|AWB-Oregon volunteer Nick Troutt and goddaughter, Banesa.|
An AWB-Oregon volunteer tells his story.
Letter from Haiti
Like many others, I was drawn into the tragedy of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. The more I learned about the main cause for the huge numbers of casualties-block walls coming apart allowing concrete ceilings and roofs to fall and crush building occupants-the more I felt compelled to help rebuild. With 35 years experience in the masonry trade, I thought there must be something I could do.
I started learning about the earthquake's destruction through news accounts and internet videos. I kept seeing one individual who was doing damage assessment for the United Nations. His name was Craig Totten from Architects Without Borders. On a Tuesday afternoon in Gresham, Oregon, I found the AWB website: "Oh look, they're having a meeting tomorrow evening-I'm going." I met Craig and others and let them know my desire to train masons.
The Confined Masonry Construction technique was new to me, but I had worked on many block buildings reinforced with concrete and rebar so I didn't think it would be difficult to learn. It's pretty simple, using the same construction practices Haitian masons are accustomed to, adding some refinement and attention to detail. But getting to Haiti was something else. At first I thought I would go with Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group, but their funding fell through. Eventually, I contacted a pastor who had a vocational school in Les Cayes, on Haiti's southwestern coast. After a few exchanges of email we determined I could teach the confined masonry construction method at his "school" for two weeks. (As it turned out there was more happening on his website than in reality.)
The evening after my arrival in Les Cayes, I checked my iPhone for
email and found a message from Craig: "Are you still interested in training masons in Haiti?" It had been almost two years since that first AWB meeting. I responded, "Yes, as a matter of fact, I'm in Les Cayes, right now." "What a coincidence," he replied, "I just left Les Cayes this morning!" He had been inspecting AWB-designed schools for the international nonprofit buildOn and found the workmanship lacking, to put it mildly. A month after my first trip to Haiti, I returned to stay in a rural village on a buildOn job site, in the simple home of a villager, while working to improve the skills of buildOn's masons.
Soon, I made a third trip to Haiti to receive a block machine purchased by my church. I had arranged for it to be shipped from Florida to St. Mark, Haiti, then transported through Port-au-Prince to Les Cayes. It was a task I thought would take two weeks but ended up taking five because of hangups and difficulties that Haiti so easily bestows. Now this block machine is being used on buildOn construction sites to produce a better quality block than the shovel and mold method used previously.
That third trip to Haiti led to a full-time job. A buildOn engineer from the American University of the Caribbean, and one of his students, took me out to lunch at Gelee Beach near Les Cayes. They urged me to consider teaching at AUC. It just so happens that I have a Master's degree in Linguistics with an emphasis in teaching English as a Second Language. Now I teach English and English Composition, but my schedule gives me a free day each week that I can designate for mason training. What a deal! What a gift! Although difficult at times, this has been and is a richly rewarding experience. I often think about those first AWB meetings I attended when I had such a strong desire to go to Haiti to help in any way I could. Now I live here eight months out of the year. It's been a long time since I've been able to make it to a meeting. Maybe this summer.