ELCA students visit LWF model village in Haiti

Students from Luther College in the United States take in sights and stories at LWF's model village in Gressier, Haiti.Photo: LWF/Helene Branco

(LWI) – Students of the US-based Luther College have taken in the sights and stories of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Model village in Gressier, Haiti.

Since the January 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people, damaged or destroyed more than 300,000 buildings and left 1.5 million people homeless, the LWF program in the Caribbean country has been working with partners on projects aimed at reconstruction, reducing the risk of natural disasters and rebuilding the environment. The Model Resettlement Village is situated in Gressier, just west of Port-au-Prince, in the area where the earthquake struck hardest. In total, 150 families whose homes were destroyed have found a new life here. The project was supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

It was this connection which brought the students as part of a course on ”Borders, Migration and Identity” on a trip to the Caribbean. By visiting a project funded by their church, the students learnt about displacement after natural disasters and socio-economic, as well as political shocks and motivations. There were also some personal motivations and connections to the country. “My father is from Haiti”, Iloria, one of the students, said. “I wanted to see what the country is like because I have heard so much about it and have never experienced it myself.”

Clinton, a student from Ghana, expressed great interest in seeing similarities between the Caribbean and African cultures. George, a business student at Luther College, has been doing a lot of research on investments and projects that are being implemented in Haiti.

Teaching instead of being dependent

The Gressier Model village was constructed on the principle of “Building Back Better”. It does not just provide shelter, but hurricane-proof houses which are meant to withstand similar disasters in the future. Alongside the houses, other amenities were put into place: rainwater evacuation canals, retaining walls, a waste water system, rubbish disposal, solar panels, a community center, playground and an access road. The village was inaugurated in 2013 under a co-ownership agreement, and families began to move in.

The students went to see this newly built infrastructure, but also met a resident who shared her experience of the earthquake and how she later came to live in the village.

After inauguration, LWF’s goal was to help residents build a sustainable community. It offered training in leadership and management, in co-ownership rules and in income generation programs. “Our class discussed the importance of teaching and providing knowledge, as opposed to being dependent on others,” Luther students Alahna Keil and Elizabeth Hardy wrote in a blog later on. The students also handed over a donation to the village.

“Although we learned a great deal during our time at the village, we also had the chance to play and interact with the locals,” they say. “Despite the heat, an international soccer match ensued, which the Luther team lost. Quinn also introduced them to American football and it was wonderful to watch the children discover a new sport.”

“Overall we were impressed by the organization and cleanliness of the village, as well as the friendliness of its people. For the two of us this was the best day of the trip so far,” the students conclude.

With contributions from Helene Branco, LWF Haiti.