Helping to rebuild Haiti

Today (Wednesday January 12) marks the first anniversary of the Haiti Earthquake. Measuring 7 on the Richter Scale, the quake took place a mere 25 kms west of Port Au Prince, the country's capital. By January 24 some 52 aftershock quakes measuring 4.5 or greater had been recorded.

Today (Wednesday January 12) marks the first anniversary of the Haiti Earthquake. Measuring 7 on the Richter Scale, the quake took place a mere 25 kms west of Port Au Prince, the country's capital. By January 24 some 52 aftershock quakes measuring 4.5 or greater had been recorded.

An estimated three million people were affected by the quake including a reported 230,000 deaths, 300,000 injured and one million homeless.

Gerry Reilly (25) of Rossduff, Aughnacliffe, is a young man living and working in Haiti since October 2010. Gerry is based at Port Au Prince with the organisation Architecture for Humanity (AFH).

"In Haiti, AFH are concerned with the building of schools, community facilities and developing transitional and long term sustainable housing in the areas most affected by the quake. They are committed to the rebuilding of Haiti for the next two to three years," said Gerry in a recent interview with the Longford Leader.

During his time in Haiti, Gerry has seen a number of changes take place in the country including the dreaded cholera outbreak.

"Over my short time in the country the biggest change to Haiti is undoubtedly the cholera outbreak. From an architect's point of view cholera, along with pressure from earthquakes, hurricanes, blistering heat and torrential rain is now a factor that will have to be dealt with in the design of new schools and buildings in Haiti," he said.

The country also experienced a major change with the General Elections announcement that took place in 2010. For Gerry, and other relief workers, it was a turbulent time.

"All aid work and foreign operations being carried out in Port Au Prince came to a stand still due to the intense rioting after the election announcement. Many foreign organisations like ours went into 'lockdown mode' - where as a safety precaution we didn't leave the house during election week and instead worked from home. There were burning tyres, tear gas and the UN presence everywhere," he said.

For many of Haiti's homeless, refuge has been sought in the Sean Penn camp JHPRO, which is also known as a 'tent city'. Gerry described what the living conditions were like for those at JHPRO.

"The living conditions in camps are tough. However there's a great sense of community and a lot of work has been done to make them as sustainable as possible...The tents themselves are difficult to live in. The threat of hurricanes, the heat and torrential rain make them less than ideal for habitation. However there is a lot of hard work being done to transition families to permanent homes," he said.

Despite the turmoil in Haiti Gerry, who is a son of Eugene and Mary Reilly, has had many memorable moments such as before Christmas when AFH told the principal of a school that they had received funding for the design of a new school.

"He was very emotional and told us he prays for Architecture for Humanity to have strength morning and night and that it is very special that we help the little guy. Mornings like that make the cold showers, bad food, and burning tyres worth the effort," he said.

AFH works alongside the Irish charity Haven Partnership.

"I regularly meet with the Haven team in Port Au Prince to discuss projects and how things are going. Digicel (Denis O'Brien mobile phone company) is also the largest non state employer in Haiti. Everyone in the country only has good things to say about Digicel and Irish people in general," said Gerry.

To find out more about AFH and their work in Haiti, or to make a donation, visit http://architectureforhumanity.org.