I am returning to Haiti for a trip in late May, but since my last trip in January, the projects have proceeded with occasional bursts of activity interrupted by unpredictable stoppages caused by political unrest, lack of materials, and the habitual crawl of Haitian life.
The site for the Be Like Brit orphanage is clear, the excavation dug, and the intricate task of bending, cutting, and tying steel reinforcing before pouring the concrete foundation is underway. We hope to make the first concrete pour later this month. Our objective to hire local people on the project has taken on new proportions, since there are now four security people hired to sleep at the site every night to ensure that the reinforcing bars do not walk away.
In February, the concrete block walls of the first floor at the Forward in Health clinic were laid up, but the crews neglected to install any reinforcing (a new concept post-earthquake that is a challenge to help local workers appreciate) so we made design revisions, required some reconstruction, and are moving in an altered direction that will provide better earthquake resistance than unreinforced concrete. We lost most of March due to rebel forces in Les Cayes closing the western peninsula off from the rest of the country. In April we redirected efforts to build a depot for storing materials (even though the site has a perimeter wall – the security concerns are daunting). Now, we are grappling the pressing problem that the orphans associated with Forward in Health were recently evicted from their last residence and are completely homeless, so we are developing a tent city on the site to house them for an undetermined period of time.
Progress at Mission of Hope School is most impressive. In March we put together a proposal to a group inGermanywho wanted to fund a Haitian relief project but needed assurance that we had the resources to complete the project. MoH received a grant for 255,000 Euros in April and before the end of the month demolished the earthquake damaged structures on their campus and began excavations. At this moment we are challenged by how to treat an existing site structure that is sound but was tied into the damaged structures. We are facing more demolition than we anticipated, so I redesigned the building to better fit in the larger area. This is another area to address when I return later this month.
How are we coordinating this work without going toHaiti? It’s all about technology, without which our relief effort, and many others like it, could never move forward. There are days when I get 8, 10 emails from Haiti, photos of construction, or excavation, or demolition, video clips on You Tube, any way we can convey information. We take the files our clients send us, overlay bubbled comments or photo shopped sketches and send them back. We have conference calls and video conferences. True, there are times when it all fails, Internet in Haiti is fragile thing, but most of the time there is no difference providing electronic communication to Haiti as there toLos Angeles.
The challenge for me is that dealing with the Haiti projects via computer makes them pretty much the same as my other projects around the country. I can’t smell the acrid charcoal scent through cyber space; I don’t have a skinny dog scampering underfoot if I am sitting in my desk in Boston. The result is that the revitalization that I get from my Haiti work dissipates when the magic of the place is not tangible; I can almost forget that these are not ordinary projects in an ordinary place. The technology is amazing, but it has its limits, and so I realized that I need to make a trip down there, not just for to help the projects proceed, but for my own spirit as well.
I will only be there a few days, but they will be valuable. Lex has demolished most of what took ten years to build at Mission of Hope, and though he fronts a brave face, he deserves us walking around the site together, setting the stakes, envisioning the building in real time and place to bolster his enthusiasm. Gama and Hal, the superintendents for Be Like Brit and Forward in Health, could use similar reinforcing. Technology is an incredible tool for addressing the problems that arise during construction, but there are times when only face to face time on the site can provide the energy we need to shoulder on the challenges these projects present.