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What we're doing in Haiti

Haiti, June 2, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps

Mercy Corps continues to provide emergency relief to families living in camps in Port-au-Prince, including water, sanitation, psychosocial support and temporary income through cash-for-work. We are expanding our economic development programs to Haiti’s Central Plateau, offering cash-for-work income to those who fled Port-au-Prince after the January 12 earthquake and to those who opened their homes to the displaced. Our strategy addresses two simultaneous realities on the ground: the need to continue to assist those still living in camps and the need to help Haitians begin the longer term work of building a stronger, more self-sufficient Haiti.

Improving Camp Conditions

In 28 camps in the Tabarre and Pétionville areas of Port-au-Prince, Mercy Corps is providing access to latrines and clean water, and helping families stay healthy by teaching them good hygiene practices.

We’ve also started a new water voucher system in 12 of the camps. An innovation over distributing water via trucks, the voucher system allows families in the camps to get their water directly from a nearby vendor. Each week, Mercy Corps gives families a set of vouchers to redeem for ten gallons of water a day at the local vendor. Mercy Corps then pays the water vendor for all the vouchers redeemed. The water vouchers reinforce existing economic structures and ensure that when Mercy Corps must end its distributions, families still have a water vendor.

The rainy season has arrived in Haiti. Mercy Corps has helped the camps prepare by setting up cash-for-work projects that mitigate flooding at the sites. To do the work of digging drainage ditches or building retaining walls, Mercy Corps pays camp residents for 20 days of work. This income allows them to prioritize their own needs for food and other supplies and to make their purchases from nearby vendors, which supports the local economy.

In Port-au-Prince, Mercy Corps has provided water, hygiene and sanitation services to 22,000 people, and we are giving emergency income to 9,000 people through cash-for-work.

Helping Youth Recover

Across Port-au-Prince, Mercy Corps is also training teachers, psychologists, and parents in Comfort for Kids. Developed after September 11, 2001, Comfort for Kids is a post-disaster methodology that educates adults about how to help children heal from the loss and upheaval caused by a disaster. In all, we have trained 1,100 caregivers in Comfort for Kids, who have gone on to reach approximately 32,700 children.

Mercy Corps is also launching the Moving Forward youth sports program in partnership with Nike and several local organizations, including Haitian soccer player Boby Duval’s Centre L'Athletique d'Haiti. Moving Forward uses sports to promote resilience, teamwork, self-esteem and constructive communication to crisis-affected kids. We’ll train 50 youth workers and coaches at 25 organizations and support them in holding workshops for 1,500 kids.

Jumpstarting the Economy

In any emergency response, Mercy Corps works quickly to jumpstart longer-term recovery through economic development. Cash-for-Work is an early activity in this strategy, providing temporary income to families as they rebuild their communities. We are now hiring the first of 20,000 households to participate in cash-for-work in Haiti’s Central Plateau, an underserved area strained by the influx of earthquake survivors who fled Port-au-Prince. Mercy Corps is providing 30-day employment to both displaced and host families. Each community will choose their own projects to improve infrastructure or agricultural production, such as building roads, rehabilitating farmland and irrigation, and starting nurseries. We are also giving grants of $128USD to 7,000 families to use to address their immediate needs.

To advance the way these households are paid for their work and give them access to financial services, Mercy Corps is launching a mobile banking pilot alongside our Central Plateau cash-for-work program. In this pilot, 1,000 workers will be notified of payments by text message and be able to store their money in an account that can be cashed at their convenience. An estimated 85% of Haitian households have access to a cell phone, a resource that has become increasingly valuable post-January 12, helping family members scattered around the country stay in touch and find opportunities for work. In the last phase of the pilot, workers will be able to send remittances via mobile banking to family members living elsewhere.

Partnering with Existing Agents for Change

Another important way that Mercy Corps encourages recovery is by supporting existing organizations such as Fonkoze, Haiti’s largest, most innovative microfinance institution. Mercy Corps and Fonkoze recently completed a pilot program to test the feasibility of Fonkoze offering catastrophic loss micro-insurance to its microfinance clients. The pilot gave 500 clients catastrophic loss micro-insurance retroactive to January 12, clearing the balances of their loans, granting them $128USD to use for any immediate emergency needs, and making them eligible for new loans. As a result of the pilot, 120 clients applied for new loans. Fonkoze will now expand the retroactive micro-insurance program nationwide to encourage more clients to restart their businesses.

Mercy Corps is also providing Fonkoze with support for Zafèn, a new online microfinance program that connects lenders with small- and medium-sized Haitian enterprises. Business owners in Haiti have already lined up 200 interest-free loans through this website, so they can expand their operations and bolster their local economy.

Another Haitian partner is Sinema Anba Zetwal (Cinema Under the Stars), a collective of artists that presents multimedia shows to communities nationwide. Mercy Corps is sponsoring Sinema Anba Zetwal’s 2-month Food for Souls tour. Combining film, comedy skits, music, and audience participation, these events educate and strengthen a sense of community and optimism across Haiti. Through a set of films created specially for these events, Mercy Corps’ Comfort for Kids psychosocial messages will reach approximately 100,000 people.