Yoland Thomas welcomed Avion Baptiste and Gilliam Charles from the Grenada Red Cross Society with open arms when their team visited her new home, on a rainy Thursday afternoon in October 2016.
Their reunion had a special meaning. Thomas had met them in 2015 when they were walking through the small community of Telescope to identify and select the families to be included in the Grenada Red Cross Society’s safer house programme.
After a thorough analysis for selecting the families, Thomas and her family were the first beneficiaries of this programme, which provides vulnerable people with training in safer building methods and materials to rebuilt or repair their houses increasing disaster preparedness.
“I feel safer at home now. Before I had the feeling that the house might blow away at any second. Now we can stay in our home when a strong wind comes along, we don’t always have to evacuate immediately,” Thomas explains while looking at her new home.
Thomas’ new home is a stilt house built on concrete pillars that rise about a metre from the ground. The house walls are made of wood. Thomas, her 55-year-old husband, Gerald Daniel, and their four grown-up children live together in this house.
The family moved to the area in 1998, but they could never earn enough money to finish building their home. Their financial situation has been unstable because none of the family members has a steady job, getting by with temporary work in Grenville, a nearby town where the majority of shops and businesses are located.
Daniel raises chickens to support the family’s income. He also has an open water tank where he keeps the crabs he collects on the beach to sell them for 2 East Caribbean dollars each.
Thomas does the housework, which is not an easy task because the main house has no kitchen or water pipes. She needs to walk a few metres to the neighbouring plot to collect water from a tap that is available for the neighbours that live in the area.
The lack of running water does not prevent Thomas to keep her house tidy. “I am a very clean person and I like everything in its place,” she said with visible pride.
The house courtyard is clear of bushes. At one side of the plot, there are chickens in cages, although some of them run free on the ground. At the end of the plot, you can also see the open tank Daniel built to keep the blue, yellow and red crabs that wave their pincers at the visitors. Clean clothes hang on washing lines between the concrete pillars.
The kitchen is located in a separate wood structure outside the main house, and it is also clean and tidy. The modest kitchen appliances and plastic containers are carefully organized on wood tables. The firewood stove consists of a grade placed on a pile of rocks located in the middle of the courtyard.
“I love my kitchen,” Yoland said without hesitation, although she pointed out that the constant smoke coming from the firewood irritates her eyes, and sometimes she cannot see very well. Another problem is the lack of food. “Sometimes we don’t have enough to eat,” she said, although she also recognized that they have never been hungry because they have the possibility to eat the chickens they raise for sale.
Gilliam Charles, Grenada Red Cross Society logistics coordinator, explained that through the safer house programme, families build the foundation of their house while the Red Cross provides training and materials to build the rest of the structure.
An important condition of the programme is that the people who work in the construction must live within the community, so that “in case of a disaster they already know how to rebuild their own houses,” Gilliam said while she sat on the stairs of the new house that cost 60,000 East Caribbean dollars (about 22,200 US dollars).
Gilliam is happy with the results of the programme, although she affirms that there is still much to be done. Thomas dreams of installing nice windows and a strong entrance door in her new home, while Daniel looks around and says with a smile on his face: “I’ve always liked it here. And with this new home, I like it even more because we can live much safer.”
The safer house programme is part of the Caribbean Communities Organized and Prepared for Emergencies (CCOPE) project, supported by the IFRC, the European Commission, and the High Commission of Canada.