Communitere, which stands for “Communities United in Response, Relief & Renewal,” was founded by Sam Bloch, who had begun working in disaster relief after the 2004 Asian Tsunami, leading the reconstruction of the coastal village of Laem Pom, Thailand. Bloch soon noticed that rather than taking time to understand the community, large international agencies would come in with a predefined set of objectives, tactics and goals. Bloch’s response was to join forces with other volunteers to set up “maker spaces” so that local people could design their own recovery plans and build what they, not the so-called relief “experts,” wanted.
Communitere now spans three continents: Haiti Communitere, Philippines Communitere, Greece Communitere and Nepal Communitere. In each case they operate out of a belief that survivors aren’t passively waiting for help, but instead are actively engaged in constructing their own futures. The offices embed themselves within a community, providing a space for residents to create their own plans. They also provide tools and resources for community members to execute their own recovery. Providing a lending tool bank may seem a simple thing. However, within the context of a disaster zone, most ordinary citizens have lost their tools and heavy equipment is in short supply. Large NGOs might have plenty of equipment, but they’re inclined to use it to execute their own projects. A tool library allows survivors intent on participating in their own reconstruction to borrow the necessary tools and equipment, creating community, empowerment, and speeding recovery.
Each Communitere office is different and its programming is designed around the requests of a community. Communitere does not start building without specific requests for action. To understand the particular needs of a recovering community, Communitere typically hosts a variety of community meetings and workshops where survivors are encouraged to make their needs known. Moreover, the offices are set up so that the community can take over their management, keeping it going as-is or transitioning it into what is most needed, such as an educational facility or accelerator for entrepreneurs.
As an example, Haiti Communitere hosts approximately 7,000 Haitians per year and provides the following services:
- Internet Café
- Tool Lending Library
- 3D Printing & Innovation labs
- Co-working offices
- Training facilities
Communitere’s innovative model approaches disaster reconstruction from the bottom up, involving survivors from day one. Their work shows how recovery practices rooted in dignity translate across the world.