Carters dedicate 100 homes with joyous Haitian families
The math is both simple and amazing: five days, 500 volunteers and staff, 100 home dedications. On Friday, brand new Haitian homeowners beamed, hugged and said goodbye to the volunteers who made the 28th Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project a reality.
On Friday afternoon, the Carters visited all the homeowners, giving each family a Haitian Bible they both had signed. Afterward, each home had its own official dedication, filled with speeches, hugs, tears, songs and photos.
At Volsy Mariyolene’s new home, she told her crew through a translator, “I love you all. It’s a small world.”
“I’m very grateful you have shared your strength with us,” said volunteer Rodney Goodman of Bowling Green, Kentucky, his voice breaking with emotion.
Volunteer John Scott of Montclair, New Jersey, wiped away tears. “I always say if you don’t cry at a Habitat dedication, there’s something wrong with you,” he said.
Because of the project’s ambitious goal, some homes still need minor final touches, and Habitat will hire Haitian contractors to complete the work. They will also dig a latrine for every house, and dig 26 wells for the homeowners to share. The families will start moving into their new homes the day after Christmas.
Earlier Friday, the Santo families took to the streets in a huge parade, clapping and singing exuberant hymns. They wove through the work site and stopped to serenade President and Mrs. Carter, singing a Creole version of “How Great Thou Art.” President Carter asked the assembled homeowners if they were satisfied with their houses so far. “Oui!” they shouted.
At 11 a.m., the clamorous build site fell silent to honor Veterans Day and Remembrance Day. American and Canadian flags were raised in a central lot, and volunteers gathered for a minute of silence, and a reading of the poem “In Flanders Field” over the loudspeaker. Then they sang “O Canada!” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” softly. President Carter, like many of the volunteers, held his hard hat over his heart.
“It’s an honor to build on the Carter Work Project on Veteran’s Day,” said volunteer Willie Wilkerson of College Park, Georgia. “I served in Vietnam from 1965 to 1967, and then I came back and taught high school for 40 years. I used to tell my students I served my country for peace and glory in a foreign land by carrying a weapon. Then I served my country for peace and glory in a foreign land without carrying a weapon.”
The Carter Work Project is already scheduled to return to Haiti in 2012. The reason for the back-to-back builds is simple, according to President Carter. “Haiti is in the worst need that we’ve ever seen anywhere in the world,” he said in a brief interview on the build site Thursday.
Amid all the celebrations on the build site Friday, plans are already under way to continue the work that has begun here.
“This is 100 families,” said Doug Taylor, a Habitat Haiti staffer. “But there are thousands of others in this town alone that need better housing. This should only be a start.”