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Laying foundations of safe havens in Haiti after quake disaster

CAMELIA Bierre's hands were shaking as she smiled for the cameras and accepted the keys to her new home. The Haven Partnership was handing over another house in the Haitian village of Ouanaminthe with a visit from the charity's founder Leslie Buckley.

This is the lush but impoverished rural canvas where 180 men and 80 women from Ireland built 41 houses last October, and their sawing and hammering still echoes.

Joe Grealy, Haven's project manager in the region, speaks proudly of the work done by volunteers here and of the work done since. There are 150 families placed already; there are also courses being run in everything from sexual health to landscaping.

But in two years' time Haven's office in Ouanaminthe will have closed, the charity workers moved on. Aid cannot be funnelled into one village forever. Asked if he's concerned for the future, Mr Grealy sucks his teeth.

"It's Haiti," he says. "It's Haiti."

Perhaps there's little else to add. But behind the new community hall built by Haven workers, the future is being moulded.

A group of young local men lay blocks and sand just for practice as they learn a trade for life. So the next generation's walls might stand stronger and longer.

And the village school is bustling, organised, uniform -- each child immaculately turned out despite the poverty and searing heat. An extra class provided with the charity's help means pupils keep on learning, when otherwise they would have long since dropped out.

In the schoolyard there's the toilet block built using cash from an impromptu whip-around by Haven volunteers during last October's 'Build It Week'. And there's the playground named after the late Fermoy rugby player Stuart Mangan, a little bit of Haiti that is forever Cork.

The kids march up and down the dusty yard, disciplined and drilled until they break into a shimmying dance and laughter fills the village.

A local translator turns the tables on the media by asking questions about Ireland. He has impeccable English. He learned it in school.

"Ireland used to be a poor country, but now it is rich," he declares, beaming. It would be obscene to bring up NAMA or 14.3pc budget deficits. Not in this environment.

"I hope Haiti's people who have left this country will soon come back with money and ideas to make it a better place. Like the Irish did."

His attitude is as infectious as his smile. As children reel around the schoolyard gleefully, it's clear to see he's not the only optimist amid Haiti's hot, prickly chaos.

Irish Independent