Glenn Merritt almost missed his flight out of Haiti a few weeks ago as protesters blocked the road, upset with the disabled government and the limitations of relief agencies. It's been over three months since the quake and still millions of survivors are left without a semblance of normalcy-no homes, no jobs, no schools.
For Merritt, the director of disaster response for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) World Relief and Human Care, this was his fifth time back in Haiti since the quake, and he has seen firsthand how the lack of coordination amongst the aid organizations and the inactivity of the government have affected the Haitians' outlook on the future.
"Over the past three months I've seen the resilience of the people turn to despair," he said. "Before they thought, 'We can do this,' but now they're thinking, 'Is this even going to be possible?'"
The LCMS has been in Haiti since the quake, providing for the immediate needs of the survivors: food, water, medical supplies and temporary shelter. They realize, however, that they were not doing enough to help with the sense of hopelessness in the people. After speaking with the Rev. Marky Kessa, president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Haiti, the organization leaders realized that the best way to help rebuild the survivors' lives was to build permanent houses.
So with the help of the local church, the LCMS initiated its "Building Homes and Hope in Haiti" project by acquiring enough land to build three villages. Because of the confusion within the Haitian government, the group was unable to receive land grants, so the LCMS instead bought the land from its previous owners. The organization plans on building 300 houses, an orphanage, a school, a chapel, and a medical clinic in each of these villages.
In early April, a group of volunteers from Ohio and Missouri went to Haiti to build three model homes-one with a single room, a one-bedroom and a two-bedroom-to give the people in Haiti a chance to see what the houses will look like and to encourage donors at home to support the project.
The building process, which began this week, will take a three-pronged approach. First, local professional contractors will be hired to plan and direct the building, which will also help create jobs for local Haitians. Then there will be a call for volunteers from within the community. Finally, volunteers from the United States will be brought in to help build.
"The local people are really involved in their country and their lives," Merritt said. "They don't want mercy organizations coming in and taking over everything, they want a say in what happens, and are more than willing to volunteer and assist."
Each house takes six days to construct and cost between $4,000 and $8,000 for materials and manpower. The quake survivors will be able to apply for the houses, which will be assigned based on need and the ability to own a home. Once selected, each new homeowner will be able to buy the house through a low-interest loan program after undergoing training on how to become a homeowner.
Since the government has yet to put together new building regulations, the LCMS also is offering training for architects and engineers to build houses and buildings that will be able to withstand earthquakes. Merritt hopes that this program will help create houses that are less likely to collapse in the event of another catastrophe.
As a former missionary to Sierra Leone, Merritt describes working in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, as reminiscent of working in one of the poorest countries on the African continent.
"It makes me more reticent to the fact that we are so blessed. . . . We fall into apathy here in the U.S. and don't pay attention to neighbors nearby who live in such poverty. It also comes with a realization that there's a lot more we could be doing and it shouldn't take a disaster to realize that."
Update: At the time this article was published, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) assumed it would be purchasing property, but because the LCMS lacked non-governmental organization status, Haitian laws prevented the group from purchasing any property directly. The LCMS provided grants to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Haiti and the Lutheran Church of Haiti to purchase the property used for rebuilding.
'Still in shock' | Haiti is hit by a massive earthquake followed by aftershocks, with an epicenter near the capital, Port-au-Prince | Mindy Belz and Jamie Dean | Jan. 12, 2010
Helping Haiti | WORLD provides a list of relief organizations accepting donations to assist earthquake victims in Haiti | The Editors | Jan. 13, 2010
Search and rescue | U.S. disaster experts, the U.S. military, and private relief groups head to earthquake-devastated Haiti | Mindy Belz | Jan. 13, 2010
In the dark | Haitian-Americans hope to contact loved ones and quickly send aid back home to family and friends | Alisa Harris | Jan. 13, 2010
Weeping and waiting | Haitian earthquake victims await help, but obstacles slow relief efforts | Jamie Dean | Jan. 14, 2010
Desperation | Too many Haitians are in a holding pattern awaiting aid, as relief organizations try to make progress | Jamie Dean | Jan. 15, 2010
Long night | With tens of thousands of casualties, Haitians weep and wait for morning | Jamie Dean | Jan. 15, 2010
Deliverance | A group of orphans arrive safely in Pittsburgh while relief organizations report progress in Haiti | Mindy Belz | Jan. 19, 2010
Crying for help | Hard-pressed Haitians seek assistance as aid groups face logistical challenges | Jamie Dean | Jan. 21, 2010
Leaving Port | Beyond the capital city are rural communities equally devastated by the quake and in need of help | Jamie Dean | Jan. 22, 2010
The new normal | As life and death continue their morbid mingling, relief groups forge ahead to help | Jamie Dean | Jan. 22, 2010
Finding home | Now that search-and-rescue efforts have been called off, attention turns to providing shelter for survivors | Jamie Dean | Jan. 23, 2010
Chaotic aid | Relief groups attempt to help Haitians despite murky rules, government interference, and the lack of a cohesive plan | Jamie Dean | Jan. 28, 2010
Aftershock | Caregivers predict a second wave of death, as Haitians find moments of deliverance amid days of devastation from one of the modern world's worst natural disasters | Jamie Dean | Jan. 29, 2010
Homecoming | For Haitians orphaned before the quake, it means leaving home and starting over | Alisa Harris | Jan. 29, 2010
Crisis giving | Instant need calls for long-term strategy | Rusty Leonard | Jan. 29, 2010
An indecent grief | First lamentations, then comfort that strengthens more than soothes | Mindy Belz | Jan. 29, 2010
Hope for Haiti? (audio file) | Hear WORLD news editor Jamie Dean discuss her visit to the earthquake-ravaged country | Nick Eicher | Feb. 1, 2010
Despair and salvation | While the UN grapples with unruly crowds, The Salvation Army peacefully distributes food | Jamie Dean | Feb. 2, 2010
Crossing lines | Failing to heed sound advice, 10 Americans now find themselves facing kidnapping charges in Haiti | Jamie Dean | Feb. 4, 2010
Haiti's plight (audio file) | A discussion of the country's days of devastation and moments of deliverance | Jamie Dean | Feb. 5, 2010
Stress management | Helping Haitians recover takes zeal-with wisdom | Jamie Dean | Feb. 12, 2010
Taking charge | In quake aftermath, build new cities, says Haitian ambassador (and Bible translator) Raymond Joseph | Mindy Belz | Feb. 12, 2010
Houses of God | Grand-Goave, Haiti | The Editors| Feb. 12, 2010
Living water | Water Missions International offers long-term solutions for clean, drinkable water | Angela Lu | Feb. 13, 2010
Building blocks | While Christian Aid Ministries provides for the immediate needs of quake victims, it looks ahead to helping the country rebuild | Angela Lu | Feb. 16, 2010
Close quarters | ActionAid helps homeless Haitians deal with sanitation and security issues at camps set up in Port-au-Prince | Angela Lu | Feb. 23, 2010
Hardest hit | With nearly half a million orphaned children before the quake, Haiti's challenge to parent them just got bigger | Jamie Dean | Feb. 26, 2010
The search for miracles | Port-au-Prince is a city desperately seeking turnaround-and that's before the earthquake | Jamie Dean | March 12, 2010
Hope in the darkness | World Hope International offers Haitians practical assistance and spiritual guidance | Angela Lu | March 24, 2010
Night crawlers | A new disaster threatens defenseless women and children in Haitian tent cities: rape | Jamie Dean | March 25, 2010
Homecoming | Missionary Patrick Lataillade, who nearly died in the quake, returned to help Haitians this week | Angela Lu | March 27, 2010
Hashing out Haiti | As the UN makes recovery plans, Haitians struggle for the basic necessities for survival | Jamie Dean | March 31, 2010