Greening Homes in Haiti
As part of our mandate to increase awareness of sustainable building practice, Greening Homes supported Shane MacInnes, a Senior Crew member and Red Seal Carpenter, by subsidizing a large portion of his trip costs. We are grateful for Shane’s contribution to this project and are happy to help him share his experience building in Haiti with our crew and with those interested in what we do. Below is an account of his trip.
THIS IS HAITI, by Shane MacInnes
I was approached in October of 2011 by the fine folks at the Endeavour Building Centre with the opportunity to travel to Haiti to help build a composting toilet facility. As a natural builder and one who is always looking for adventure, this seemed like the perfect journey to embark on. So in February of 2012, thanks to the generosity of friends and a large donation from Greening Homes, I was on a plane set for Haiti.
We arrived in Port-au-Prince and spent three days at a local NGO called Haiti Communitaire. There I found a wonderful group of travellers and local Haitians working on a number of prototype natural buildings and other sustainable projects. After our stay in the Capital we set out to Deslandes to meet with Centre Inspiration Jeunesse, and to begin work on our composting toilet facility.
Building in Haiti is starkly different from what I’m accustomed to here in Canada. Materials were not always easy to come by, the heat kept our group off the job site from 1-3pm each afternoon, and finding the right tool for the right job was a luxury seldom afforded. Nevertheless, our goal was to complete an 8 room composting toilet facility from an already existing exterior built from 1×4 framing, straw clay as infill, and a steel roof. What was left for our group was to build the partition walls, touch up any of the straw clay, plaster the interior/exterior walls, and build doors, (the composting toilets were to be provided by another group.) We were given two weeks to complete this project, which seemed like ample time for a task this size, but like with all building projects, the best laid plans can very easily stumble. We successfully completed our partition walls out of earth-blocks (compressed clay, sand, and a small amount of cement that acts as stabilizer), as well as plastering the inside and outside of the building using an earthen plaster (clay, sand, and water) and we even added a few artistic sculptures to the exterior walls. A few splashes of paint and some waterproofing sealer and the building was almost complete. All that remained was to build the doors. And this is when I learned an often repeated slogan throughout my trip.
“This is Haiti.”
The sentiment’s primary use was to describe a situation which in our world would be a simple task, but where in Haiti, would simply be impossible to accomplish. Sometimes that meant materials, sometimes a schedule, sometimes even food and water. Unfortunately these problems are often a reality in Haiti.
On our last day in Deslandes, I was full of mixed emotions. Every day there was filled with community children helping us build and from time to time stealing us away for an impromptu soccer match. In the evenings we played cards, danced with the children and learned their native tongue, Haitian Creole. On our extended lunch break we would walk to the river with them and go swimming. I was amazed and watched with enjoyment at how these gleeful children soaked up the day, staying outside from sunrise to sunset.
Upon returning to Canada I was struggling with how to digest the experience. I was upset that we could not complete the doors, thereby rendering our task incomplete, but I felt so accomplished in the other aspects of our trip that any disappointment fell second to the immense pride I had for the group. We made a great and lasting impression on the community and they in turn did likewise to us. By all accounts the trip was a great success. I’m now left with a memory that’s filled with beautiful landscapes, amazing people, and wonderful smiles.
This is Haiti.