Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Haiti Mission Trip - Construction Crew and Neighborhood View

The epicenter of activity - the church of the Little Brothers of St. Therese,
Carrefour, Haiti.
After arriving in Port-au-Prince we drove directly to Carrefour, a smaller suburban satellite city. Though part of the same "megapolis" as the capital and not far distance wise from the airport, it still took us almost two hours to wend our way through the city and drive up into the surrounding mountains. The roads went from pavement to dirt to a very narrow single lane hugging the hillside. Our destination was the headquarters of the Little Brothers of St. Therese, a Haitian community founded to serve the needs of the country's rural poor. That was our base of operation for the week.

Brother Xavier working at the wood cutting station in front of the church
with head carpenter Bernie (in yellow),a Haitian worker (in green)
and Fritz the interpreter (in red). The color coding was a huge help in keeping track
of the approximately 70 team members who were working together.

Boys outside the a\safety barrier watching the carpenters.

Br. John Mary (in a gray-coded friar work shirt) with children.
The visiting missionaries combined with the local Brothers, 31 Haitian laborers and about 8 translators to form the team. That doesn't include the cooks and other support workers that made our stay and efforts possible. The larger group was broken into two "divisions:" a construction contingent and a medical unit. While the doctors and nurses saw patients, the rest of us headed into the surrounding village with a goal of building 100 latrines for local families.

The area where the friar-team helped build approximately 12 latrines
(the Caribbean Sea can be seen in the background).

Above: the view downward toward the valley;
below: the stream at the bottom used for washing.

Of the six friars and two sisters that came, five friars worked in various aspects of construction, Br. Pierre Toussaint (of Haitian descent) served as a medical translator, with the two sisters also helping in the medical unit. Br. Crispin, Br. John Mary and I, along with Mike from Long Island and two Haitian workers, Renel and Nail, formed a cement crew. In anticipation of our arrival, the 100 families who were to receive latrines had to excavate pits. We were amazed at the depth (sometimes more than 30 feet) of the holes and the work required to hew them out of the rocky soil by hand. The video below, which shows a man retrieving a hammer dropped into one of the unused holes, gives you an idea of how deep and rocky they are, and of how strong and agile the Haitians are.

Mike, Nial and Renal wiring rebar together to reinforce 
the cement slab to be poured into the wooden frame.
As a crew, our job was to place support beams across the pit, construct a frame out  of plywood and planks for the slab, cut and wire a rebar reinforcing grid, and mix, pour and finish the cement slab. That meant carrying all the materials needed about half a mile from the base to the site over sometimes treacherous paths.

Very proud and grateful (and hot and tired!) after finishing the slab for this man and his family.

The shed placed over the slab by the carpentry team.

Br. Crispin putting on the finishing touches in cramped quarters.
Of course, what made it all worthwhile was knowing that children like those below would benefit  from the dignity and sanitary conditions of having a proper bathroom to use.

Though you can't tell from the photo, these girls were
exceptionally lively and joyful.

A "baby in a basin" from one of the households receiving a latrine.
None of the homes where we worked had electricity (or running water for that matter), so our presence became the center of attention. Wherever we worked a small crowd of onlookers would form to watch our efforts.

Construction spectators (above and below).

It was hard to feel sorry for yourself about having to carry cement, wood, rebar and tools to the sites when we frequently saw women carrying water from the church to their homes.

Br. Gerard had the special task of bringing drinking water to the work sites to keep all of us well hydrated in the sweltering Haitian sun. Of course, this became an opportunity for him to evangelize everyone he met along the way, to hand out holy cards and lolly pops (and, "unofficially," some water too) to people he met along the way. By the end of the week he had almost everyone in the village singing "Jezu, Jezu" ("Jesus, Jesus" in Creole) to a little melody he composed.

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