Haiti earthquake response: Safe shelters

Building safe homes for families affected by the 7.2 earthquake in Haiti

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The Need

On August 14, 2021, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck southern Haiti, demolishing homes and roads and uprooting families. The prime minister of Haiti declared a one-month national state of emergency as injured and death counts grew. More than 2,200 people were confirmed killed and more than 12,200 were injured.

More than 52,000 homes were completely destroyed, while hospital, schools, roads and water systems left 650,000 people in desperate need of immediate humanitarian assistance. UNICEF estimates more than half a million children were affected. Shelter has been declared the greatest pressing need, as Haitian families are sleeping in homes missing roofs and walls, in open fields or in public buildings.

Sadly, Compassion’s beneficiaries were not spared from the tragedy. Forty-six church partners, serving 15,654 families and employing 1,346 staff, were affected by the deadliest earthquake and natural disaster of 2021.

Although Compassion isn’t primarily a disaster relief organization, it is imperative to respond to the critical needs of beneficiaries who are facing otherwise insurmountable loss.

Compassion’s local church partners in Haiti have been and will continue to be present in the lives of the children they serve. And right now, that means walking alongside parents and caring for little ones as they do the hard work of recovering from the latest devastating earthquake. Compassion Haiti is urgently working to provide shelters for children since Haiti is in the middle of hurricane season. The national office is exploring partnership opportunities with other local organizations to address the crisis quickly and effectively.

This critical intervention is part of Compassion’s larger strategy to restore families through food distribution, shelter construction, medical and post-trauma care, recapitalizing parents through income-generating activities and equipping/encouraging church leaders.

Our Response

With your generous support, we are helping about 12,000 families rebuild their homes—and their lives—following the devastating 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck southern Haiti on August 14, 2021.

The first step in this intervention was to construct transitional spaces for 34 impacted church partners, enabling them to provide a refuge for families and to continue children’s education as they began the long work of repairing the severe damage to their buildings. The second step was to erect temporary homes for 12,000 families so they could have a safe and decent place to sleep and store their belongings during the reconstruction of their homes.

Rebuilding after a devastating event like this is hard, slow work. As churches and families carry on with repairs, the sheer extent of the damage has only continued to unfold. Some churches have sustained extreme damage to their buildings, and their repairs are taking longer than anticipated. Ongoing fuel shortages, delays with contractors and transportation issues have further set back efforts in some communities, pushing back our expected completion date until June 2023.

According to the latest reports, 23 churches have completed their transitional spaces, allowing children to continue schooling and centre staff to continue offering vital programming and essential services. In addition, 2,547 temporary shelters for families have now been completed and 6,942 houses were repaired, so families were able to move back in. A total of 209 houses are being rented for beneficiaries whose families do not own land. To date, 11,311 families have already been reached by this intervention. Our church partners continue to support 953 beneficiaries whose shelters are not yet completed, and several additional transitional schools are still in progress for churches whose buildings are being completely reconstructed through a separate intervention.


Home repairs: Families received materials such as wood and metal sheets to help them repair and reinforce their homes. To date, 6,942 families have completed the repairs and have moved back in.

Temporary shelters: Families were so excited to receive funding and materials to construct safe, temporary shelters or reinforce their existing homes. Some families were able to hire a carpenter to assist with repairs. Families who did not own a property received assistance to rent homes temporarily.

Schools: Providing churches with transitional spaces for schools has minimized disruption to children’s education. This has provided children with a much-needed sense of stability and has been a huge relief for parents.

Monitoring and support: Centre staff have conducted regular meetings with caregivers to monitor their progress and staff from Compassion’s Disaster Response Office met with families to train them in how to rebuild more quickly and efficiently.

Your Gift Provides...

• Transitional spaces for 34 local church partners:
○ Sheet metal, wood, cement, sand and gravel
○ Transportation and labour

• Temporary shelters for 11,800 beneficiary families and 200 staff:
○ Sheet metal, wood, cement, sand and gravel
○ Transportation and labour

• Administration and implementer costs:
○ Salary, meals, fuel and lodging

ReportA message from a caregiver

The morning of August 14, 2021 will remain a dark day for Vania—the day she and her husband saw all of their efforts crumble away in just a few seconds. The earthquake that hit the southern coast of Haiti caused enormous damage, and Vania’s family was not spared.

Vania and her husband Robenson have six children and live in the town of Guichard, located 15 minutes from the city of Les Cayes. She is a devout Christian who loves to share with others about Jesus.

Vania sells a bit of everything to take care of her family: food products, clothes, household items.* She is always looking for opportunities to meet the needs of her children, two of whom, Jean François (10 years old) and Darlène (2 years old), are part of the Compassion program in the local church. “I manage as best I can and depend on the season and the opportunities; I find to sell what seems most affordable to the market. I don’t have enough money to put up a store, but I’m doing what I can do,” shared Vania. Her husband Robenson works with animals and agriculture, which gives him the means to produce some food to feed the children and take care of family needs.

When the earthquake hit, the family was already fighting to survive. Then their house was destroyed and all their furniture, personal belongings and other important documents were buried under the rubble.

During the minutes which followed the earthquake, Vania only wanted to return home and hear from her family. Moving around was extremely complicated in the city. People were panicking, and everyone wanted to hear from loved ones. Unable to find a taxi, she started walking, hoping to find one along the way as she was quite a distance from home.

When she finally arrived, it was with a sense of both desolation and relief that she found that her house had been destroyed but that all her children and her husband were safe. “I cried when I saw the debris of the house after the disaster, but when I realized that I could have lost my house and also a member of my family too, I hugged Darlène and found strength in her innocent eyes,” Vania said.

It was the start of a long and difficult period for this humble family who had lost everything in just a few seconds. And as if to add insult to injury, on the very evening of the earthquake, a hurricane also hit the southern part of the country with heavy rains.

Even though they were homeless and with no means to shelter themselves against the rain, Vania and her family were not alone. During the first hours after the earthquake, centre staff visited the family to hear from them and offer emergency provisions to cover themselves from the rain immediately.

When the sun reappeared, Vania and her husband managed to create a shelter with the few resources they had at their disposal. Given the very limited space in this shelter, the whole family could not all stand or sleep in it. Reluctantly, Vania sent two of her older children to sleep with friends in the neighbourhood. “We could barely lie down in the little shelter we had set up. When it rained at night, we got wet most of the time. It was not possible to stay together even if we wanted to,” Vania said.

As Vania and her family fought to continue to survive, another calamity would strike. One night, dogs from the area attacked the family’s cattle. Of the ten animals, only two survived the attack. Now, the family had lost both their home and their only means of income.

Despite these severe challenges, Vania never lost her faith and continued praying fervently that God would provide her family with a safe shelter. She stayed in touch with the centre staff, who offered her whatever emotional, spiritual and financial support they could.

When Vania received the news from centre staff that the family would receive a temporary shelter, she was overjoyed. It was a clear and direct answer to her biggest prayer. “I lost my house with everything in the earthquake, but God preserved my family. I know He had a good reason for that, and He proved to me His kindness through the support we received from our Compassion family,” Vania said.

Work on the shelter took about a week. With immense gratitude, Vania and her family moved into their new space. She was so relieved that her older children could return home and the family could be complete once again. “Where people see a temporary shelter, I see a palace. The Lord heard our cries and responded through Compassion,” Vania says about her new home. Although it is not a permanent arrangement, Vania and her family are extremely grateful to God and Compassion.

“I will rejoice in the name of the Lord. His mercy and His grace bring hope to my family despite the darkest moment,” Robenson, Vania’s husband, said.

When a few days after moving to her new shelter Vania welcomed her first guests, a delegation from the Compassion Haiti office, her joy was boundless. “Seeing how grateful this mother is after losing everything is something that touched my heart deeply. These are the kinds of testimonies that motivate us more in this ministry,” Guilbaud, National Director for Compassion Haiti, said after visiting and praying with the family.

Despite all the challenges they have endured in recent months, Vania and her family are grateful. More challenges remain in the days to come, but Vania knows that her family won’t face them alone.

*Vania’s family will likely be included in an income-generation intervention, so they can restart their business.

Story gathered by Erick Jura, Compassion Haiti photojournalist

ReportA message from those your gift helped

My name is Marcelinio and I am 14 years old. I have been living in the community with my family for seven years now. After the earthquake, my family’s living conditions were very difficult because our house was affected by the disaster. We had no choice but to sleep outside, which exposed us to rain, wind, etc. and even to insects that make us sick.

The financial support provided by Compassion has allowed my family to build a shelter where we can stay temporarily and not be exposed to the rains, the sun, the wind and anything else that could endanger our lives. We are very grateful to have a place to live. I don’t know how long it will take my parents to fix the house.

The change that happened in my life after the earthquake, where Compassion allowed my family to find a place to live, means a lot to me and my family’s future. It means that God is great, and we can expect greater things from Him.

One of the biggest lessons I learned from this intervention that helped my family is that Compassion loves the beneficiaries, including myself, and that the leadership is always committed to improving our lives.

I would like to thank you for the compassion that you have shown to us in times of difficulties. May God richly bless and protect you.

Marcelinio, a Compassion beneficiary in HA0887

ReportThank you for your generosity

Your support through prayers and financial assistance to build and repair schools, churches, Compassion centres and homes is restoring hope and security among 12,000 families across 34 communities in Haiti who were affected by the devastating and deadly earthquake of August 2021.

The impact of this intervention is outstanding. First, it has allowed children to return to school and to learn in a safe environment. This has reduced their fear of building collapse that grew from the constant aftershocks that continued after the earthquake. Students regained their hope as they were encouraged to continue to pursue their dreams for the future.

Families who had been sleeping outside were able to keep their families together and find a safe and secure place to live while rebuilding their homes. Despite their financial limitations, with your help, they were able to build their own shelters, repair their existing homes or rent a house to live in for a one-year period. It has been a great relief for many of them. No longer needing to divide up their families or stay with relatives and friends in cramped living conditions, these families so appreciate having their new shelters and glorify God for them. Compassion looks forward to seeing the remaining 953 temporary homes completed.

Finally, this intervention has had a significant impact on whole communities. Compassion’s disaster response efforts show how much Compassion cares about the beneficiaries and their families. Centre and church partner staff express that it has been a blessing to be able to serve so many families after this devastating earthquake.

With safe shelters in place, children can continue their education with minimal disruption. They can rest easy at night, knowing their houses aren’t going to collapse while they are sleeping. Most important, as families continue rebuilding and recovering, they know there is real hope for the future. Thank you for being part of this incredible initiative, which is changing so many lives!