Tuesday, April 19, 2011

An Island in the Sun

There hasn't been much to report lately. After completing the foundation of the larger facility, construction was put on hold until Peter could come up and assess the work and plan for the continuation of the walls and roof. This process was delayed a little by anticipation of the election results and possible riots. But luckily, Peter was able to travel up to the project site last week with his father to make plans for their work this coming weekend. In preparation, the workers in Gros-Morne have raised concrete beams to support the wooden structure to come.

Although things have been moving a little slow, not to worry, I found things to occupy my time. Guy-Marie and I advertised, interviewed and choose a full-time production manager for the project. When the business gets going, Wilson will be in charge of overseeing employees, controlling cash flow, purchasing feed, replacement hens and the general dealings of everyday production. Guy-Marie will be available for oversight and to answer any questions, but he will not be on-site everyday. I have already started to train Wilson in the ways of animal husbandry and the vision for this operation. The three of us together will sit down tomorrow and discuss options for a guardian and other facility workers.

Another side project that started was the digging of a second well for use by the community. The well that was dug in August is located inside the facility security fence and will be off limits to the outside community once hens are on the property. Because we want the community to also benefit fromt the development in the area, we decided to dig a second well near the community school/church. The land was once again donated by a local farmer and the community has already agreed to father rocks, sand and gravel as necessary building materials. I am encouraged by the enthusiasm of the community and their desire to participate in the development. Through my interaction with the people in the last several months, I am confident that they will continue to support and protect the new Poulaye project.

And finally, my time waiting for things to move forward was well wasted. Jean (Bob) had the chance to come visit for a week or so with his gregarious cousin George. I took him to visit the hen house, the ravine correction, construction of additional classrooms at the Fon Ibo school and of course Tiden's beach/bar. After spending a few days in Gros-Morne, we took a tap-tap to OKap to visit his family. We even spend two days sleeping on a local beach, aptly named "Paradise". It was a great time to see him and try to give him a taste of my daily life in Gros-Morne. Although short-lived, I took advantage of my break from work and my opportunity to spend time with him before his deployment.

And now things are starting to pick up again. Although I will be returning to the US after a few more weeks, the project will continue to advance. I will return in May to attend my brother's graduation from the University of Arizona. After spending a month or so with friends and family, I will most likely return to Gros-Morne to continue working: installing solar electricity, finish setting up water and feed systems and purchasing of hens. I am looking forward to ice-cream and Chipolte, but I also know the my work is far from over.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Long Time Gone

Good news from this end, the foundation is finished! It took 36 people 2 full days to pour the floor...but 210 bags of cement later, I have my very own, shallow but wide swimming pool!

So what next? Well, to finish the construction of the facility, I am waiting for Peter and the Kembe Foundation to bring materials from Port-au-Prince the first week of April. They did a great job with the guardian and storage houses back in December and have been anxiously waiting for the next chance to come to Gros-Morne. In the meantime, the nest boxes are almost finished and the water and feed systems are under construction.

Guy Marie and I are also in the process of selecting a manager to run the operation. I want to make sure I have the chance to train at least one individual before I leave in May to know that the project is in good hands. Tomorrow morning I will be conducting my first Haitian interview. As usually I am not the one asking the questions, I don't really know what to ask. This is where Guy Marie comes in I guess.

In other news, the road hasn't been an issue lately because it has not rained in the last month. I am anxiously awaiting what may happen when the rainy season does come. Of course I hope it holds off another week or so until after Peter comes and is able to drop off his materials, but I know the farmers in this area are praying for the opposite. Because the funds are not available at this time for complete road re-construction, I am focusing my efforts on moving forward with the Poulaye project and training a manager and technicians to take over after I leave. For this I am also leaving behind an instructional booklet specialized for our operation as well as several books on the basic care and health of poultry. It looks at this point that I may have to return to continue the project once again. When I leave, in May, the operation should have everything it needs in terms of structures, materials and employees. The only thing that we will be waiting on is electricity and the hens themselves. We do not want to bring in hens before there is electricity, and this may not be until June.

None the less, we are working hard and pressing forward. I will accomplish all that I can before the time comes for me to leave. I am in high spirits and already can see the effects of this project as a success. People are asking when they can start to buy eggs, other people are asking if there will be job opportunities, many people in the community are just happy to have water. The whole town of Gros-Morne is watching and waiting to see what will come of this Poulaye. Just as I know many people are doing in the United States...as am I. I trust in God.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Three Cups of... Coffee?

Greg Morteson spoke at Virginia Tech a few years ago about his work in the middle east and the challenges he faced in constructing his first school. He talked about how long it took him to raise money to build an elementary school for a rural mountain town. When he finally gathered everything he needed for the school and went back, he couldn't access the community by road. He was forced to raise more money and build a bridge before he could get construction materials to the site for the school building. Well, I'm about to call Mr. Morteson and ask him how he dealt with it all...

Friday morning I got up to go running as I do at 6:30 every morning. When I walked down the stairs Madam told me that I couldn't run because there was too much mud in the streets. Not a problem, I would just do lunges around the house. A few hours later, I jumped on the 4-wheeler to head out to the project site and check on the work of the foundation. Apparently there had been more rain the night before than I thought and the river was pretty high. But not only was the river high, it had eaten away at the work we did on the road the week prior - so much that the entrance up the bank on the other side was now a 4ft drop directly into the water. Needless to say, I wasn't going to make it to the project site by moto that day, and neither were the remainder of the needed construction materials.

Instead, I went by foot on Saturday to see the work on the foundation and assess the damage to the road. The men had been working hard all week and it paid off. The foundation only needed a day or two to be completed. But now what to do about the additional needed materials...? I walked back to town trying to come up with different solutions to our problem of road access. There was no land left on the bank of the river to temporarily "fix" the road to be passed by large trucks. In order to secure the road and give protection to the bank of the river, major construction would be needed including hiring a bulldozer to re-direct the path of the river and purchasing and installing gabions to control erosion along the edges. This type of work would require a large amount of money that I did not have.

But technically, I do have the money. Only the money I have is designated for the construction and operation of the hen facility. But what good would it be to have an operating business if nobody could access the product we produce? Even finishing the construction of the house would require large trucks to pass carrying wood, tin, cement and of course, chickens. Similar to the situation faced by Greg Mortenson trying to build his school, I feel I am at an impass. Ideally it would be the government providing necessary roads and public services, but because my time here is short and this issue greatly affects my work, I feel the load has fallen on me. There is a large community separated from the downtown area because of the fallen road, but they also are looking to me.

I knew nothing in this country was easy, but why does it have to be so hard!? When I left Gros-Morne in 2008 with the intention of finding money to fund the hen project, road access was not an issue. It was just this past year when erosion control was done on the opposite side of the river that water was forced towards Kanpech, eating away at the bank. Without proper planning, correcting one problem only caused another.

So a little frustrated, I press forward. I took several town officials out to the river crossing to see the damage and discuss what could be done about it. In the meantime, I continue to work on the smaller things like waterers, feeders and nest boxes to go inside the house - if and when it is completed. Tomorrow I will again talk to the town officials to see what they found from talking to the people of the affected area and how they will contribute to the solution. With support from the community, I will start looking for possible funders of a road re-construction. ...Or for new funders of the hen project, depending on how urgently the roadwork needs to be done.

Truly "tet chaje", meaning "head fully-loaded" - a lot to think about, having no easy answer at this time.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Tet Chaje

Things have finally started to pick up. This week was spent digging and constructing the foundation for the facility to house the hens. Sounds simple enough, but of course it never is.

The first obstacle we faced was the transportation of materials to the project site. The dirt road to "Kanpech" where the land is located is swept away every time a heavy rain comes and causes the river to rise. At first our mason suggested paying 40 people to carry rocks from the river to the site over a one week period until we had what we needed. Fortunately there are several brilliant young minds in our house that suggested, "why don't we grab a shovel and fix the road ourselves?" But of course that meant, they volunteered for the job. So last Saturday at 6AM, four Americans and an Irishman piled in the landrover to head to the river. By 6:15 we were throwing pick-axes, raking dirt and carrying rocks - and by 9AM our work had paid off to support large dumptrucks passing through. Problem solved.

But it can never be that easy. Now that we can get a truck out of the river and onto the road, how do we get if off the road and onto our property? Well, because one of the neighbors had moved the property boundary in his favor and taken our access to the road to build himself a house, this was going to take some negotiation. Fortunately this neighbor also owned the land on the other end of our property, again between our door and the road. However, instead of starting a "lawsuit" (if there is such a thing around here), he agreed to give us a portion of his land on the opposite end to make a "driveway". After a few swings of the machette, setting fire to a bush filled with yellowjackets and displacing the grazing cows, we were in business.

It's hard to describe exactly why things move slowly without experiencing the situation first hand, but every step forward is in the right direction. It has started to rain every evening for the past week and while this is good for the gardens, it may cause more delay in construction. We just keep pressing on and not giving into the challenges put in front of us. I knew God made me stubborn for a reason...

Saturday, January 29, 2011

And then there was one...

Although I was sad to see her go, the time had come. I dropped off Cameron in Port-au-Prince yesterday to spend the evening with another sister of the RJM and catch her flight to New York this afternoon. As I am sitting on the balcony in shorts and sandals, I do not envy the snow to which she returns. I will however envy the paved roads, wine and icecream.

Before her departure, Cameron and I were able to accomplish a lot, especially in organizing our plan of attack. During the past few days, we were able to finish the concrete perimeter of the guardian and depot houses and while in Port-au-Prince, I picked up barbed wire to secure the top of the fence.

Yet amidst all this, we still found time to climb Mon Belans, the "big mountain" of Gros-Morne (for which it is named). From the top of the mountain we could see the town in its entirety as well as Gonaives to the south and Port-de-Paix in the north. It was a beautiful, yet strenuous way to bid Cameron farewell.

Now the town is bustling with music, games and shops. Not because Cameron is gone, but because February 2nd marks the feast of the Catholic Church in Gros-Morne. Each year the while town takes advantage of a great reason to celebrate. Starting last weekend vendors were lined up along the streets across from the church. As the day draws near, it is harder and harder to drive down the main street. This may hinder some of our work for the upcoming week, but I won't complain having to postpone arguing with masons until Thursday.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Smile! Your on Cameron's Camera

My dad's continual request is that I don't stand out. Talk about mission impossible. I am not just blan (white), I am blonde and have a video camera. Since I cannot post any of the video yet. I thought I would share reflections from behind the lens.

Main Street:
As part of the "tour" of Gros-Morne, I filmed as we walked down a main street. The biggest obstacle was the road. Imagine a washed-out, country, dirt road. Add motos (taxi motorcycles) weaving through, burdened donkeys laboring by, the occasional 4 x 4 vehicle navigating through and people (sitting, standing, ambling, hurrying, selling, buying, eating, burning trash). Even while walking at a snail pace I struggled to hold the camera steady. Though persistence prevailed in the end it was a challenge.

Market Day:
Our eggs will be going to market, so that was our next stop. The best association I can make of market is that the layout to an outdoor flee market with the crowds of Black Friday. Produced was laid out on either sheets on the ground or on table and I could help but being thankful for food with peels or shells. Women searched through piles of clothes and shoes. The animals wandered free or attempted to break their tether. The open air butchers well butchered. It is quite the scene and I doubt that film will do it justice. Film cannot capture the smells of  stewing spices, roasting goat, burning trash, fresh produce and yesterday's spoiled goods. So what did the market women think of us? They were quite frank- we should be spending our money at their stand. However, after explaining ourselves they were happy to showcase their goods and give a short interview. We were please to hear that several vendors already knew of the hen project and were excited about the option to buy their eggs locally. Market day was indeed a sensory overload, but a successful one.

Tour of the Project Site
Pretty straight forward. Christie guided us through its current state and explained the next steps. We have posted a picture of the well. The well is 30 feet deep and will not only meet the needs of the hen facility it will also provide water to the surrounding community (the neighborhood of Kampich). In order to provide the water to the community and keep our chickens safe the well will pump out to a cistern on a daily basis. This also allows us to prevent the well from being pumped dry.

Thank you again to our supporters and hen enthusiasts! Things are certainly coming together with the project and the credit is due to you.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Welcome to Haiti (Byenvini ann Ayiti)

Cameron and I made it to safely to Port-au-Prince yesterday morning and made the 4-hour trip to Gros-Morne. After some much needed sleep, early this morning we set out to take a look at the progress of the hen house. Even though the road had been washed out a little, we were able to access the property by 4-wheeler and the help of Mitch (a year-long volunteer with the RJM sisters).

We found the section of land designated for the hen house nicely enclosed with a security fence. Unfortunately the fence was locked and we didn't have the key. This means we weren't able to walk around the area itself, but at least we know it is secure. Inside the fence we could see the two buildings designated for storage and the guardian residence. The hand-dug well was also inside the fence. This will eventually provide water to the facility as well as the surrounding community.

After our adventures across the river, we walked back to the house and started to plan our time for the next two weeks. During that time, we will be talking with the managers of the hen house and market women who currently sell eggs. We will also be discussing with Sr. Pat what is necessary to complete this project when she returns from a quick trip to Miami. Our next trip to Port-au-Prince, we will meet with Peter (founder of the Kembe Foundation) and discuss how to proceed with the next step.

We are both very excited with the achievements of this project so far. Just being in Haiti gives us new inspiration and more strength to make it a success! Because I will be staying for several months, I will be able to dedicate my full time to completing the work. I look forward to updates of further progress.

Thank you all for your support and please keep in touch!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Update from Peter (our partner from Kembe)

During the week of Christmas, I travelled up to Gros-Morne with a loaded truck and a 4 man building crew from Maxima S.A. (the company donating the houses). On the truck we had loaded the two houses which are comprised of over 200 different parts (panels, roofing sheets, ridges, straps, anchors etc etc). Once arrived in Gros Morne I had already warned Rogeste to have a crew ready to help us unload the truck, this was a great help as it was all unloaded and carried by foot (10 min walk) in less than an hour.
Once the truck unloaded, no time was wasted, as we had already spent half the day driving and thick clouds were forming above our heads. Within 2 hours we had set up the carcasses of both houses, I had directed two teams to work on each house simultaneously. Once the carcasses were up, the rain started and we had to stop working.
The next day started early (5am). It was now time to put up the roof, nail on the siding, secure all the panels and trusses with hurricane straps to secure it from any storms. As the day ended, we were forced back to Port-au-Prince due to time constraints. One of the workers from the building crew stayed behind to pour the concrete together with Rogeste as he has a lot of experience with this (he has built over 500 houses).
The next steps now are as follows. We are still discussing on the best possible barn, a team is doing research in Holland, while we also have experts from Jamaica advising us. Once the definite plans are set in stone, the setting up can begin which will take approximately a week. Furthermore, a design is being made to build a water tank on one of the houses (the one near the well) and install a solar pump for the well.
Greetings and I wish everyone a prosperous 2011 from Haiti, Peter de Gier