Shelter for the Neediest in Simon

June 18, 2010

 by Joegodson and Paul

After the earthquake, Cyril Baudelais, the director of the community group FFAMIPL, began a comprehensive search for shelter for the people of Simon. He was not alone: all concerned residents sought ways to help the neighbourhood. (This website is our way.) On Monday, Baudelais received a message on his cell phone. Digicel was offering him, as representative of FFAMIPL, 100 tents for distribution. Six months after the earthquake, this was the first shelter offered. He was overjoyed.

Cyril Baudelais of FFAMIPL standing in Simon.

Digicel was formed in 2001 in Bermuda. It is the largest mobile telecommunications provider in the Caribbean with over nine million clients. Cyril Baudelais is one of  two million clients in Haiti. In fact, Digicel is the largest single investor in Haiti with a total investment of over US$370 since its launch in 2006. (After the quake, Digicel gave each of its Haitian clients five dollars in free credit.) Mobile phones are especially important in Haiti where landlines reach few residences, and pratically none of the urban and rural poor. While cell phones constitute a major expense (with no reliable electricity, people pay to have them recharged on the streets by entrepreneurs who invest in a generator), they are a necessity for people like Cyril. Without the product that the company offers, Cyril would not have been informed that the tents were available for the people he represents.

At first glance, Digicel has coordinated the distribution sensibly. Rather than force people into artificial camps, Digicel chose to distribute the tents to those NGOs based in the community, like FFAMIPL (Fondation famille pain de lumière), so that they could be erected close to the collapsed homes or places of work of their beneficiaries. Digicel named 120 volunteers to manage the distribution of 19,000 tents, each ten feet squared. The tents are protected from groundwater by a polyethylene ‘bathtub’ floor, separate from the sides.

Upon getting the call on Monday, Cyril immediately contacted Jhony, Renette, Arons, and Kerby, who head the community groups that represent the people of PCS in Simon. (PCS is a neighbourhood of about 3,000 people in Simon, which in turn is part of Cite Soleil, Port-au-Prince.) Those community groups formed COAViS after the earthquake, in order to coordinate their efforts. Together, they decided to accept the offer. They engaged a taptap driver to pick up the tents from Digicel. He charged them two tents for the service. He hired another person to help him load the tents onto his taptap who charged one tent for his work.

The members of COAViS assembled to discuss the tricky issue of how to distribute ninety-seven tents to the 3,000 residents of Simon. Digicel offered the tents to Cyril of FFAMIPL, but they belong to the neighbourhood of Simon. There is no ‘leader’ in Simon. No one governs Simon; everyone is involved in the decisions that affect the residents of the neighbourhood.

Deland will warehouse the tents in what is left of his home while they are being distributed to those in Simon in the greatest need of shelter.

The first issue to be addressed was where to warehouse ninety-seven tents. Deland immediately offered what was left of his house. Deland (whom readers of this site met in the post ”Dés…espoirs”) has little left that can be called a house. But his ‘home’  is intact. At first, the proposition seemed questionable: Deland’s house has no walls. In the aftershocks, they fell away and now only the roof remains. In place of walls, Deland has drawn fabric to offer minimal privacy for his family. Moreover, housing ninety-seven tents is an act of bravery. There will be thieves. He will be an easy target. However, he brushed away those concerns. He wanted to actively help his neighbours in whatever way he could. This was the first good news (after the construction of the latrines) in the six months since the earthquake. Dangerous? If we choose only what is safe, then what future could there be in a world where the powerful depend on our fears.

The discussion carried on for some time. There were two camps. One argument, defended by Jhony and Arons, was that the members of the local committees should be excluded from the distribution. Each of the four community groups (see ”A Tribute to Haitian Patience” for a discussion of the organizations) has ten committee members. Kerby, Renette, Paul Leogène, Cyril, and Joegodson argued for universality: a committee should be struck to determine the needs for shelter of everyone in Simon. Some people have managed to protect themselves more effectively than others. Under this principle, the ninety-seven tents will go to the families that are in the greatest need of shelter.  No one is excluded according to any criteria. Only the actual needs, as determined and demonstrated by the committee, will determine who will profit from the windfall from Digicel.

That’s what we’re working on now.

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