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Wyclef Jean

Wyclef Jean

Posted: May 29, 2010 11:10 AM

Haiti Needs Shelter From the Storm

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Note: I first posted these thoughts on CNN.com on May 9. But because this Sunday is Haitian Mother's Day, I wanted to post them again to give a shout-out to all the mothers in Haiti -- especially those who lost children in January's earthquake -- and to all the families who are remembering moms who died in the tragedy.

The headlines are less frequent, but Haiti is still pumping through the bloodstream in our house.

Haiti, where I was born, is my heart and soul and the heart and soul of my family, and we've been working really hard to get food, clean water and medical attention to the millions of people affected by the January 12 earthquake in Port-au-Prince.

Now that it's the rainy season, we have another serious problem: About a million Haitians are living in massive tent cities, struggling to keep dry.

The season will last through July, and we could end up with some serious flooding. Our organization, Yéle Haiti, has been distributing tents, as have other organizations, but no matter how many people we help, some people are still living under sheets or in cardboard boxes. Nobody would really call that "shelter," and for basic human dignity, people need to live in a place that keeps the rain and wind out. They can't survive much longer like this. We have to do something fast.

My wife, Claudinette, a fashion designer and someone who cares passionately about our homeland, is leading a project to relocate families from the tents to temporary houses all across Haiti. She's part mom, part wife, and part warrior when it comes to Yéle and our mission.

We're going to build temporary wood-frame houses with cement foundations that will last for several years. The units are 12-by-12 feet, with windows, front doors and well-constructed metal roofs, and they'll house up to six people. The houses will stay dry even if it rains day and night, which sometimes happens. Yéle will build 100 homes in five sites in the Port-au-Prince area to start and 400 additional houses in the second phase.

It's Claudinette's experience in managing construction projects that makes her ideal to run this project. The women and children living in the tents in bad conditions are going to be first to be set up in the temporary houses, which will be ready for the initial tenants soon.

Claudinette, the heart and soul of our organization, has been making regular trips to Haiti since the quake, distributing food, clothing and medical supplies and working on several projects that we're doing at Yéle Haiti. We estimate that Yéle will spend more than $1 million on this project.

We also have to make progress on rebuilding permanent housing. I don't just want to build houses; the key to long-term progress is building whole communities that run themselves. You need to start with agriculture and establish a job corps. You need to teach people the skills they need to do for themselves. Once you restore basic human dignity and pride, and you give people a chance, you give them hope and something to work toward.

Yéle Haiti has plans to build a permanent agricultural community. It's going to be a farming community for about 5,000 people near Croix-des-Bouquets. The idea is to introduce simple and sustainable techniques for improved farming, education, health and other services that begin to spark changes at the community level in other parts of the country.

We are also working on plans for a large kitchen, based at Yéle headquarters in La Plaine, that will be modeled on a program we have run for several years in Cité Soleil called Yéle Cuisine. The concept in both cases is hiring local women who traditionally sell meals at the side of the road and train them to improve the quality of the food they prepare, learn business skills and learn to read. The scale in this new kitchen is much larger and the output will be up to 15,000 meals a day for schools, orphanages and for sale by market women as micro-entrepreneurs. We hope to start construction by June.

I meant to write this as a Mother's Day salute to Claudinette, but, like most things we do since the earthquake, I find myself instead talking about our people and their needs. Call it our family distraction -- mine and that of everyone in the Haitian diaspora. It might even be your family distraction, too, because what mom, dad, son or daughter hasn't been affected by the families disrupted and lives lost in Haiti? Now is the time to be focused on helping Haitians find shelter from the storm.