Helping Haiti one block at a time

Helping others is often one of the best ways of helping ones self. St. Ambrose staff member Jean Hess has been practicing this line of thinking for the past 20 years, since she first went to Haiti as part of a mission trip with Northwest Haiti Christian Mission.

After reading an article in the Quad City Times about the organization, Hess decided to participate in the cause and visit Haiti.

Hess has gone to Haiti annually since 1991, and began working with Lifeline Christian Mission in 2008. While there, Hess takes part in providing nutrition, education and medication for the citizens, as well as constructing homes.

Hess was in Haiti when the January 2010 earthquake devastated the country. After 150 homes previously built by Lifeline had all withstood the earthquake, she knew the “Buy a Block, Build a Home” program would need even more support.

“Amid the rubble, something had to be done,” Hess said. “I thought if I could raise the money, I’d just keep talking and getting people to help.”

Hess’ talking has led to the construction of four homes since the earthquake. The program allows for homes to be built block-by-block. Each block costs $5, and it takes 650 blocks to build a house. The houses have dimensions of 12×24 feet, with two rooms, two doors, four windows, and a corrugated aluminum roof. These features may seem simple, but they are a significant upgrade to small and unstable homes constructed out of plastic and palm branches.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, some families had built homes using leftover pieces from other houses. These “plastic tents” stand barely five feet tall and offer little security. The “Buy a Block, Build a Home” campaign offers a structurally stable home and gives hope to people who have nothing else.

Hess loves the gentle spirit of the culture, and greatly admires the Haitians- a people with no running water, electricity or any of the conveniences so often taken for granted in better developed nations. The fact that they are content with so little is a testament to the appreciation they have just to be alive.

“They have absolutely nothing but hope,” Hess said, “and they’re thankful.”

What the Haitian people do not have, however, is a means of helping themselves. They cannot afford to recover from the disaster alone and need assistance from outside the country.

St. Ambrose has helped raise about one-third of the funds Hess has collected for Lifeline since the earthquake. She encourages anyone interested in helping to e-mail her and hopes to gather even more support.

“To be honest, I thought I’d be lucky to raise a $1000,” she said.

Hess well surpassed that, and has raised over $16,000, but she knows it is not nearly enough to repair the damages from the earthquake. She considers the restoration of the country to be an ongoing project and plans to keep traveling to Haiti.

“My heart is in Haiti,” Hess said. “I get homesick for Haiti and I’ll continue to go as long as I am able to go.”

Helping “Buy a Block, Build a Home” only takes a $5 donation, which can be dropped off in Student Disability Services. If every student gave $5, it would not take long to raise the funds necessary to provide a family with a safe place to call home.

The “Buy a Block, Build a Home” program allows for homes to be built block-by-block. Each block costs $5, and it takes 650 blocks to build a house.

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