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Gail McGovern: Latest Visit to Haiti

Editor’s note: On July 21 and 22, American Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern traveled to Port-au-Prince, her fifth visit to Haiti since last year’s devastating earthquake. Here are some observations from the trip.

Every time I make a trip to Haiti, it looks a little bit better. On this visit, I’ve sensed a real feeling of optimism. There’s a returning sense of normalcy, less rubble, and signs of rebuilding. I also saw fewer people in the camps, and the numbers bear it out. People are moving from under tarps, into homes and getting on with their lives.

Gail Mcgovern Haiti visit

What the American Red Cross is doing in Haiti is very much in the spirit of building back better.

On Friday I attended a meeting of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission. President Martelly was at that meeting, and shared with us the details of his 100-day plan. Among other things, it focuses on systematic ways to move people out of six camps and into neighborhoods. The plan seems reasonable and feasible, and I was certainly impressed with the presentation.

The American Red Cross and our partners in the Red Cross network have decided to allocate funds to relocate about 900 families from one of the makeshift camps, as part of the 100-day plan. We’ll do this through a combination of new home construction, repair of damaged homes and economic support to renters.

What the American Red Cross is doing in Haiti is very much in the spirit of building back better. The global Red Cross network has also committed to helping 30,000 families transition out of camps and into safer homes. That work is well underway, and more than 12,000 families have been helped. Semi-permanent houses are going up and there are smiles on the faces of recipients. It’s a beautiful thing to see.

Hurricane Tomas Haiti 2010

Building permanent communities will be harder, and will take longer.

The next step in our housing strategy is more ambitious. We’re planning on repairing and potentially building permanent homes. In fact, one of our stops on this trip was at a housing exposition in Port-au-Prince. President Martelly and Bill Clinton – who’s co-chair of the recovery commission – attended the expo as well. About 60 different construction companies were there showing their designs. We’re putting together a request for proposals to evaluate which options are best for us.

Building permanent communities will be harder, and will take longer. It will involve not just the homes themselves, but a whole series of interconnected services, from water and sanitation to roads. We’re talking about a massive urban renewal program that’s going to take years to complete. Our hope to create sustainable change in Haiti.

When I look at the Haitians, I see people who are hopeful, optimistic and resilient. They’re industrious and entrepreneurial. But Haiti is a challenging place too. It’s going to be complex to get all this done in an equitable way. Despite the challenges, I truly do have a feeling of optimism.