ALLIUM School Built on a Mountain Top in Haiti Provides Quality Education
On January 12th 2010 a devastating magnitude 7. 3 earthquake shook the island nation of Haiti and severely damaged many cities located in the western part of the country. As a result of this tragic event 316000 people have died , 1.3 million left without a home or shelter and almost seventy five per cent (75% ) of the school infrastructure collapsed. In the same year Haiti faced many other disasters : a new disease to the community : CHOLERA introduced by one the UN contingents troops killed 5000 people and contaminated 25000, a month later hurricane Thomas has caused 100000 US dollars worth of damages. This disastrous year has also generated a great chain of solidarity toward HAITI many countries and in many ways: medical – food - shelter - education, etc.
In this context many NGO‘s came to the rescue and one of them was ICA-JAPAN. This non governmental agency showed the special interest to help with the recovery in the Educational sector.
In this regard ICA-Japan was solicited by the Henri Gerard Desgranges Association to help rebuilding an elementary school badly destroyed by the earthquake in a rural area of PETIT-Goave located 20 km from the epicenter.
Petit –Goave is an average city inhabited by 157,000 people. It is the seventh city of HAITI and is 1.hr45 min or 60 km south of port –au- prince the capital city. The district of petit- Goave is made of 12 distinct communal sections, and ALLIIUM where the school needs to be rebuilt is in the 8th section. Located at an altitude of 1000m high this mountainous area is made of 90% peasants and more than 50% of the population is less than 20 years old.
I CA-Japan had expressed the need to work in area where the needs are urgent and consequently the Henri Gerard Desgranges Association which had succeeded in providing this community with a health care program, offered to ICA an unique opportunity to be exposed to the struggle of the rural poor against poverty and illiteracy.
A decisive meeting was planned with the ALLIUM community through various peasants association mainly SODEPA in order to identify a new site and test the people commitment to build a new and modern school.
The meeting was a success, but some people were doubtful because they have been disappointed before by so many “NGO’s”. Also, the participants know how difficult and challenging it is for some foreign organization to work in a rural environment where there is no visibility and lack of basic infrastructure, in addition restriction of movement are sometimes imposed by their organization policy for security reason.
Indeed the meeting was a success. The participants talk about people who do not have access to the basic necessities such as water – healthcare – and education. Also, they addressed the issue of the young who have to leave their hometown to get access to basic opportunities in other cities. These are the reasons why they want to organize themselves, gather their resources together, identify the priorities as well the obstacles and solve them. In addition, they welcome the solidarity of the people from all over the world; this way they can create something great for the benefit of their community. That meeting ended on a note of hope once they leaned that ICA- JAPAN director was a woman, they became confident that the project will be approved because in Haiti women are the backbone of the Haitian economy and the doorway into family unit. However, Hyogo prefecture still had to make the final decision.
Three engineers firm were contacted in order to submit a proposal for the building construction. They all went to visit the site; for some it was their first time in a rural area at 1000 m altitude. Following the approval by Hyogo prefecture, we gathered into a serious gathering where common challenges – strategies and requested how each group or locality could help ensuring the feasibility of the project. Thereafter, the leaders went on radio to share the good news about the project with the neighboring communities.
On the first week of July, the ICA-JAPAN delegation lead by Director Ms Shizuyo Sato, the deputy director Mr. Wayne Ellsworth, and an assistant Yuishiro Tomita, came to visit the site and meet the people as well as the lowest offer builder: M. Thelor ZEPHIRIN the president of RADCO. Following that visit, a progress schedule was established by both parties. The scope of work was set, the site preparation should start on July 11 and construction completed by end of November given they were no act of god.
The payment terms stipulated in the written agreement stated:
- 30% advance payment of the contract agreed upon at the beginning of work.
- 20% on completion of grade floor
- 20% on completion of roof
- 20% on completion of work
- 10% following completion of work (withheld for 2 months)
In addition a staff management of the work project was created. The group consisted of a representative of the Allium association, two ICA representatives, one Haitian M Hugues Desgranges, and a Japanese national M TOMITA. Also a structural engineer and earthquake expert Kit Myamoto was engaged to inspect the work in progress and submit a report to ICA and owners.
The site preparation went from July 28 to August 5th. IT should have started on July 11 but heavy rains made impossible for the workers to dig; therefore the site opening occur on July 28. About 15 workers were directly involved in cleaning and digging. Five days later, on July 10 the area was hit by a severe storm. The weather perturbation caused the activities to be shut down for two days.
On the 13th of August the workers came back to dig the foundation canal with the objective of meeting the two weeks schedule set by the planners in order to avoid the second rainy season. The number of workers were doubled, and the excavation took place as planned. Now, the challenge is not from the weather but the road condition. Find a truck capable of climbing 1000 meters high up, fully loaded with river bed sand on a dirt road with ruts 50 cm deep. One contractor decided to take on the challenge and succeeded, therefore a big obstacle was removed on the way and we could now see clearly the end of the tunnel and being realized. The Builder has to seize this opportunity offered quickly to get as much materials (RIVER bed SAND- IRON BAR- CYLINDER BLOCK- GRAVEL) up there before the road start degrading with the rain.
On the fourth week the grade floor was completed and was ready to be inspected by YAMAMOTO STRUCTURAL ENGINEERING COMPANY. While the team thought everything went well; at inspection they found out that some the iron bars were not attached properly according to the new norms defined by the parasismic guideline. Although, we had organized a training session for the workers on new building technique construction to resist earthquake they did not respect the norms because they were in a rush to go to the annual NOTRE DAME festivities. Consequently the builder paid a high price given that he was asked to do the job over.
AS said it took them 4 days to correct the mistakes and went on with the steel reinforcement work-column. The MYAMOTO COMPANY came back to assess one more time the work and gave the OK to continue. The grade floor was left to be compacted and fill with river bed sand. The blocks perimeter walls was in progress and the iron beam were already completed. The extent of the work has already changed the scenery. The observers report that the structure as being magnificent.
A major incident came to our attention, one morning I received a phone call from the truck driver saying that some youths from one the neighboring villages had blocked the truck from reaching ALLIUM claiming that the truck had badly damaged the road as well as the pipes that drains the water to the public fountain. I requested a meeting with the youth association and called the village elected officials to attend the meeting in order to identify the obstacles. At the meeting we found out that the road has been damaged by the heavy weight carried on the truck. The builder made a proposal to repair the same day the broken pipes, but told them that the road won’t be repaired until they completed the school building. It was brought to their attention that “ you can’t make fried eggs without breaking the eggs shell “The youth have shown interest and willingness to protect their infrastructure when there is not an official designated entity to maintain them. On many segments of the road leading to ALLIUM the damages were visible and could cause accidents for the users. However, an agreement has been reached. All these incidents have created interest to other neighboring communities to visit the site. To many of them, this is the first time they see such an infrastructure: spacious, safe, and modern.
Since these incidents the work has been moving swiftly and smoothly. Electricity-plumbing and septic tank are already in place. The workers are very proud of what they had accomplished so far, beating the rains. Now, they are ready to put on the roof. The team is fully confident that the work will be completed on time. That same week, we were getting ready to welcome M Wayne Ellsworth in Haiti. People were very anxious about his arrival for two reasons. The builder wanted him to see that he had overcome the obstacles and met the challenges. Also, the people in two communities were eager to start the Seminar on Strategic Action Planning. The three days seminar started in Allium Village where 22 participants were exposed to new ways of developing an action plan they learned about the mission –vision –CONTRADICTION- –develop the action plan. The second day took place in the previous school built in Chabanne where 18 people came TO PARTICIPATE AND BENEFIT FROM THE NEW METHOD OF DEVELOPING AN ACTION PLAN. The third day both groups were brought together in one classroom high up in Allium. An action plan was developed aiming at developing an accessible and quality school.
While we were attending the seminars the workers had continued to work. They had finished putting the roof on, and now they started painting the building. Two weeks later the windows were installed. Indeed the school has been built and now it is time to celebrate. However, the Community started thinking about the school development.
The school project successfully mobilizes communities. It generated great interest. Eight hundred forty two people had worked in this project either as unskilled labor or semi-qualified workers or technician. In addition this project had also built local capacity to design and monitor actions that addresses the issues tackled by school management plans. Parents especially value new ways to participate in their children education.