By Kaysha Bucher, Interior Designer
Upon arrival at the Port-au-Prince airport, myself and project coordinator, Alex, were picked up by Jason, a project leader and architect for Schools for Children of the World. Thankfully, all of our baggage made it safely and we shuffled our way through the chaos of porters offering to help us with our bags. Jason, thankful to have the company of new visitors, was a thorough tour guide speaking to the bustling activity as we bumped our way through the streets of Port-au-Prince to our final destination of Leogane, Haiti. Leogane was the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake, and although the streets are active, it is much calmer than the city.
After moving our belongings into our room at the Residence de Filarose, a hotel run by the University of Notre Dame, we helped ourselves to a little lunch. Since half the day was already spent, Jason decided it would be a good opportunity to show us the beauty of Haiti’s beaches. Much of our architectural services are in collaboration with the Spanish Red Cross, and since Jason has friends in that organization, we hopped in a Spanish Red Cross vehicle and jostled in our Land Rover to Tiano, the choice beach of non-government organization volunteers in Haiti. At Tiano, we took the time to do a little snorkeling, where I saw amazing, colorful fish and coral reefs. I was grateful for the relaxation time since I was drowsy from the overnight flight.
Getting home later in the evening, we sat down to a prepared dinner of conch, potatoes, spinach, and rice while discussing our preparations for the next day. After dinner, I was grateful for a shower, even though it was cold, and I washed up and headed to bed—asleep before my head hit the pillow.
On Sunday, I woke up to roosters crowing outside the window and forgetting where I was, confused to be waking up under mosquito netting yet thankful for a good night’s sleep. After breakfast we headed out to the first of three school sites.
Ecole National de Leogane de Bire is an elementary school, grades 1-6, where construction is just now in progress. We were very excited to see the existing school rubble removed and the beginnings of excavation taking place. It was interesting to be a part of a group speaking English, Spanish, and French/Creole as we discussed a problem that had come up regarding the location of the perimeter wall. Team collaboration is incredibly slow in groups with many language and cultural differences and I was impressed by the patience of our project leader. While on-site, I also saw the temporary schools put up by US Aid shortly after the earthquake, and could not be happier that the children will soon have a more permanent structure to learn in.
Lycee de Anacaona de Leogane is the main high school in Leogane with 2,800 students attending in shifts throughout the day. This school was completely demolished during the quake and students are now in temporary buildings that are terribly insufficient. The new school design is two-story and makes much use of the site along with an adjacent soccer field. Throughout the week, I will be helping with drawings to get this project ready for construction.
Our last destination of the day was a school outside Leogane in a rural village high up in the mountains. Ecole National de Leogane Fond de Boudin will be a u-shaped building on a small site with a steep grade. Currently attending tent schools in very poor condition, most children in this area walk to school and are excited to see the progress of their new building. The work that has gone into the site recently was impressive, as it has been excavated entirely by hand. The pits that were dug for the new latrines took ten men a week to dig, whereas with access to a backhoe, the job could have been done in less than thirty minutes.
Only two days into my stay in Haiti and I am deeply impressed by the resilience and determination of the Haitian people. It is inspiring to be in a country where they have so little, but are grateful for so much. Sitting on the rooftop of our residence watching Haitians play a game of soccer as the sun sets, I am excited to be a part of something big happening in Haiti that touches the lives of so many as signs of progress are slowly appearing.