In some ways, Hurricane Matthew feels like a distant memory. He came quickly, wreaked immense havoc, and vanished swiftly. In Port Au Prince, our lives have moved forward without pause. Most minor damages have been repaired, the flooding has subsided, and the rains come less frequently. In fact, if you were to visit the capital city today, you might not guess that a category 5 hurricane hit the island a few short weeks ago. Many will remember him as a swift nightmare that momentarily paralyzed us with fear.
For those living on the Southern Peninsula of the island, however, the nightmare still lives on. For them, Hurricane Matthew is not a distant memory. His presence is felt still in the piles of stones, mud, and timber that once stood as homes, in the snapped coconut trees, in the dead livestock, and in the daily rains and flooding. Aid agencies are overwhelmed, and countless people are currently relying on emergency relief for access to basic amenities.
Some of our staff members at deux mains designs feel the pangs of this continued nightmare and the aftermath of the devastation, as their family members were on the front line of Hurricane Matthew’s wrath. However, because of the generous support of donors, and our team’s access to employment and the larger network of support that results, they have been able to respond to their families’ needs directly. Their jobs have given them the liberty to care for their loved ones, even at a distance.
On Friday, November 11, Omel St Preux, a craftsman of 5 years, left Port Au Prince in the early morning hours to travel to Jeremie. After hours and hours on a cramped bus, traversing mud filled mountain roads, he arrived late in evening. The rain was pouring, and it was dark, but upon seeing the dimly lit remains of his home city,
Omel was brought to tears. “Water filled my eyes,” he said. “I had no idea how desperate the situation was for my people.”
As the voyage was long and arduous, and the rain fell incessantly in the late evening hours, Omel decided to stay with a relative in the city. There was no way he could make it to his siblings’ homes at that hour as they lay much deeper in the mountains. “The house where I slept had been severely damaged in the hurricane, but I kept dry under the tarped roof,” Omel described, “I went without eating that night. There was no food for me to buy in the city.”
The next morning, Omel bought 70 sheets of metal roofing in the town center, and tied them to three motorcycle taxis before trekking deep into the province of Ravine a Charles where his brothers and sisters live. It was the first time he had traveled home in two years. “I told my siblings that I was coming, but they had no idea I was bringing supplies for them,” Omel said. “When they saw me coming with three loads of tin roofing, they were so happy. I was so glad to be able to give them this surprise.” Omel was greeted by his sister Molene, her husband Guito, and his brothers Mario, Tipère, Fritzner and Salnav. All of their homes were completely destroyed. The roofs had been torn off, and the walls deteriorated from rains and wind. Subsequently, they were forced into tents in the courtyard, as the rain continued to fall each day. Omel spent a few days with his family before returning to work, and provided them with money for the construction and rebuilding efforts, as well as food provisions. Aid has not made it to their small community, and food from their garden was growing scarce. Omel plans to travel back during his paid vacation at the end of this month to check in and bring more support.
“The roofing I provided will provide renewed shelter for nine of my family members,” Omel said. “I am so grateful and so proud.”
At REBUILD globally and deux mains designs, we know that by empowering our staff to help their loved ones, we are enabling them to serve as providers. Omel is the only one of his siblings that has a full time job, and the support he provided is a direct result of that employment. After living as a Restavek (child servant) for many years, Omel has transformed into talented a craftsman, a breadwinner, and a source of comfort for his family. This voyage was not about foreigners coming to save the day. This was about families caring for families. In the infamous words of our Workshop Manager, Jolina Desroches: “Men sa yon travay ka fe.” “Look at what a job can do.”
The recovery from Hurricane Matthew will be long and difficult, but the more jobs that we create in Haiti, the more people we can employ and empower to support their loved ones in this difficult time. Poverty does not strip people of the willingness or desire to help their own. The real culprit is a lack of access to income that strips them of the means to do so.
Thank you to all of you who contributed to our Hurricane Relief Efforts. Thank you for the part you played in empowering Omel to make this difference for his family.