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Red Cross sponsors Haitian-Americans building Habitat homes

Santo, Haiti – Thanks to support from the American-Red Cross, ten Haitian-Americans were part of a large group of volunteers who spent last week in Haiti building homes in collaboration with Habitat for Humanity.

The Haitian-Americans, all of whom had prior ties to the Red Cross, were among hundreds of volunteers from around the world who built 100 homes in Santo, a community outside Leogane and near the epicenter of last year’s devastating earthquake. Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn, outfitted in jeans, tennis shoes and wide-brimmed sun hats, were among the volunteers building homes.

On their first day in the field, Alex Alexis quickly took the lead on his construction team, which was asked to complete two homes during the week. Unlike many of the volunteers, Alexis – a 55-year-old Haitian-American – had prior experience building houses, having volunteered with Habitat in his home state of North Carolina.

Alexis has volunteered for the Red Cross for the past 34 years, initially with the Haitian Red Cross in Haiti – he responded to everything from hurricanes to traffic accidents -- and more recently with several chapters of the American Red Cross, first in New York and later in North Carolina. Born and raised in Haiti, he has lived in the United States for more than 30 years.

The last time Alexis was in Haiti in early 2010 he was deployed by the American Red Cross to serve as a translator aboard the USS Comfort, a hospital ship that treated thousands of earthquake victims. Once the medical staff learned that he was trained as a nurse, they asked him to help caring for patients as well. “I was working side by side with them treating the people,” he recalled.

Working under the scorching Haitian sun last week, other members of the volunteer group appreciated Alexis’ building experience as well. “It’s going good,” said Ilio Durandis, a Haitian-American from Boston, who had no prior experience building homes before joining the work crew in Haiti. “We follow the team leader.” He later said a highlight of the experience was building homes alongside the Haitians who will own them.

Jonathan Reckford, the chief executive of Habitat for Humanity International, was on the work site during the week as well, and expressed his appreciation for the Red Cross support of volunteers. “We’re very grateful, the Red Cross has been a wonderful partner with Habitat,” said Reckford. “The Red Cross and Habitat have a long-standing partnership around the world.” In addition to supporting the volunteers for last week’s building project, the American Red Cross is partnering with Habitat for Humanity to fund the construction of 2,000 semi-permanent homes near Leogane.