In February of 2010, one month following the earthquake, representatives from The 410 Bridge traveled to Haiti to see the devastation first hand and evaluate opportunities to serve. One particular community was immediately identified as in desperate need of help. On a small plot of land near some of the most dangerous areas in Port-au-Prince, a population of deaf individuals had come together to live in tents. As with all post earthquake tent cities in Haiti, the living conditions were miserable. The tents were not ventilated, frequent rains flooded or often destroyed the tents, food and water provided was not always adequate and safety was a major concern, especially for the deaf who could not hear danger coming.
As a part of the immediate relief efforts, several organizations stepped up to help the deaf secure the tents and much needed relief services, such as food and water. Friends of Deaf Haiti (FDH), International Deaf Emergency(IDE), Water Missions International (WMI) and the International Federation Red Cross (IFRC) were instrumental in securing shelter, food, water and other important relief resources. They continue to be partners in the on-going work to improve the lives of the deaf in Haiti.
In late 2010, The 410 Bridge, Frazer United Methodist Church and several other organizations began the search for land to build a new, permanent community for these deaf families. The land search was not easy, as affordable land with clear title in a safe area was difficult to find. Eleven months later, by the grace of God, The 410 Bridge was connected with Mission of Hope, a like minded Christian nonprofit already established in Haiti, with land available for houses in Leveque, Haiti, approximately 20 miles north west of Port-au-Prince.
Through the generous gift of the Friess Family Foundation, in November of 2011, construction began on the first 50 of the 168 houses needed for the deaf and their families. The concrete block homes under construction have three rooms and are located on a 40’x 90’ plot of land, which includes an outdoor latrine, a cactus fence and six fruit trees. Because the deaf communicate visually, community and in-home solar lighting will be necessary. Clean water is already available and a permanent sustainable solution for potable water access, filtration and distribution as well as water solutions for irrigation are also anticipated.
Mission of Hope has an existing primary school located on its property, ranked in the top 5% of schools in Haiti for grades K-6 and the local secondary schools are also ranked among the best. Although the majority of the children in the community are hearing, the deaf children will also be attending quality schools with teachers specializing in deaf education. BrightPoint Children sponsorships are being sought for school fees, uniforms and transportation for 100% of the 57 children moving into the area as a part of the deaf community. Adult literacy classes are already underway and will be expanded as additional space and teachers are available.
The deaf community has expressed a strong desire for a church home within the community itself. As a Christian organization, we share their desire and believe a local church is a critical component to foster spiritual development and outreach to faith seekers. Our goal is to build a church that will seat 600 for worship and will offer all services in sign language and Creole. Frazer United Methodist Church has taken the lead in spiritual development, which will include pastor training, lay leader training, Bible Studies and children’s activities, among other programs.
A Community Center will serve as a hub for group activities that offers space for an assortment of programs and community gatherings that will foster a sense of unity within the community. It will have a large floor plan that includes several rooms for vocational training, education, micro-enterprise work and community meetings. Other possible uses include day care, nursery school, healthcare and family life activities.
Vocational Training and Micro-enterprise Development
In conjunction with programs already underway with Mission of Hope, the deaf will have access to on-going vocational training opportunities, general business training and will receive assistance in job placement within the new community and surrounding cities. A significant amount of time and resources will be spent in this area to ensure that the proper training, coaching, and resources are provided so that the deaf can sustain themselves over the long term.
Cultural Sensitivity Training
In Haiti, it is common for people who are deaf, blind or handicapped to be classified as the lowest class of citizen. Having been ridiculed and mocked for most of their lives, the deaf community desires a chance to share their culture and abilities with the hearing families they will be residing within Leveque. At the request of the deaf community, the 410 Bridge and Mission of Hope are seeking funding to provide free classes on deaf culture and sign language to the people and leadership of Leveque in the hopes of a fully integrated community.
The 410 Bridge model is based on local leadership as the driving force behind the project. Fifteen men and women from the deaf community make up a Leadership Council which will manage and oversee the village’s transformation into a self-sustaining, vibrant community. These individuals are volunteer leaders, serving selflessly and through role modeling are empowering the youth of the area to lead future generations of Haitians.
Fund raising is underway for the remainder of the construction cost of houses, the church, community center, micro-enterprise development as well as support for leadership development and cultural sensitivity training. For information about supporting the Haiti deaf community, please contact Dianne Kaseta, Dianne@410bridge.org. If you or your church would like to personally serve alongside these wonderful Haitians, please contact Margaret Spratlin, Program Manager for the Haiti Deaf Community, Margaret@410bridge.org.