“Mwen kontan we w” – a simple yet touching Haitian saying that marks the start of the working day for British Red Cross staff, volunteers and community members in Haiti. It means “I’m happy to see you”, and with the Haiti recovery in its third year, this is one working relationship that couldn’t be more important.
Following the devastating earthquake in 2010, the Red Cross is rebuilding homes, livelihoods and town infrastructures in the Delmas 19 area. A team of staff and volunteers, also known as community mobilisers, are working alongside locals to make sure that the work is being shaped by them.
Mor Goldberger, community mobilisation team manager for the British Red Cross says: “We are thinking long-term. The current regeneration needs engagement from community members – otherwise these structures will not last.”
Put simply, community mobilisers are champions for local people, relaying messages between them and Red Cross technical workers. This can take the form of regular meetings, surveys and even general conversation – where they can note any issues surfacing within an area.
And because mobilisers are recruited locally, they are able to walk through communities and speak directly to people. Over time, mobilisers are becoming better and better at advocating on behalf of those they represent.
It isn’t just the communities that are benefitting either. Mor explains: “Mobilisers have received extensive training, hugely increasing their ability to work with other institutions. The skills they learn mean that they will continue to work with local communities for years to come.”
And it works both ways. Mobilisers are making communities aware of the need for long-term preparedness. Given that Haiti is prone to natural disasters, in addition to chronic poverty affecting daily life, the Red Cross has recently encouraged over 2000 individuals to sign up for health insurance.
Mor says: “Getting community members to see the value of this is real challenge. The idea of paying for something that you may or may not use when there are so many other priorities can be difficult.
“But the fact is that Haiti suffers from natural disasters regularly – so building people’s ability to bounce back from crises is vital. Our community mobilisers set up local meetings with insurance specialists and were able to demonstrate the importance of preparing in this way.”
With the British Red Cross’ work in its final stages, this type of handover to Haitian communities is crucial. In Mor’s words: “Recovery must carry on when we leave, and this will only happen if communities are involved now.”
Read more about the British Red Cross Haiti earthquake recovery.