On a recent visit to the commune of Port-de-Paix in northern Haiti, we had the opportunity to speak with Berlin Jean. Berlin is currently working for World Concern as Shelter Manager for a disaster risk reduction project in the Port-de-Paix area. He is a civil engineer by trade, 30 years old, and a lot of fun to be around. Berlin is the kind of person that others gravitate towards. The earthquake that shook Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas on January 12 2010, also shook up Berlin’s life. He graciously sat down with us and discussed how, as he puts it, “Jesus saved him to serve people.” Berlin also shared with us about his current work with World Concern and how it is impacting communities in northern Haiti.
Austin: So January 12, 2010. How did you start the day? Do you remember what the morning was like?
Berlin: I remember. I had a course, a class to teach in Delmas (a neighborhood in Port-au-Prince). A course of physics. And after teaching, I have the course at 12pm, when I finish there was a building, a university, in the same place as the college. And I go to the fifth floor to work with some students you know. And after some time, it seems there was someone that told me to go out. It seems there was someone who told me, who asked me to go out and leave the building. I feel something.
A: No one spoke to you?
B: No, no one. I feel something would happen. I told them, tomorrow, because I want to leave. So I go out. When I was arriving in the yard of the school, I was talking to my friends you know and after leaving the gate of the school I felt something…I felt something. I didn’t understand because it was for the first time in Haiti we will have something like this.
A: What were you thinking when it first was shaking?
B: I didn’t understand. I closed my eyes, I didn’t understand. And after opening my eyes I didn’t see the school. I said, “Oh my God what happened?” And at the same time I saw all of my friends who were in the same class with me and everybody was dead. I can say only me, only me was there…was still alive, only me.
A: How do you explain the feeling you had to leave the building? Do you think its’ from God or is it something that just came to your mind?
B: I know one of the reasons we have a lot of people died in Haiti is because of the bad manner of construction in Haiti.
As an engineer for example, I find a possibility to teach people, to train people; to say to them that when you construct you have to use the good materials, the good sand, because if something else will happens, I can’t say we will not have any victims but we will have less victims. This is one of the ways I can serve people.
A: What project are you working on now?
B: The title of my project is CIDRR, its Community Initiatives for Disaster Risk Reduction. But there is three parts in this project. There is water, sanitation and hygiene. And there is shelter. And protection of environment. But me, I am working as manager for shelter.
A: What does this project hope to achieve for the people of Port-de-Paix?
B: Yes, you know the first time I come to Port-de-Paix I saw Port-de-Paix is very very very vulnerable. You will visit the areas. You will see how it is very very…for me it is the most vulnerable area in Haiti.
A: What makes it vulnerable?
B: You can see there is mountains around us okay. Now, the people construct at the top of the mountain and it is bad construction. They don’t really take, how can I say that, use good materials and so forth you know.
Now I have to visit the community shelters because if there is a storm the population leaves their house to come to the shelter; if the shelter is not good is not nothing. And I will train the masons, okay I will train them to construct good houses and if there is one day something happen like an earthquake and the shelters have to resist okay.
A: How does World Concern in this project involve the community? Do you speak to the community about what is needed?
B: Yes, yes. We have a lot of meetings with the community. We have meetings too with the local authority. You know we have a lot of meetings.
And we encourage them to participate, to give participation when we are working for them too. For example in some community we find out about toilet and latrine. But we won’t come and do the latrine for the people. They can dig. Yeah, they have to participate.
A: Have you been able to share your story with other people?
B: This story? Oh yes. Because for me it a very very interesting story. You know, maybe if someone didn’t believe in God, after hearing this story he would say that “Oh maybe there is really a God.” My story can help people to save themself.
A: For someone that has never been to Haiti, what would you want people to know about this place, about your country? What would you share with them?
B: I hear that people say, “Please don’t come in Haiti because Haiti is a bad country. There are a lot of insecurity, for example, in Haiti. There are problems in Haiti. Haiti is a dirty country. Haiti bad country.” Me, I say to them, “No, no, no.” The Haitian people is a good, good, very good people.
…I have to say that Haiti have some magnificent places. Yes, Haiti is a very, very, very good country. And I encourage people to come and to see if Haiti is a bad country.
A: Your story is giving people hope and encouragement about Haiti and what World Concern is doing here. Thank you for sharing.
B: Me, I thank you. It’s for me to thank you and to thank World Concern too because in the name of all Haitian people, in the name of all my team, in the name of all employees of World Concern in Haiti, we thanks World Concern very much because it help. Thank you, thank you very much. May God bless World Concern, because I love World Concern.