On a recent hot and sunny day in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, a group of military personnel from U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), staff with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. Treasury went to Tabarre Isa camp armed with buckets of blue and white paint and paintbrushes. Their mission is to work with camp residents to paint a newly constructed police substation. The structure enables U.N. Police (UNPOL) and Haitian National Police (HNP) to have a full-time presence in the camps, and it provides crime victims, especially women and children, a safe refuge where they can report crime.
The U.S. government built police substations in six key camps in the Port-au-Prince area for people displaced by the Jan. 12 earthquake, including Ancien Aeroport Militaire, Golf del Mar 48, Acra, Tabarre Issa, Carredeaux and Corail Cesselesse, to help reduce crime in the camps, particularly gender-based violence. Originally, UNPOL was going to construct the police substations over the course of six months for $50,000. But because SOUTHCOM had extra time and resources, they completed the project in six weeks at a cost of $5,000.
In August, Louisiana National Guard Task Force Commander Col. Michael Borrel and his Task Force Kout Men had two engineer rotations working in Gonaives as part of SOUTHCOM’s New Horizons humanitarian assistance exercise. When Lt. Col. Paul Gass, an Army civil affairs officer attached to the U.S. Embassy, heard they had finished their six weeks of projected work in only four and had two extra weeks of time, he reached out to Col. Borrel with ideas for a “light-duty” project they could perform.
After examining needs in the camps, Gass and Borrel had an epiphany: Use these troops to build the substations. This would ensure a better police presence in the camps sooner.
With the agreement and cooperation of UNPOL and the HNP, they took on the project. The Louisiana Army National Guard, Task Force Kout Men and South Dakota National Guard engineers took over the design and construction of the 8-by-12-foot buildings. Once the idea was pitched, UNPOL became the voice for the HNP with input from Kevin Kennedy, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti.
“This project is a shining example of how a simple design, some coordination, extra resources and commitment can result in an extremely successful project,” Lt. Col. Gass said.
In addition to the police substations in the camps, USAID worked to increase lighting in camps, especially around latrines and shower facilities. USAID has also helped form women’s support groups and provided funding for psychosocial services such as GBV referral information, legal counseling and protection coordination.
A photo slide show of the substations is on Flickr.