Rebuilding After Hurricane Matthew
As a father, one of Jean Benjamin Brison’s top priorities is to protect his family. That’s why in the early morning hours of October 4, 2016, as forceful winds from Hurricane Matthew started rattling the doors and windows of his home, the 40-year-old father of three told his frightened children to get under the dining room table.
“It was about one o’clock in the morning. The wind was very loud and strong. I woke up my daughters and told them to get under the table. I thought that would protect them from getting hurt.”
Jean (left) explaining what happened the night of the hurricane
And indeed, it did. No one in Jean’s family was physically injured as the Category 4 storm made its way across Haiti’s Southern Peninsula. But everything in the house was destroyed, as well as nearly all of their crops and livestock.
“Our beds, clothes, everything was ruined. I had five goats, three sheep and two pigs. Now, I only have one pig. All theother animals died. The next morning, I found them there,” he said pointing to an area behind his house.
In the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, Jean felt discouraged and overwhelmed by the weight of the devastation and destruction it caused. Born and raised in Cassis, a rural, mountainous village about an hour from the coastal city of Les Cayes, he has lived through hurricanes and tropical storms before. But, this one was different.
“We are used to hurricanes. There’s usually some rain and wind, and then it’s over. We had heard on the radio that a hurricane was coming, but I have never seen anything like this in my life. Never.”
Hurricane Matthew destroyed Jean’s home where he lived with his wife and three children
In December, the Smallholder Farmer’s Alliance (SFA) introduced an agricultural recovery project to help families in Cassis and seven surrounding communities rebuild. Supported with funding from Project Medishare, the project provided 800 families with the seeds, tools and training needed to make their farms productive again. In addition, the farmers received assistance in establishing four nurseries, which are expected to generate a minimum of 40,000 trees this year. The project brought with it a glimmer of hope to Jean and other famers in his community.
“Since the hurricane, we have been living with a neighbor. My mom and sisters live in a tent. I couldn’t do anything for them. I didn’t know what I would do,” said Jean, pausing for a moment before continuing. “When [Agronomist] Abel came to talk to farmers in our [peasant’s association] about this project, I felt encouraged. I felt that maybe now I would have a chance.”
As the manager of the nursery in Cassis, Jean ensures that farmers take turns caring for the fruit and timber trees until they’re mature enough to be distributed and planted. Every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, farmers tend to tree varieties such as moringa, orange, cherry, papaya, cedar, mango and acacia. Caring for the nursery is a sense of pride for the farmers, and helps them remain optimistic as they wait to benefit from the fruits of their labor.
Tree nursery in Cassis, which will help reforest the community and provide an income for farmers
While Jean feels more hopeful about the future, he and his family are still dealing with the psychological effects of the hurricane. He’s noticed a change in his childrens’ appetite, and whenever there’s a gust of wind, they get scared. His oldest daughter regularly visits their damaged house.
“My daughter will come to the house and just stand inside saying: Papa, look at our house. Look where we used to live. Why did God let this happen?”
Jean’s family lived in the house for 13 years. Though nothing can replace their old home and the memories they shared there, he is ready to rebuild.
“Because of SFA, I have hope. Now that I know I can earn money again, I got a loan to build a new house for my family,” Jean said with a broad smile. He plans to build his new home on the plot of land just below the old one.