Building a better future in Haiti

Published: 24 August 2011 14:32 CET

By Becky Webb in Haiti

In the midst of nearly 400 brightly coloured shelters sits a large container filled with off-cuts of timber. This space, these pieces of leftover wood, and a few tools make up Giovanni’s carpentry workshop; a lifelong ambition which until recently seemed nothing more than a pipedream.

“Ever since I was a little boy I liked carpentry. I loved to build cabinets,” he explains with the aid of a sign language interpreter. “Before the earthquake, I was doing small jobs in factories but my dream was to open a carpentry shop. Now I’ve been given an opportunity and I want to keep growing my business bigger and bigger.”

Giovanni is one of the many from Haiti’s deaf community, living and working at the Red Cross transitional shelter construction site in La Piste, Port au Prince. Over 500 workers from the surrounding displaced community have worked at the site, and in January 2011 the very first families – many with hearing and speech impairments – moved in supported by a livelihood grant of US$250.

It is through his carpentry work at La Piste, and by saving his wages, that Giovanni has been able to realise his dream and open this small workshop.

“Ever since I started working for the Red Cross I saved money and am still saving. I wanted to save so I could open my own workshop – and finally I have,” he says. “But I’m still building shelters – my workshop is my part time job. I manage to build about four items a week to sell, things like bedside tables or cabinets.”

The stock made in the workshop is passed onto one of the many street vendors in Haiti who sell Giovanni’s furniture on the sides of the roads in Port au Prince. And while the workshop has been open for just five months and things are going well, Giovanni already has his eye on the future.

“As of now everything is running smoothly in the workshop. But I know the building work with the Red Cross is only for two years so I want to build the business up and make sure we are selling more than one or two items at a time,” he says.

Working with five other friends from the community, Giovanni is now increasing his production rate and sharing the profits with his colleagues.

“I wanted to involve other people, people that talk, but I don’t want to get into confrontation or misunderstanding with them. The guys from the deaf community – we understand each other.”

The next step in his business plan is to look for land and secure his business in Port au Prince although he hasn’t saved enough just yet.

“Right now I am supporting my family; my mother and father and my sister. Life has become more comfortable, I don’t have to wait for someone to give me a handout as I’ve got access to money to support myself,” he says.

Share this