In Haiti’s Grand Ravine, hope survives the hurricane

October 25, 2016
Written by Kristin Myers
Photo by Kristin Myers

Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti’s Grand Ravine slum with punishing winds and rain, but one particular block of sturdy concrete structures was left unscathed. It’s here that we met Alianna Antoine, a survivor of the 2010 earthquake who’s excited to soon call one of these safe, stable structures “home.”

A home that will weather the storm

When we meet Alianna Antoine, she is standing outside the small shack where she has been living for the last seven months, looking across the road toward a sturdy two-story concrete structure that will soon be her home. Her family is one of 48 who will move into safe, secure, well-constructed housing as part of a unique, comprehensive development initiative in Port-au-Prince’s Grand Ravine neighborhood.

Alianna Antoine stands in front of the small one room shack where she currently lives.

Alianna Antoine stands in front of the small one room shack where she currently lives. She will soon move into a house constructed by Concern. Photo: Kristin Myers

Grand Ravine, a large slum sitting along the contours of a gorge carved out of steeply sloping hills, is home to some 4,000 households, or roughly 20,000 people. Extreme poverty and vulnerability are facts of life here, as are regular flooding and landslides during the rainy season.

“With this house, I’ll be stable, I’ll be able to save.”

It’s just days after Hurricane Matthew devastated much of the country’s southern peninsula, leaving 750,000 people in need of immediate humanitarian assistance.  Here in Grand Ravine, however, Matthew’s impact is much less visible. Port-au-Prince escaped the punishing winds, but still experienced drenching rains, more than 8 inches across most of the city. In the past, that would have meant heavy flooding, especially in this low-lying section of the ravine where we’ve met Alianna. The dry ground beneath our feet is a clear sign of a community in transformation.

Alianna at her drink stand

Alianna supports herself and her family by selling drinks at a stand in Grande Ravine. Photo: Kristin Myers

Rebuilding a community from the ground up

In partnership with Catholic Relief Services, Concern has implemented a multi-year integrated community development program aimed at building not only critical infrastructure but also livelihoods, resilience, equality, healthy families, and shared leadership.

Concern has been working with the community to build drainage canals, retaining walls, and gabion walls for erosion protection — all of which did their job when Matthew struck. Also part of this program is the construction of twelve homes, each of which will accommodate four families.

“This is such a beautiful house. I am blessed.”

We walk over to one of the homes, which she will one day occupy, and listen as she describes her work. Alianna has a stall just across from the construction site, where she sells bottled drinks.

“It isn’t a lot, but I make just enough to cover all my basic needs. I don’t have a lot in savings, but I do have some,” she explained.

She gestures toward the concrete shell before us, beaming. “This is such a beautiful house. I am blessed.”

Alianna Antoine stands in the doorway of one of the homes — being constructed by Concern — where she will soon live

Alianna Antoine stands in the doorway of one of the homes — being constructed by Concern — where she will soon live with her three children. Alianna tells us that with this house, she’ll be stable and able to save for her future. Photo: Kristin Myers

Though she lives by herself now, she plans to reunite her family when she moves in to her new home. She will live with her three adult children and her grandchildren.

“Right now I don’t have a good house,” Alianna tells us. “But now… with this house, I’ll be stable, I’ll be able to save.”

Alianna was living in this district of Port-au-Prince when the 2010 earthquake hit, causing widespread damage to the area: “there was a lot of destruction, but I had to stay to make money.” And now she’s lived through Hurricane Matthew, too.

We ask if she thinks her new home will fare better if there is another disaster, trying to ascertain how much this sense of resilience and hope has crept in to her reality. We are just able to interpret the word “yes” amid hearty laughter.

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