In the span of a month, the news from Haiti has been as shocking as has been sobering. First, in the early-morning hours of July 7th, there was the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse. In a matter of weeks, the country was then ravaged by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that, according to Haiti’s civil protection agency, wrought some 2,189 deaths and 12,000 injuries. As if the scene couldn’t get any more grim, heavy rainfall from the recent tropical storm Grace has added to the misery, where earthquake victims have already been sleeping outdoors. These unfathomable events (compounded by the coronavirus, in which just 0.17% of Haitians have received at least one dose of a vaccine) would challenge any nation, let alone the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Yet, as hospitals care for survivors and as rescuers comb through the ruins, local and international organizations (such as Florida-based Hope For Haiti) have been accepting donations—including New Story, a nonprofit dedicated to building affordable homes for disaster victims around the world. “Imagine spending night after night in a tent with no safety and no stability,” Brett Hagler, cofounder of New Story, told AD in 2017. Some four years later, the country is in need of affordable housing now more than ever.
Since launching in 2015, New Story has completed more 2,000 homes across Haiti (1,050), El Salvador (400), Bolivia (66), and Mexico (650). The homes feature two bedrooms, a communal area, a shower and latrine, and, in some areas, land on which to grow food. Solar panels generate electricity, and—for the newest houses—a water system collects and purifies rain. Amazingly, the cost per home on average comes to just about $6,500. In Haiti, each roughly 500-square-foot residence is designed according to Miami-Dade County earthquake and hurricane codes. It’s because of this fact that, thankfully, the homes built by New Story survived the most recent salvo of natural disasters.
Funded through donations, New Story uses all the money it raises to acquire land and fund construction. “Many people we hire are members of the local communities,” cofounder Alexandria Lafci says. Maintaining those communities, she explains, is ultimately the goal. Rather than putting up one-off houses that might upset social networks, New Story plans clusters of homes and gives families full ownership to ensure roots that will last for generations. New Story has been collaborating with AD since 2017 to fund and build its newest Haitian development, preventing further disruptions to family routines. “If you’re a single mother who relies on a friend to watch your child, you don’t want to lose that when you move,” Lafci says. “We’re not asking families to completely restart their lives.” What they do offer, however, are new beginnings. “It’s amazing to see kids move in,” Hagler says. “They’re so happy and proud to have a house because many of them have never had one.”
According to UNICEF, the latest earthquake has affected some 1.2 million Haitians (almost 11% of the country’s population). The child-welfare organization estimates that 84,000 homes were damaged or destroyed—a dilemma that they say will require at least $15 million to respond to urgent needs. This is all happening in a country ravaged by turf wars, murders, rapes, and kidnappings at the hands of active gangs. With no other alternatives, displaced Haitians are seeking refuge anywhere they can find it; some sleep in public parks and squares while others crowd into churches and gymnasiums. “As Americans, the pandemic has forced us to confront the importance of home more than ever,” says Sarah Lee, Chief Operating Officer at New Story. “Families in Haiti haven’t had the option to stay safe at home because they don’t have a safe home to begin with. Together we can help families rebuild and unlock their safety, security, and opportunities to thrive.”