Masonry seminar and other ventures help to revitalize Haiti
By Sheldon C. Good
Before the magnitude-7 earthquake struck here almost two years ago, Ronald Sadou Zami (left) struggled to find work. Like many Haitians, he had discovered multiple ways to earn minimal income — he wrote poems for schools, was a sewing machine mechanic and sometimes did masonry work.
Now, after participating in a masonry seminar led by Mennonite Central Committee, he has more consistent employment and earns more money for his family.
“I know things other masons don’t know,” said Zami, now 25. “There are things I knew before but was never abe to put into practice.”
James Mwangi, an associate professor of architectural engineering at California Polytechnic State University who worked with MCC during his sabbatical, taught the masonry seminar in June 2010. About 40 students took the two-day class on how to build safe, disaster-resistant homes.
The Ecumenical Foundation for Peace and Justice, or FOPJ, an MCC partner for more than 13 years, hosted the seminar.
Zami, who also graduated from FOPJ’s masonry trade school in December 2010, is working on building a cluster of multiple-purpose, expandable classrooms at a small university.
He now knows disaster-resistant masonry practices such as how to properly tie rebar, select sand and secure buildings.
“After six rows of blocks, you need a beam to support the walls,” he said. “Now I respect the amount of support we need to have to make it stable.”
Much of Port-au-Prince’s post-earthquake rubble has been removed, and construction sites plaster the city. Open space is hard to come by, so working conditions like Zami’s are often cramped.
Zami’s cousin, Samuel Zami, 27, also participated in the masonry program and masonry seminar. He is now leading the construction of a three-story building, unusually high for this city.
“I went to [FOPJ’s masonry school] to improve my knowledge,” Samuel Zami said.
MCC also supports the school with canned meat for students’ meals and through the Global Families program.
Zami not only understands good masonry techniques but how to manage other workers. He leads a team of 13 masons and 17 handymen — two of whom are FOPJ graduates — and helps with masonry work as needed.
“My FOPJ training helped me secure this job,” he said. “I recommend people to go to FOPJ.”
The building’s owner, Ms. Francois, lived in a small, wooden house at the same location before the January 2010 earthquake. She plans to rent space in her new, mostly concrete building to multiple families and businesses.
“We have to give jobs to the [FOPJ] students,” Francois said.
The building has been under construction for more than two years and sustained minimal damage — “a few cracks” — from the earthquake, she said.
Astrude Mercier, 30, graduated from a professional training school in 2003. She is now a FOPJ masonry instructor who participated in the masonry seminar.
“I learned how to build homes that can withstand earthquakes,” Mercier said.
Most buildings in Port-au-Prince are built with brittle concrete that can crumble easily from natural disasters. In the past, Mercier said, they used a basic white sand for mortar.
“But we now use river sand because it withstands weather and rust from rebar better,” she said.
‘I saw darkness’
FOPJ also leads professional trade programs in electrical construction, plumbing, cooking, tailoring and cosmetology. Additionally, FOPJ teaches primary education to restavec children — unpaid workers living with families other than their own.
Marie Sony, who owns a market near her home (right), has one of these children, 11-year-old Berline Joseph. The girl works at home in the morning and attends FOPJ’s primary school in the afternoon.
There are about 300,000 unpaid child workers in Haiti. They typically cook, clean, fetch water and do other household chores.
“Because of the justice issues related to the trauma of unpaid child workers, MCC has been partnering with FOPJ on this project,” says Susanne Brown, MCC Haiti disaster response team coordinator.
MCC is developing a media piece to use throughout the department of Grande Anse, where most of these young children are sent from.
“The campaign for conscious-raising begins in November and will last three months,” Brown says. “It will include visits to various church leaders, heads of schools and communities throughout the mountains. We’re hoping to reverse the unpaid child worker situation.”
MCC also funded FOPJ’s post-earthquake initiative to help women who sell goods along the road or in small markets.
Polycarp Joseph, FOPJ founder and director, says more than 200 market ladies victimized from the earthquake went through FOPJ’s recapitalization program.
“We taught them how to manage their business, how to resupply their stock, and we resupplied their finances,” he said.
Sony, whose restavec child attends school at FOPJ, used to sell cosmetology goods in a market. During the earthquake, she lost everything.
“I saw darkness,” she says, recalling how she struggled to feed her family.
Sony now has a small roadside shop near her home in which she sells goods purchased with FOPJ’s help.
“I sit here from eight to five every day but Sunday,” she said.
The road in front of her often jams with car and foot traffic, so the potential for patronage is high. Though business is slow, she has faith in the customer- service strategies she learned from the FOPJ training.
“I talk to people in a nice way even if they’re not interested,” she says.
Sheldon C. Good is assistant editor and web editor for Mennonite Weekly Review. These stories were written for Meetinghouse, a Mennonite editors group.