is a connection. Lent is the season in the Catholic Church's calendar, starting Ash Wednesday, when we focus on prayer, fasting and almsgiving. ("The Lenten Season," United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) Or are supposed to, at any rate. And that's another topic.

"Prayer" and "fasting" are fairly common words in American English, but "almsgiving" isn't used all that much. Not in my experience. So, it's definition time:
"ALMSGIVING: Money or goods given to the poor as an act of penance or fraternal charity. Almsgiving, together with prayer and fasting, are traditionally recommended to foster the state of interior penance (1434; cf. 1969, 2447)."
("A," Glossary, Catechism of the Catholic Church)
Okay. That's clear enough. There is (as usual) more about almsgiving in the Catechism. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1434-1439, 1969, 2447)

I wrote about pitching in to help folks in Japan a few days ago. (March 20, 2011) I still think that's important - and have donated to Catholic Relief Services.

But, like I said, folks in Haiti need help too. Actually, there are quite a few places around the world where "almsgiving" can be directed. I put a link to Catholic Relief Services near the end of this post. No pressure: just there if you think donating is a good idea.

Folks in Japan are dealing with a huge amount of cleanup - and a few mildly melting nuclear reactors. Haiti's situation isn't quite so dramatic right now: they're in the 'building temporary shelters' stage, at least in some places.

Excerpt from a CNS article:
" 'T-shelters' help Haitian quake survivors begin rebuilding their lives"
Dennis Sadowsk, Catholic News Service (March 14, 2011)

"The stack of prefabricated walls, roof joists, corrugated steel and construction supplies at the end of the road brought a smile to Justin Auguste's face.

"After spending 14 months in makeshift housing since the powerful Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake, the 78-year-old former cattleman knew that soon he would not have to sleep on the ground.

" 'God came down today with the shelter,' he said March 11, peering from under a tattered wide-brimmed straw hat that shaded his face from the hot midday sun.

"For nearly an hour, Auguste, 78, had instructed friends, family and neighbors which pieces of housing to carry to the tiny plot a quarter-mile away reserved for his transitional shelter, or 'T-shelter,' provided under a program operated by Catholic Relief Services and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development....

"...A construction team hired by CRS planned to build the 12-by-16-foot, two-room shelter the next day. For Auguste, that meant the teams who stepped up to carry the parts could not delay.

"Auguste and his family are among thousands of earthquake survivors who now live in the plywood-walled T-shelters. Those deemed eligible to receive the structures agreed to provide a bit of sweat equity: applying a coat of paint.

"The agency is under contract to provide 4,000 T-shelters, which will house 20,000 people. To date, about 2,500 have been completed, said Eddy Ambroise, manager of the Varreux Yard in Port-au-Prince, where 146 workers produce about 40 prefabricated structures a day....

"...In addition to the Varreux plant, residents in local communities have been employed in cash-for-work ventures. One part of the program finds workers clearing earthquake rubble from streets. The debris is carted to nearby sites where other workers used hand-operated crushers to pulverize the material into the basic ingredients of cement. Some of the cement is bought by CRS for use in the concrete pads on which the T-shelters are built. Some is used by entrepreneurs to make concrete block for construction.

"The shelter program is part of an effort by CRS to address the wide-ranging needs of some of the 1.5 million Haitians who lost their homes in the earthquake. To reach that goal, CRS has ended its work in the camps for displaced Haitians and has turned to rebuilding communities.

" 'Our main objective is to elevate communities to ideally a little bit better than where they were before the earthquake, but at least as closely as possible to where they were before the earthquake,' said Niek de Goeij, head of the agency's Community Resettlement and Recovery Program....

"...August Marie-Sonie, 26 said the T-shelter she shares with her three sisters is more comfortable than the tent they occupied for months after the earthquake leveled their home. She said the next step is to move into permanent housing so she can focus on returning to school to complete her education in accounting.

"Area leader Matthew Accene recently started building an addition onto his T-shelter to give more space to the eight members of his family. He also coordinates a security team that patrols their section of the Terrain Toto site each night to ward off criminal activity....

"...'People are really satisfied with the change,' he said of the relocation from Port-au-Prince. 'The idea is that CRS continues to work here and that the government eventually buys and divides the land and gives responsibility to the residents to build our own home.

" 'It's what everybody wants in this camp,' he added. 'Everyone who lives here has nowhere else to go.' "
Mr. Sadowsk tells us that the T-shelters are designed to last about three years - which should be enough time for the folks living in them to get something more permanent set up. Meanwhile, as August Marie-Sonie said, those corrugated-metal shelters are better than a tent.

The CNS article also shows that the T-shelters that Catholic Relief Services is putting up are part of a government contract from the U.S. Agency for International Development. As I've said before, I think charitable giving should be carefully thought out. (March 17, 2011) I can see how a person might consider that, since 'the government' is helping build (temporary) housing for Haitians, there's not much more to do.

Maybe so: but it's possible that Catholic Relief Services could still use financial help, for something other than building 16-by-eight-foot shelters. Again, it's just a thought.

Related posts:
In the news:
  • "Haiti"
    Catholic Relief Services
  • "Haiti"
    United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
List of my Haiti-related posts:

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