“It’s really bad,” says Joseph Livenson Lauvanus. He pauses to think, then adds, “Very bad.”
Joseph is the president of the Eglise Lutherienne d’Haiti — the Lutheran Church in Haiti. For three years the Lutheran Church in Haiti has been working with the ELCA and The Lutheran World Federation to rebuild and renew the country after an earthquake ravaged it 2010. Then in late 2012, Hurricanes Isaac and Sandy hit the island.
“You have to understand that Haiti is a place where we are in the very path of hurricanes and storms in the Caribbean, and infrastructure in Haiti cannot withstand any kind of hurricanes or storms,” Joseph says. “So at first we had Isaac, and Isaac was bad — especially after the earthquake. But a month later, we have this Sandy; it was like to finish what Isaac began.”
There are 1.3 million people in Haiti still living in tents after losing their homes in the 2010 earthquake. The tents provided little shelter during the hurricanes. In addition, flooding was rampant and brought with it an outbreak of cholera.
But, Joseph shares, those working in Haiti have learned a lot in the past three years.
“We do not work really only for people to have a good shelter but for people in Haiti to have a life. That’s the aim of the church,” Joseph says. “The aim is not to give them rice and beans, but it is to say, ‘OK, we can help you because this was an emergency for three months. We’ll give you rice and beans because you cannot do otherwise, but afterward how can we become independent?”
The goal is not just to rebuild Haiti, but to rebuild it in a way that is more viable than before the earthquake hit. For instance, a new dairy project is not only helping people make a living, but working to make Haiti self-sustaining.
“We import 40 million to 50 million dollars worth of cheese and milk every year. And at the same time when you sit down with the farmers, you ask them how many of you own a cow, 99.9 percent say that I own a cow,” Joseph says. The dairy project will teach farmers to utilize already existing resources to help Haiti become more self-reliant.
In addition, a vocational center is being built on the site of an old sugar factory. Joseph says he hopes the center will empower the young people of Haiti. “Not only they would have a skill for the future, they would have a skill to earn some money. They would help their own community by building some good homes that could withstand hurricanes, earthquakes.”
While there’s much to be done, Joseph believes the most important aspect of the work is making sure that those involved have the right motives at heart. “You can spend the money in the right way but not for the right reason. So as the church, we do not use the money only in the right way but also for the right reason.”
“The life of a Haitian people,” he continues, “they are our priority as the church.”