TWELVE months on from the tragic earthquake which devastated Haiti, hope is emerging amid the rubble as people begin to rebuild their lives.
Using money from UK donations, the British Red Cross is using innovative technology to provide immediate cash grants and small-business training to thousands of families, helping them back on their feet.
Taking advantage of high levels of mobile phone ownership in Haiti, the British Red Cross has cut through banking bureaucracy and paperwork to make sure people get money quickly and securely through text messages.
“It is virtually impossible to overstate the impact of the quake,” said Alastair Burnett, recovery manager with the British Red Cross.
“The numbers of people killed is hard to even imagine, but there are millions more who survived but were robbed of their homes, jobs and livelihoods as well as their loved ones.
“Recovering from such a huge disaster will take years, and 12 months on is still just the beginning of that journey, but there are real positives which must not be overlooked.”
One development has been the increasing use of mobile phone technology – seeing millions of targeted text messages sent to those at risk of cholera, tens of thousands of phoned-in enquiries fielded, and thousands of cash grants distributed.
British Red Cross teams have been providing sanitation and hygiene education to tens-of-thousands of people living in camps in Port-au-Prince, and, while that work continues, the society has also rolled out projects directly supporting the recovery of communities.
Four thousand families in Port-au-Prince have already received texted cash grants of US$250 to meet basic needs – including covering children’s school fees and food costs.
Through the system, grant recipients are texted a code, which when presented along with identification at a bank entitles them to withdraw a set amount of money.
A further 3,000 families will be supported with grants along with training to develop small businesses.
In Les Cayes, an area outside Port-au-Prince which many families moved to after the earthquake, the British Red Cross is providing school fees for up to 4,000 children and will support up to 3,000 families with cash grants.
Fifty-one year-old Jacquet Salnave worked in a bank, until the quake took his home and his job. He now shares a makeshift shelter with eight other members of his family, but is looking at a brighter future after receiving a Red Cross grant.
“I didn’t have enough money to send my children to school,” he said.
“This money has really helped us so much and it came just in time for the school year.
“It was very useful to receive cash rather than items from the Red Cross because this gave me more flexibility to spend the money on the things that we need the most.
“In the future, if I have the money, I would like to invest in my own small business so that I am self-sufficient. Right now, I would do take any job that I can find.”
Richard Casagrande, working on the British Red Cross livelihoods project in Haiti, has seen the difference the money has made to people and communities at first hand.
“Working with communities, real progress is being made, but that is not to pretend there have not been frustrations,“ he said.
“The work the Red Cross has been doing here has undoubtedly saved lives and is supporting communities as they recover, but we cannot rebuild whole cities or national economies.
“Supporting livelihoods helps communities start out on the road to recovery – if people have an income they can start to send their children to school, feed their families and rebuild their homes.
“That can kick-start an upward spiral of growth which will benefit the whole community.”
Red Cross spokespeople are available on the ground in Haiti
The British Red Cross helps people in crisis, whoever and wherever they are. We are part of a global voluntary network, responding to conflicts, natural disasters and individual emergencies.
We enable vulnerable people in the UK and abroad to prepare for and withstand emergencies
in their own communities. And when the crisis is over, we help them to recover and move on
with their lives.
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Contact: Mark South
Phone: 0207 877 7042 or out of hours 07659 145095