Embouchure, Haiti (IOCC) – Driving south from the earthquake-ravaged Haitian city of Leogane, the road into the tragically de-forested mountains of Haiti's southwest peninsula becomes increasingly steep and narrow until you reach the point where even a four-wheel drive vehicle can go no further. Somewhere ahead in these broken hills is the village of Embouchure, Haiti.
When the long drive by road ends, you have arrived – at the starting point of a daunting two-and-a-half hour walk, down an incredibly steep switchback trail, then next to – and occasionally through – a river until you reach a remote school where another river converges at the village.
Embouchure, however, is less of a rural village than it is the meeting point for thousands of people who assemble here from their remote mountain dwellings for the market that materializes each Tuesday.
"Normally, after this kind of a trek into a wildly remote area you would expect to find very few people," reflects Mark Gruin, IOCC's capacity development coordinator, who oversees the ongoing response in Haiti. "It was amazing to arrive at the river junction and find 5,000 people at the point where the rivers meet – people who had walked hours through the steep hills to come to the weekly market."
In Embouchure, far away from the attention focused on the urban areas around Leogane and the Haitian capital city Port-au-Prince, the modest St. Joseph's school that served more than 300 children from the surrounding areas was badly damaged by the January 2010 earthquake. For months after the quake children continued to gather around and use the damaged school. There was simply no alternative.
As part of its response to the earthquake and the recovery challenges that have followed, IOCC has been supporting the reconstruction of the school for the people of Embouchure. The work is being done in cooperation with Finn Church Aid, a partner agency in the ACT Alliance, a global coalition of churches and agencies engaged in development, humanitarian assistance and advocacy.
Designing and building a new school in such a difficult and remote place, and building it to withstand earthquakes and hurricanes, is a daunting challenge. Finn Church Aid is leading these efforts, with a commitment to build at least 100 new schools that can also serve as emergency community shelters in the event of earthquakes or hurricanes.
Progress in the school's construction has been challenging – the same path that leads people into the remote site of Embouchure is also the route for all of the supplies that must be brought in to build a new school.
"Each donkey can take only two sacks of cement per trip and we have delivered over 230 sacks already, but there are only 10-12 mules available in the area," explained Ms. Sari Kaipainen, the reconstruction manager from Finn Church Aid.
"We decided to cut all wooden trusses for the wall and roof into pieces in Port-au-Prince and then mark them with letters so that we can put them together on site like IKEA furniture following simple instructions. This way, we do not have to bring large pieces of raw wood, which would be very time consuming and difficult."
"We are using mules for all deliveries, which is time consuming, but the big plus is that this also employs more local workers and mule owners; so in that sense it is good news that many people of Embouchure are participating with this school project which helps to create a better sense of ownership."
Just over a year after the devastating earthquake, Embouchure now has a new school – and a new reason for people in this rural area to converge by the rivers.
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