I don't imagine many of you are even still in the same school as you were in 2010, those of you who joined Students Rebuild's first challenge to raise funds and awareness to rebuild (better) in Haiti three years ago. Your Haitian peers certainly aren't stuck in a Time Warp either; the girls Ellie Dubois who were really involved in our videoconferences and biopics graduated over the summer. Many of them aspire to get into an American university, others are happy to study in Port-au-Prince, or, as Elie Dubois is a vocational school (not unlike ETN), go straight to employing their craft.
Haiti is just as dynamic a place to grow up as North America...yet, you may sense that despite some similarities, life is different there. And if you listen to NPR's three-year anniversary coverage, you'd get the impression that Haiti IS in a Time Warp. A correspondent summarized yesterday that the country has "sunk helplessly back into the state they were in before the earthquake," or something to that effect. "The national catherdral is still in ruins, with no indication anyone cares." I'd humbly ask that news correspondent to dig a little deeper.
I don't dispute the fact that, yes, reconstruction progress is slow. Certainly slower than our, or anyone's, expectations were in 2010, but of course at that time we, and many other aid orgainzations, knew very little about how Haiti operated, or how pursuing permanent construction would be like swatting a beehive of unformalized land policies and unofficial site histories.
As most of the school projects are in urban areas, on previously developed sites, there are bound to be surprises underground - unmarked septic tanks or cisterns are a common obstacle when excavating for a new classroom's foundation.
For instance: like many other countries in the world Haiti does not have a "cadastre," or archive of property lines to cross that country's territory. This means that land ownership is constant, achem, grounds for dispute - and you can quickly imagine how useful a cadastre would be for determining who should be giving permission to build a permanent structure.
Or: despite the appeal of using Western water-flushing toilets, they simply don't add up to resonable solutions for areas without plumbing and a scarcity of fresh water. (The common toilet is even a bad idea for affluent countries. Bill Gates has launched a challenge to reinvent the thing - meanwhile we're left with the ironies of the incredulous inquiry from a greater part of the world: "You have so much fresh water you do WHAT with it??")
Finally, and most apparently: the reason so many people were killed in the 2010 earthquake was because Haiti did not enforce safe design and construction standards. There was never a system for enforcement and buildings were assembled that looked solid, but actually weren't. Again - not a situation unique to Haiti. But since the earthquake happened here Haiti became a case study for introducing safer construction techniques and international standards to a country of 10 million.
When 'Western' aid meets a 'developing' environment, there's no shortage of such peculiar contradictions.
Of course it's situations like these where design can do the most good. That's to say, in contradictory environments there are no clear solutions, and need mechanisms that creatively solve problems. Such mechanisms are in play all over Haiti. There's a "working group" right now sorting out how land ownership should be interpreted. This collective of people from different professions, from law to nonprofit, is developing how to award property rights for land, despite their ability to show ownership - it's a complicated principle that nevertheless is among the top three reasons Haiti is not rebuilding as fast as we expected.
As for toilets, community groups are workshopping how to install suitable toilet systems that aren't so bizarre that no one will use them.
These conversations are important, and it's important that they happen within the communities themselves.
This is where inroads are being laid - not for bump-up-the-gloss solutions, but ones that stimulate the roots of community development. The difference might be described as "what people look for" (like efforts to rebuild a fallen cathedral...and hey, there's an archdiocese-sponsored design competition for that), and "how a nation is empowered," the evidence of which being much less well-documented. Down the road, however, the difference is going to be stunning.
In 2010, weeks after the earthquake, Architecture for Humanity and Students Rebuild began work in Haiti with a value: that a community's voice is important, and revered - even if they didn't know a thing about design, knowing that the tradeoff would be (more) time for (more) quality. In an environment where certain and divers entrepreneurs couldn't invent shelter schemes fast enough for their wild ambitions (regardless of the impracticality of the details), Students Rebuild and Architecture for Humanity requested deliberate action for correct, safe and permanent intervention.
Eighteen months later the first of five schools opened its doors–École la Dignité on the southern coast.
The extension of École La Dignité on Haiti's Caribbean coast uses river
stone, local bamboo and outdoor rooms to create a unique space for
Dignité turns out to be a special case as far as school construction projects go - the client requested a two-classroom expansion for her growing student enrollment, and the architects and builders delivered, with benefits. The next school to re-open, "Good Shepherd" Montrouis (there are two "Good Shepherd" schools), delivered four times as many classrooms as a first phase in the larger ambitions of both the school and its designers. Still, eight rooms serve the school's student body - however that might change with the increased enrollment Montrouis has experienced since reopening, on February 29th of 2012.
Collège Mixte Le Bon Berger, or Good Shepherd School, has since its
reopening brought national acclaim and 25% increased enrollment for the
community of Montrouis.
Meanwhile, things weren't going so well for Institut Foyer du Savoir, which was encountering intractable problems with site safety and reliability. Reluctantly we had to terminate that project around the middle of 2012. In the Fall, Pele was also becoming difficult. However the school's headmaster, Mr. Caneus, bid the community help, and the collaboration allowed construction to finish on Pele's first four-classroom block.
École Baptiste Bon Berger brings solid and lively architecture to the
renown slum of Cité Soleil in Port-au-Prince. This four-classroom block
is the first of several construction phases.
Last but not least, École Elie Dubois, whose Phase 1 is wrapping up as you read this. Two large historic buildings existed on this downtown Port-au-Prince campus–one of which was deemed unsound after the earthquake and had to be demolished. Architecture for Humanity went to work first reinforcing the school's "transitional" classrooms so classes could be held on campus, then rebuild the cafeteria, kitchen and toilet block. The cafeteria was completed in time for graduation in July - those girls, including Diandine, who have been working with Students Rebuild from the begining, were able to see the benefits of their peers' compassion, and hold commencement there. The kitchen, the last element in the first phase, will be completed in January 2013.
The stately Elie Dubois school in downtown Port-au-Prince is undergoing
multiphase reconstruction, including new biodigester /kitchen (foreground) /cafeteria (midground) system and renovation of a two-storey
historic classroom building (background).
Elie Dubois kitchen progress - January 10, 2013
2013 holds a lot of promise for the school rebuilding program. Students Rebuild paved the way for Architecture for Humanity's ability to work in Haiti and refine its school design collaborations. And even though they aren't financially supported by Students Rebuild, College Coeur Immacule and Ecole Argentine would not be possible without the accomplishments Students Rebuild empowered.
Rendering for College Coeur Immacule de Mairie, or CIM school
CIM students at a design workshop earlier this year identifying the priorities of their new campus. Four groups of students and four groups of teachers shared their ideas over a weekend, informing the architects' decisions in their designs.
CIM School in construction, January 2013. This site is very narrow, leaving the school little choice but to go three storeys - a new precedent for Architecture for Humanity in Haiti, but one they are confident they can execute.
Site plan for Ecole Argentine in Port-au-Prince.
Argentine is another special case for a school. Not wholly weakened by the earthquake, the architects and the school realized much of the building could be salvaged - and reinforced.
The other challenge with Argentine is the fact that a tent camp still occupies part of the site. Until these Haitains have a place to call home, the school cannot be finished.
2013 also looks promising for our schools seeking to build out their Phase 2's. Elie Dubois just got a visit from some construction sponsors who will support the historic renovation...and a culinary element to the curriculum. Montrouis is also getting a lot of attention these days and interest in a second set of classrooms / admin offices / washrooms appears imminent. We will keep you posted on these and other developements as the year continues.
Haiti is far from rebuilt - but that's not to say nothing is happening. I'll go so far as to say that the accomplishments made to date are incredibly significant - showing that roughshod solutions are not part of the equation, that Haitians are critical players in their own reconstruction, their own future, that some foreign organizations carry the faith that longer-term solutions are building a system of strength, instead of some strong-looking objects.