Successful Shelter Distribution is in the Details

shelter distribution

Recipients of a CRS shelter kit distribution line up to show their registration tickets – essential in any distribution to keep track of who will receive the items available. Photo by David Snyder for CRS

Of all things I have seen and photographed for aid agencies, distributions are always among the most interesting. It seems a simple thing in theory, to hand out the items people need in the wake of a crisis like the Haiti earthquake, but when you see one in action, you realize every detail must be carefully attended to.

Today CRS distributed shelter kits in the Petionville camp. It is the largest camp in Port-au-Prince—home to more than 40,000 people. That alone presents challenges, because unless you are distributing to every single person in the camp—a near impossibility with so large a site—some people simply will not be receiving items today. If you can image crowding into a camp of thousands, having lost everything and being nearly completely dependant on others to provide you with even the basics, you can imagine the tension in such a place when trucks show up with the tarps, nails, and rope you need to build a shelter.

shelter helper

CRS staff chip in to help prepare a distribution of shelter kits in the Petionville camp in Port-au-Prince. Photo by David Snyder for CRS

Order is everything. I have seen many distributions over more than 13 years now of working with international NGO’s, and I can say honestly that CRS conducts the best I’ve ever seen. The reason: they keep strict control, from start to finish. No one who is not registered to receive items gets anywhere near the stacks of relief kits or food being distributed. The reason for that is simple—if one person decides to jump a rope and take a kit, the safety of everyone in the distribution, staff and beneficiaries alike, is in danger. Moreover, CRS targets those most in need, usually the most vulnerable in any society or displaced population—women, the elderly and the poorest of the poor. They can only be reached by careful planning, or it is always the youngest and the fittest who would receive the available items.

In less than one hour today CRS distributed 700 shelter kits—enough to reach more than 3,500 people with much-needed shelter materials. Since January 12, the day of the earthquake—CRS has reached more than 60,000 people with shelter distributions, evidence of which is everywhere in the Petionville camp.

Tonight is my last night here in Haiti, and this is what I can tell you about the time I spent here with CRS. There are amazing staff from all over the world here, supporting the CRS Haiti staff and lending expertise in every imaginable field relevant to emergency response. I know many of them personally, having worked with them in other regions of the world, and I know what they can do. They often start work at dawn and even casual conversations in the late hours of the night revolve often around solving the problems of the day, or anticipating those of tomorrow. Every day is a challenge, and while things don’t always go right, people figure out ways around problems and make things move. It is all about momentum. The people in the camps are tired and anxious and fearing the coming rains, but they are also incredibly resilient. That combination is the best hope for Haiti in the long months ahead.

David Snyder is a free-lance photojournalist reporting from Haiti for CRS.

shelter project

A Haitian hired through a CRS cash for work project includes rope in emergency shelter kits for distribution at a CRS warehhouse in Port-au-Prince. Photo by David Snyder for CRS

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One Response to “Successful Shelter Distribution is in the Details”

  1. Debbie DeVoe Says:

    I felt like I was right there with you David. Thanks for your reporting and photos from Haiti. We’re lucky to tap your expertise as well!

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