In La Victoire, a rural area of northern Haiti, a group of farmers form a circle to discuss the American Red Cross program in their community. They sit on old wooden benches in a building whose walls are barely covered in cracked, fading paint. Despite the limited means, there is no lack of enthusiasm. “Taking part in this coordination meeting is important for us,” says community leader Etienne Bussy.
Etienne and his community are benefiting from the Red Cross’ work in the “Great North” of Haiti—an area that sits on an active seismic fault and is especially susceptible to flooding, earthquakes, and landslides. To mitigate the consequences of disasters in the area, the American Red Cross and Haitian Red Cross develop disaster plans, host emergency drills, and teach children what to do if a disaster strikes. Community members learn how to fight the spread of infectious diseases such as cholera, get trained on first aid skills, and are empowered to play a central role in disaster response.
Every month, community leaders, local authorities, and others meet to discuss information about the Red Cross projects and share their concerns related to health, sanitation, livelihoods and disaster-related risks. Requests and comments are, in turn, taken into consideration to adapt the scope of projects and activities for the following month.
The meetings enable communities and the Red Cross to maintain a regular dialogue. While more than 90% of American Red Cross’ staff in Haiti are locally hired, all community members’ feedback is important. This constant feedback is key to understanding people’s needs and rapidly adapting to them. Proximity and close collaboration is crucial.
Reaching out to remote areas
Helping people in remote areas like La Victoire can often prove difficult because families live far from each other, in isolated areas linked by roads in poor condition. “The biggest challenge we face in project implementation is transportation,” reminds Vice President of the Haitian Red Cross in the North department, Magalie Hyacinthe.
That is why Red Cross field officers were happy when they started to use off-road motorbikes recently, as it will allow them to visit the communities much more easily and frequently. “Motorcycles will make it easier for officers to better do their job,” explains Magalie.
Building local resilience
The American Red Cross is also helping the Haitian Red Cross to increase the capacity of its volunteers and staff in local and regional units, so they can respond more quickly and more effectively to disasters. These local branches of the Red Cross are also supporting the communities so they can better prepare their households for emergencies.
“People in the community are grateful to the Red Cross for its good work in regard to the population,” confirms Loubann St-Fleur, a community leader in Ranquitte.
The Gran Nò Pi Djanm program (“A More Resilient Great North” in Haitian Creole) of the Red Cross seeks to build resilience in the northern departments of Haiti in three ways: capacity building; community mobilization, training and behavior change; and development of Infrastructure. For more information about the Red Cross’ work in Haiti, visit redcross.org/Haiti.