Two years after the devastating earthquake that shook Haiti apart, a local group of philanthropists still aim to do all in their power to put the nation back together piece by piece.
“The Haiti adventure started back in 2010… we arrived in Haiti and then 50 minutes later the earthquake hit,” said Jim Reimer, pastor of Kootenay Christian Fellowship.
Reimer had led a group of 17 students into the country and five days after the quake hit they were brought home by the Canadian Army.
“That event was so dramatic and it endeared our hearts to Haiti,” he said.
Since then, Reimer has gone back to Haiti three times with others who are eager to help its people.
The first time he returned, Reimer felt the whole region was under post-traumatic stress.
“Their eyes were glazed over, they just didn’t seem to have any bounce in their step,” he said, adding that 300,000 people were killed by the earthquake and more than one million left homeless.
In March 2011, Reimer went back with a group to initiate a program called Each One Build One, an effort to involve the Haitian people in rebuilding their own homes by giving them the needed resources.
“The criteria for one of these houses was they had to own property, had to have a house destroyed by the earthquake and had to commit to helping build another house,” said Reimer.
Currently six families are involved in the initiative and are helping build each other’s houses.
“We physically did very little on the house building because we want the Haitians to build the houses…we were down to encourage and to view — and we were very excited to hand over the keys,” he said.
Reimer says one of the challenges is that the funding isn’t as generous for Haiti as it once was.
“People don’t have it in their mind anymore as much as they did… The world’s moved on the other crises and yet there’s still tens of thousands of people living in tents and in the most horrible situations from the earthquake, so the need is still really strong.”
Working with the organization Haiti Arise, Reimer and Kootenay Christian Fellowship have made it a mission to not just provide housing, but valuable skills as well.
“We don’t just want to give money to people, we want to help them help themselves,” he said
“By us going down there we train them and show them how to build a house, they build it and they acquire a skill that they can continue on.”
Reimer and a team from Nelson just recently returned from Haiti and said it was gratifying to witness what the donations were doing there.
“The exciting thing we saw when we went back to Haiti is that folks are actually working, people have a spring in their step again, there’s light in their eyes… they’re coming around.”
The next group from the Nelson region left last week and will spend three months there aiding in the effort.
“I was really encouraged this time going down because I saw a difference of people coming alive again,” said Reimer.
“We just need to give them the tools to help themselves and that’s what we’re all about. That’s what we’re trying to do.”