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Dominique Rattner began her full-time career with Habitat for Humanity International in a roundabout way: traveling from her home in Alabama to Atlanta, then to Washington, D.C., then to Miami, all in order to finally catch an available flight to the Dominican Republic, followed by a bus ride and then a car ride into Haiti.

Dominique arrived in Port-au-Prince, the battered country’s capital, a week ago today, less than a week after the Jan. 12 earthquake, and the day she had planned to report for much calmer work in Atlanta in Resource Development. Because of her background in communications and her knowledge of Haiti, sDominique was “loaned” to the Communications department, and has been handling media requests, serving as a Habitat spokesperson and setting up interviews since arriving in Port-au-Prince. Rattner and HFHI photographer Steffan Hacker, with whom she traveled, are scheduled to return home at the end of the week.

Shelly Whittet, a writer for HFHI, corresponded with Rattner about her experiences.

Q. Can you give some background on yourself and your experience with Habitat? And how you happen to speak Creole?
A. I became involved with HFH in 2003 while at Schneider Electric, one of HFHI’s corporate partners. As communication manager and later director, I managed the company’s HFH partnership.

I lived in Haiti beginning in 1982 when my father was stationed in Port au Prince with the U.S. Embassy. Haiti remained my home until 1992. I speak French and can communicate in basic Creole.

Q. Tell us about where are your being housed? How are you getting food and water?
Fortunately, we were blessed to have a hotel waiting for us – the Hotel Maximum, not far from the airport. I had come prepared to sleep on the floor or outside, so this came as a complete surprise. I also brought with me approximately three-four days of water and granola bars. Beginning yesterday (Friday, Jan. 22) small shops opened back up near our new Habitat office in Petion-Ville, so I can now replenish my supplies (water, crackers, bread, cheese and fruit).

Q. Can you describe what you have seen?
The devastation is immense. From small concrete houses to large governmental buildings flattened to the ground.  Many homes have slid down the hillsides that wind throughout the city. Others hang precariously over the edge. It’s hard to put into words: Large and small tent cities, some in large open fields, and others almost hidden away in small clearings; families sleeping outside under cobbled together tents, babies and children sleeping right next to the road under sheets held up by large sticks. Many sleep outside because they’ve lost their home; many sleep outside because they fear more aftershocks.

I briefly visited one hospital on Delmas Road, an area devastated by the earthquake. Patients lying outside on the ground, the corridor lined with beds and cots—people of all ages with all types of injuries.  This was one of the most difficult scenes to witness.

We are now seeing water delivery trucks and a few garbage trucks. Yesterday, small supermarkets, bank branches and money transfer offices began to open up.  The lines stretch around the block—people desperately needing money. Ladies from the countryside are streaming in to sell their produce on the sidewalks (mangos, sweet potatoes, clementines, cucumbers, green onions, etc.) and small stands selling everything from shampoo to batteries are beginning to spring up. Some are sweeping the sidewalks trying to bring some level of normalcy back into their lives. I’ve also seen people begin to clear lots as well as take down what remains of their homes. Economic life in Haiti is beginning to take shape again.

Q. What should those not there know, from the perspective of someone on the ground?
That the Haitian people are some of the most courageous, resilient, kind and patient people I’ve ever known. Even in the face of tragedy, they have hope and faith. Hearing people in the camps singing at night in total darkness, together as if on stage, like a choir lifting spirits … I’ll never forget this.

Getting anywhere amid heavy traffic and rubble is a daily challenge.
(Photo by Steffan Hacker – HFH International)

“Many sleep outside because they’ve lost their home; many sleep outside because they fear more aftershocks.” -Dominique Rattner
(Photo by Steve Little – HFH Latin America / Caribbean)

In the camps, families do their best to resume to some semblance of normality.
(Photo by Steve Little – HFH Latin America / Caribbean)

“The Haitian people are some of the most courageous, resilient, kind and patient people I’ve ever known.” -Dominique Rattner
(Photo by Steve Little – HFH Latin America / Caribbean)

“There is going to be a long and challenging recovery and we need sustained support.” -Jonathan Reckford, CEO Habitat for Humanity International
(Photo by Steve Little – HFH Latin America / Caribbean)

Please continue to pray for the Haitian people and for Habitat for Humanity staffers on the ground there doing their best, under exceedingly challenging circumstance, to help.

Donate to Habitat for Humanity’s long-term recovery efforts in Haiti


On the occasion of World Habitat Day 2009 celebrated by the UN-Habitat with the motto “Planning our urban future”, the International Alliance of Inhabitants (IAI), the world-wide network for housing rights with no frontiers, has issued a critical communiqué launching the World Zero Evictions Days to support resistances and alternatives for participating cities, a concrete foundation for a new Urban Social Pact.

At its heart: the demand for a world-wide moratorium to evictions; and funding for housing and habitat in a “New Green Deal” for at least a billion people. This funding would be based, among others, on the investment of an important part of developmental aid as well as on the annulment of external debt, transformed into a Popular Fund for land and housing.

This is the concrete enactment of the agreements made by all international networks for housing and city rights at the WSF 2009, the next step in the unifying process of building the World Assembly of Inhabitants on 2011.

Read the entire article on the IAI Web page.


This Public Service Announcement is being aired (in Spanish) on the Latin American cable channels SONY, CANAL SUR and CNN. If you’ve seen it, please send us a comment!

I will not wait for someone else
to tackle the problem of inadequate housing in the world.
I have the power to change our world today.

Whether I am a student, a business, a non-profit,
I will never fall victim to inaction.

I will take up  active residency in my community,
I will build it with my own two hands.

I will catalyze and inspire,
I will advocate and partner,
to make the state of housing an urgent cause.

I will make our world a home.


By the year 2030, an additional 3 billion people, about 40 percent of the world’s population, will need access to housing. This translates into a demand for 96,150 new affordable units every day and 4,000 every hour.

One out of every three city dwellers – nearly a billion people – lives in a slum. Slum indicators include: lack of water, lack of sanitation, overcrowding, non-durable structures and insecure tenure.

Because of poor living conditions, women living in slums are more likely to contract HIV/AIDS than their rural counterparts, and children in slums are more likely to die from water-borne and respiratory illness.

Housing formation generates non-housing related expenditures that help drive the economy.

Investing in housing expands the local tax base. Each year 35.1 million new housing units are needed to house the urban population growth between now and 2030. This does not include replacements of deteriorated and substandard housing stocks.

In 2007, the world’s urban population outnumbered the rural for the first time.

Almost 180,000 people are added to the urban population each day.

95 percent of the world population growth in the next decades will occur in the urban areas of developing countries.

The poor are urbanizing faster than the population as a whole, reflecting a lower than average pace of urban poverty reduction.

Substandard housing, unsafe water and poor sanitation in densely populated cities are responsible for 10 million deaths worldwide every year.

Latin America is the most urbanized region in the world, with 75 percent of its population living in cities. According to the United Nations, 27 percent of these urban residents—more than 117 million people—suffer from precarious housing conditions, living without adequate sanitation, with irregular or no electricity supply and without adequate security.

Raising awareness and advocating for change are the first steps toward transforming systems that perpetuate the global plague of poverty housing. World Habitat Day serves as an important reminder that everyone must unite to ensure that everyone has a safe, decent place to call home.  Please advocate for adequate housing on World Habitat Day and throughout the month of October.

KenyaNairobi, Kenya
With an estimated population of more than one million people, Kibera is the largest slum in all of Africa.
© Habitat for Humanity/Steffan Hacker

ArmeniaMy Tho, Vietnam
Houses crowd the banks of the Mekong River.
© Habitat for Humanity/Ezra Millstein

ArmeniaArmavir, Armenia
Ellada Manasyan and her three young children live in this deserted and crumbling Soviet-era building.
© Habitat for Humanity/Ezra Millstein

El SalvadorSan Salvador, El Salvador
A young boy plays in front of his family’s shack, in the Las Victorias squatter community on the outskirts of San Salvador.
© Habitat for Humanity/Ezra Millstein

BrazilGoiania, Brazil
Favela dos Trilhos.
© Habitat for Humanity/Ezra Millstein

Sources: UN-Habitat, Kissick et al 2006

Want to blog about World Habitat Day and poverty housing?
Visit our World Habitat Day resource page.


BannersWHDThe United Nations has designated the first Monday in October each year as World Habitat Day—a day to reflect on the state of our towns and cities, and to remind ourselves and our neighbors that we share a collective responsibility to defend the right to adequate shelter for all.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, 13 national Habitat for Humanity organizations will unite with some 50 other nations in Africa, Asia, North America and Europe in simultaneous celebrations of World Habitat Day. The events will show the world that we are committed to building strong and sustainable urban communities—whatever it takes.

On October 5, please join Habitat for Humanity in support of this global observance as we come together and declare that the lack of decent, affordable housing is unacceptable.

Advocate for change
Raising awareness and advocating for change are the first steps toward transforming systems that perpetuate the global plague of poverty housing. World Habitat Day serves as an important reminder that everyone must unite to ensure that everyone has a safe, decent place to call home.

According to the United Nations, more than 100 million people in the world today are homeless. Millions more face a severe housing problem–living without adequate sanitation, with irregular or no electricity supply and without adequate security.
More than 2 million housing units per year are needed for the next 50 years to solve the present worldwide housing crisis. With our global population expanding, however, at the end of those 50 years, there would still be a need for another 1 billion houses. (UN-HABITAT: 2005)

The U.N. further states that both developed and developing countries, cities and towns are increasingly feeling the effects of climate change, resource depletion, food insecurity, population growth and economic instability.

Rapid rates of urbanization cause serious negative consequences – overcrowding, poverty, slums with many poorly equipped to meet the service demands of ever growing urban populations.

With over half of the world’s population currently living in urban areas the U.N. believes there is no doubt that the “urban agenda” will increasingly become a priority for governments, local authorities and their non-governmental partners everywhere.

Find more international statistics and research about the effects of poverty housing around the world on Habitat for Humanity’s webpage.

Spread the word by blogging about World Habitat Day! Please visit the World Habitat Day Social Media News Release for more information.

What you can do

  • Show up! World Habitat Day celebrations are going on in 13 countries throughout the region. Visit our Events page to find out what’s happening near you (esp).
  • Speak up! Comment on one of our social networks, or blog about poverty housing issues.
  • Educate yourself and your community. Take our E-course, and learn more about housing issues in Latin America.  To learn more, browse our educational resources on poverty housing in Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • Stay in touch. Sign up for our newsletter and keep up to date on housing news and opportunities to get involved.
  • Volunteer. Visit our website to find out how you can get involved in short and long term volunteer opportunities. 
  • Donate. Habitat’s work is made possible through the generous contributions of those who are passionate about the cause. Make a difference in someone’s life today.

Habitat staffer Mitssy Rovira and an international team of volunteers are blogging from El Minya, Egypt in celebration of World Habitat Day 2009. Read more!

Stay tuned for more information on World Habitat Day and ways that you can educate and inspire your community to support this global observance.


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