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Marie Jeanne Louissaint and her daughters are happy to trade their old, quake-damaged thatch-roof home for the sturdy new one that Heifer built.

Story by Katya Cengel
Images by Geoff Oliver Bugbee

It takes an hour to reach the community of Ivoire from the nearest city of Montrouis. And that is if you have a sure-footed Land Cruiser, and a driver daring enough to tackle a narrow and steep unpaved road that climbs nearly 3,000 feet and is dotted with substantial stone barriers.

Heifer International has been working in this mountain community of 250 families, one of eight communities nestled in the Chaine des Matheux in West Haiti, since 2002. Originally the focus was on sustainable agriculture, teaching the community how to build stone ledges to prevent the hilly terrain on which they farm from further erosion.

More recently Heifer has built 27 homes to replace those damaged by the 2010 earthquake. The concrete block houses not only stand straighter and stronger than the old earthen ones, they are also in many cases remarkably more spacious.

Marie Jeanne Louissaint is petite, but even she used to have to bend down to enter the old thatch roof home she shared with her husband, Emmanuel Louissaint, and their two daughters, Marielande, 12, and Jovanka, 8. When the family slept, the single room dwelling was so cramped that Emmanuel could not straighten his legs.

In the family’s new home there is enough room above their heads to hang clothes from the wood beams that support the structure’s sheet metal roof and still not have to duck to avoid the hanging items. Even with the addition of beds, there is still plenty of free floor space. Marie Jeanne hopes to fill the space with a table and other items.

Anything she buys will most likely come from the city at the bottom of the mountain, a journey which takes her two hours each way on foot. The primary method of transportation in the community is by foot or by donkey or pony, all of which take about the same amount of time. Not many outsiders make the trek, and she is glad Heifer hired people to come to help build her new house.

The earthquake destroyed a wall on her old home and caused it to lean to the side. When it rained at night the family would stay up watching in case the structure fell on their heads. Now they sleep comfortably, and soundly.


Donna Stokes

Donna Stokes is the managing editor of World Ark magazine. She has worked for Heifer International since September 2008 when she leaped over to the nonprofit world from a two-decade career in newspaper journalism.