* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.An apprentice scheme by the Red Cross is training Haitians in engineering and construction to build earthquake-safe housing
“I didn’t know anything about masonry, but thanks to the Red Cross today I know how to put up blocks, bind steel bars, and take measurements. I’m not a big boss but I know the basics,” says 38-year-old Gladys Joachim. Gladys lives in Delmas 13, one of the districts of Port-au-Prince where the Red Cross has been implementing an integrated neighbourhood approach to renovating, rehabilitating and constructing houses and much needed infrastructure work.
Not only has Gladys learnt some basic construction skills but she has been able to apply these skills in housing projects in her neighbourhood. “I’m a student and I was part of the community mobilisation team in Delmas 9 that received training with Haitian and French Red Cross. They needed people and I was interested in helping my community and learning at the same time,” she says.
The apprentice programme was practical from the very start. “It was a very practical experience, learning by doing as we built a two-storey house,” Gladys says. “The trainers were very patient with us and made sure that we did our best because we are building houses and it’s our responsibility to make sure that they are safe for people to live in.”
After the Red Cross apprenticeship experience and having successfully passed her practical exams, Gladys was chosen to build a septic tank. “It was a tricky construction because of where it was located. There was a lot of water and mud so I had to figure out how to get around that problem to be able to build, but when I finished the construction chief congratulated me. I’m so proud because people said women don’t work in construction, but I enjoy this work and I feel at ease.”
Life has changed dramatically since January 2010 when the earthquake struck Haiti. “On 12 January 2010, I was living in Delmas 17 but my house was destroyed. The earthquake happened just as I was about to go and bathe. The house literally fell on me. Eight people died in that house but by the grace of God, I came out alive. My son too survived. That really marked me but I’ve never given up. I’ve never lost hope.”
Five years have passed and as painful as the memories are, Gladys views the future with optimism. “When I had no place to go, nowhere to live, the Red Cross helped me build a house and allowed me to participate in different activities, in rubble removal and construction,” she says. “Today I’m back in school and I still want to learn more so I can make a better life for myself and my son.”
Over the last five years the Red Cross has provided more than 44,000 families with safe and improved housing solutions. Thanks to your support, the Red Cross has been able to help the most vulnerable find a place they can call home.