Haiti. A Country of Inspiration.

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living, I want to know what you ache for.

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It is with surety that we must stand with Haiti, a country whose spirit and people will never be broken, and work in solidarity toward the future the Haitian people deserve. – Joia S. Mukherjee

 

Find a need. Meet the need. Inspire others.

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

One year ago, I submitted a proposal for HMC’s Xref travel fellowship to realize my long-awaited aspiration of making a difference. With a love for children and a dream in my heart to see schools built abroad, I took a leap of faith into an experience that has furthered my passion to see change across the world. For me, this leap started in Haiti. Now back in the states, I’m thankful and appreciative for this opportunity to travel and make a difference.

My last few days in Haiti were diligently spent working on construction documents for Lycee de Anacaona, the large high school site I had visited earlier in the week. This school is not only large in scale, but also a symbol of hope and progress for the city of Leogane. Jason, who is the primary architect working singularly on this job as well as ten schools currently in progress, was very grateful for the drafting support and team collaboration Alex and I had to offer.


Concluding my time in Haiti,  I was able to steal away on the back of a Haitian motorcycle for a tour through the quaint, back roads of Leogane. Franky, our translator and friend navigating the way,  pointed to a neighborhood outside of town that had not received any assistance after the earthquake. We agreed this was the opportunity I had been looking for to offer the three suitcases packed full of donations from HMC and friends. To us, what was given wouldn’t appear to be  of much value, yet the impact was overwhelming as children were jumping for markers, pens, and paper more than the toys.

Throughout the week, it was obvious that even seeing us there with plans for action sparked hope in the hearts of children, parents, and school directors in each community we visited. I have seen a need, not only to bring hope, but to change future generations in Haiti. The purpose of going on this trip was not simply to meet a need with what I have to give for eight days, but also what I have brought back and plan to continue that is important. As a volunteer, I was willing to give and work hard, yet the learning experience received through this trip was countless in its return as I grasped humility, compassion, perseverance, diligence and determination in a new way that I hope to inspire in my community.

Find a need, meet the need, inspire others.

 

Assessing Earthquake-Damaged Schools in Haiti

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

Part of my Xref journey and task here in Haiti is to help with the assessment of 200 Catholic schools across the country. Schools for Children of the World has hired 11 teams trained to assess existing conditions of these schools by using a special assessment program for the iPad. Over the last three days, I have been all over the Haitian countryside to accomplish the given task. Starting on Monday morning, Alex and I were assigned to visit four schools in the city of Miragoane, Haiti. The drive to Miragoane is a bumpy one and takes about two hours from Leogane.

Along with our translator and driver, we arrived at our first school site, Ecole Notre Dame de Lourdes, holding 749 students and 17 professors. The main buildings were badly damaged in the earthquake, six of which are still partially in use. The remaining classes are held in three temporary structures on the school site, totaling to nine buildings on site. The school director mentioned that if they could have more classrooms, they could enroll another 300+ children waiting to attend the school the coming year.

To record the damage to the school, we assess the site parameters and determine if there is rubble to be removed, how many structures have been left standing on site, how much of each building has been damaged due to the earthquake, and if they are able to be improved or need complete demolition. We also take photos of cracks, the roof structure, exterior and interior wall conditions, in addition to taking exterior building dimensions and measurements of every interior room in the building. The job is very thorough and we are to note if the site has toilets, pit latrines, or no toilets at all. Most are without running water or electricity, with concrete block windows and no doors. We take note of everything from natural ventilation, flooring, to the condition of existing furniture and chalkboards.

This first school on our assessment was large and domineering, but once we got a good system going we were able to do a thorough job. Typically, I would run the iPad assessment and input the material into the document, while Alex and Franky (our translator) would sketch and document dimensions of the site and buildings and call them out for me to compile. We felt accomplished as a team for taking on such a large school for our first site.

When we finally left Notre Dame de Lourdes, we didn’t have time to make it to the next school before dark, not to mention we were exhausted and hungry. Instead of driving back to Leogane, our leader made arrangements for us to stay overnight at a hotel in Miragoane to continue our work there the next day. The hotel was on the beach, and as we sat on the crumbly, stone steps with our feet in the water, I was able to reflect about the work we had done that day. I was deeply touched by the children at the school. They were so respectful and well-mannered, excited to be learning in their tent structure classrooms. When they were let out for lunch, they immediately ran to me and hugged me and wanted to touch my hands and be smiled at and acknowledged. They knew we were there to help and my soul was bursting to be able to offer them a new school building, not yet knowing that these children actually have a great set-up compared to the schools we would visit in the rural areas the following days.

There is much to share as my eyes have been opened to even more yesterday and today. As we traveled to another school in Miragoane on Tuesday, and then to Jacmel on Wednesday, we have reached three additional schools in the countryside with no classrooms at all, just furniture and sheets, and lucky to have a chalkboard. The men and women in these rural parts of Haiti work so hard just to pay for the simple education their child will receive. Most of them taught by the local parish, we are hoping that through these assessments, the Catholic church will be able to gauge which schools are in most immediate need of new structures so that we can offer to work with them to design new buildings for these communities.

About Xref: Each spring, HMC Architects awards two travel fellowships to meritorious employees to encourage the exploration of other cultures and to strengthen the creative ethos of the firm. All employees, regardless of position, are invited to submit a proposal to go anywhere in the world, describing how that experience would contribute to their personal vision and professional growth. Out of 24 entries received from employees throughout California and Nevada, one of the winners of the 2011 competition was myself. I received a $4,000 travel stipend and an additional week of paid time off to complete my journey to Haiti.

Update from Haiti: School Site Visits

Monday, January 30th, 2012

Upon arrival at the Port-au-Prince airport, myself and project coordinator, Alex, were picked up by Jason, a project leader and architect for Schools for Children of the World. Thankfully, all of our baggage made it safely and we shuffled our way through the chaos of porters offering to help us with our bags. Jason, thankful to have the company of new visitors, was a thorough tour guide speaking to the bustling activity as we bumped our way through the streets of Port-au-Prince to our final destination of Leogane, Haiti. Leogane was the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake, and although the streets are active, it is much calmer than the city.

After moving our belongings into our room at the Residence de Filarose, a hotel run by the University of Notre Dame, we helped ourselves to a little lunch. Since half the day was already spent, Jason decided it would be a good opportunity to show us the beauty of Haiti’s beaches. Much of our architectural services are in collaboration with the Spanish Red Cross, and since Jason has friends in that organization, we hopped in a Spanish Red Cross vehicle and jostled in our Land Rover to Tiano, the choice beach of non-government organization volunteers in Haiti. At Tiano, we took the time to do a little snorkeling, where I saw amazing, colorful fish and coral reefs. I was grateful for the relaxation time since I was drowsy from the overnight flight.

Getting home later in the evening, we sat down to a prepared dinner of conch, potatoes, spinach, and rice while discussing our preparations for the next day. After dinner, I was grateful for a shower, even though it was cold, and I washed up and headed to bed—asleep before my head hit the pillow.

On Sunday, I woke up to roosters crowing outside the window and forgetting where I was, confused to be waking up under mosquito netting yet thankful for a good night’s sleep. After breakfast we headed out to the first of three school sites.

Ecole National de Leogane de Bire is an elementary school, grades 1-6, where construction is just now in progress. We were very excited to see the existing school rubble removed and the beginnings of excavation taking place. It was interesting to be a part of a group speaking English, Spanish, and French/Creole as we discussed a problem that had come up regarding the location of the perimeter wall. Team collaboration is incredibly slow in groups with many language and cultural differences and I was impressed by the patience of our project leader. While on-site, I also saw the temporary schools put up by US Aid shortly after the earthquake, and could not be happier that the children will soon have a more permanent structure to learn in.

Our last destination of the day was a school outside Leogane in a rural village high up in the mountains. Ecole National de Leogane Fond de Boudin will be a u-shaped building on a small site with a steep grade. Currently attending tent schools in very poor condition, most children in this area walk to school and are excited to see the progress of their new building. The work that has gone into the site recently was impressive, as it has been excavated entirely by hand. The pits that were dug for the new latrines took ten men a week to dig, whereas with access to a backhoe, the job could have been done in less than thirty minutes.

Only two days into my stay in Haiti and I am deeply impressed by the resilience and determination of the Haitian people. It is inspiring to be in a country where they have so little, but are grateful for so much. Sitting on the rooftop of our residence watching Haitians play a game of soccer as the sun sets, I am excited to be a part of something big happening in Haiti that touches the lives of so many as signs of progress are slowly appearing.

Haiti Bound!

Throughout the next few posts, I’ll be quoting from my 2012 journal entries re-capping my 10 day adventure in Haiti!

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

At the start of this new year, my arrangements were finalized to take-off for my long-awaited Xref trip. Through HMC Architects’ travel fellowship, I will be traveling with Schools for Children of the World to visit Haiti and aid in new school design and construction. I depart this Friday, and I’ve been full of anticipation all week; this trip has been on my heart for a long time.

After a call yesterday to the team in Haiti for final instruction and words of wisdom, I am equipped for an intensive work schedule. While there, I will be part of a team assessing the conditions of 200 existing schools as well as documenting drawings for several schools soon ready for construction. Additionally, I will visit new schools already underway to oversee construction and gauge advancement.

Thanks to the generosity of my co-workers in the LA studio, I won’t be traveling empty-handed to this country in need. Contributions have been generous as HMC hands and hearts brought in monetary donations, school supplies, books, shoes, warm weather clothing, backpacks, small toys, and soccer balls. Traveling with these supplies, my hope is to bring a special blessing to the children who will attend the schools I will be working on.

A big thanks to HMC Architects for all their generosity, I’m looking forward to blogging about my journey in the coming days!