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From Rubble to Reconstruction

By John Rivera

A few months ago, a group of neighbors representing some 40 families in the Port-au-Prince community of Delmas 62 banded together and knocked on the door of Catholic Relief Services' office in Delmas 81 to ask for help. Displaced from their homes after the earthquake, they were living in a nearby camp and wanted to move back.

Cash-for-work participants break rubble into gravel and sand as a part of CRS' Rubble to Reconstruction program.

Participants in CRS' Rubble to Reconstruction program break rubble into gravel and sand. CRS is mixing the gravel and sand with cement to build foundations for transitional shelters. Photo by Benjamin Depp for CRS

"I knew CRS would be able to help us," says Raphael Altide, who emerged as a leader among her neighbors. They took a collection for bus fare to pay for the expedition to the CRS office. "We said, 'If there's anything you can do, please help us'. And they responded."

Impressed by the cohesion and initiative of the community members, some CRS staff went to the neighborhood and found a group of densely packed houses, most of them destroyed, perched on a steep hillside. The rubble of the demolished houses would have to be carried out by hand and the temporary shelter material would have to be carried in. "We said we can't promise anything," says Kevin Osborne of CRS. "The topography and geography was daunting."

But innovation and collaboration overcame the obstacles and Rubble to Reconstruction was born. Working with members of the Delmas 62 community, CRS initiated a pilot rubble-crushing project that combines rubble removal and job creation. Using hand-cranked crushers, community members are processing rubble into gravel and sand for sale and use in local construction projects, including CRS' own shelter program. Instead of a traditional cash-for-work approach, community members earn income based on how much sand and gravel they produce and sell.

With plots of land cleared and land title established, CRS erected wooden shelters that residents painted with lively colors. Many of the shelter floors were poured with concrete made with rubble from the community. No longer living in tents, residents say they feel like they're part of a neighborhood again. And working for an expanding business enterprise has given them hope for Haiti's recovery.

"My children are all the people of this community," Raphael says, motioning to her neighbors. "And I want them to eat."

Recently, CRS expanded the rubble crushing project to communities outside Port-au-Prince. Production for each hand-cranked crushing machine has increased from one or two cubic yards of rubble per day to five cubic yards (the equivalent of 250 five-gallon buckets) per eight-hour shift. Some of the communities now work nights and multiple day shifts to increase their production and income.

Rubble to Reconstruction is part of CRS' Community Resettlement and Recovery program, a community-based approach that helps families resettle in their neighborhoods of origin. The program encompasses rubble removal (through cash-for-work in most places), shelter construction, job recovery, protection and water, sanitation and hygiene projects.

"We're attempting to preserve the social tissue of the country. We're rebuilding communities, not just houses," says Scott Campbell, who until recently served as the country representative for CRS in Haiti. "We're putting up transitional shelters street by street, community by community."

John Rivera is CRS' director of communications based in CRS headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland. He recently traveled to Haiti with winners of CRS' Egan Award for Journalistic Excellence.

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