Building Hope In Haiti Part III: The Wall

Mar 27, 2013

This month, KNAU has brought you a series called Building Hope in Haiti: stories about a group of volunteers from Flagstaff who continue to do relief work in Haiti 3 years after a powerful earthquake struck the tiny country. Today, we bring you the final story in our series. We return to an orphanage near Port au Prince where volunteers are rebuilding a containment wall destroyed by the quake. As Arizona Public Radio's Gillian Ferris Kohl reports, the wall is not only bringing safety to dozens of vulnerable children, it's also creating a few jobs for Haitians desperate for work.

A lesson in wall building, Bon Repos, Haiti
Credit KNAU/Gillian Ferris Kohl

It only takes a few minutes driving north of Port au Prince before the road opens up into countryside, mountains and miles of stunning coastline. There are a few beach resorts along the way: The Wahoo, The Kaliko, The Obama and The Indigo Beach Resort. It's a sprawling property, lush with acres of flowers and coconut palms. White-washed guest villas face an enormous, sparkling pool and the electric-blue Caribbean beyond.

Joshua, an artist, sells his paintings at The Indigo Beach Resort, Haiti
Credit KNAU/Gillian Ferris Kohl

Joshua is an artist. He has a small outdoor shop at The Indigo Beach Resort where he sells paintings and hand-woven bracelets to tourists. Before the earthquake, Joshua was a college student. But now, he says working at a beach resort is one of the only steady jobs in Haiti. "Look at the beach," he says, "it's a good beach. The sea is beautiful. So when more tourists come to Haiti, more people make money. More, more, more money."

But resort jobs aren't possible for everyone. Most Haitians live nowhere near the beach, but in remote mountain villages instead where farming is the main industry. Or, they live in the crowded capital city of Port au Prince where an estimated two-thirds of the adult population does not have regular employment.

Patrick Krimmer is a construction worker from Flagstaff. He's come to Haiti as a volunteer with the Northern Arizona Volunteer Medical Corps. And today, he's orchestrating the rebuilding of a giant concrete containment  wall around the Foyer Renmen orphanage.

Flagstaff volunteers reconstruct a containment wall at an orphanage near Port au Prince, Haiti
Credit KNAU/Gillian Ferris Kohl

Krimmer says it crumbled during the earthquake and since then, there's been no secure barrier between the orphanage and the often dangerous streets of Port au Prince. The orphanage has hired armed security guards to patrol the compound. Krimmer says, "from the ground up, we started over. And we constructed it to the standards we've got in Flagstaff. We want to make sure if there's another earthquake, that wall will stay standing."

Krimmer is one of about a dozen construction workers and contractors from Flagstaff working on the project. They shipped their own tools here since electric drills and saws aren't plentiful in Haiti. And they also hired Haitian workers for the job: 2 weeks of steady employment and construction experience that could lead to more work in the future. Patrick Krimmer says word about the jobs spread so quickly through the neighborhood that he had to devise a colored-wrist-band system so he could tell who had been hired legitimately and who was hoping to squeeze their way onto the payroll. "As soon as you turned your back a man would be there with a shovel," Krimmer says. "You could ask him if he was working and he'd say yes, he'd been here since this morning. He wants to work. He wants the opportunity. You get caught up in the emotion."

Some of the Haitian workers hired for the wall project. Bon Repos, Haiti
Credit KNAU/Gillian Ferris Kohl

There is very little industry in Haiti. Nearly 80% of all jobs are in agriculture, in areas far away from the most populated cities. Some people find work if they have computer or medical-related skills. The United Nations has a large presence in Haiti, but most UN workers are stationed here from other countries. It's estimated that nearly 60% of all Haitians live in abject poverty and more than half are illiterate.

That's why 22 year old Edva Mascary feels lucky to have been hired as a translator for the construction project at the orphanage. "When I was 16 years old," Mascary says, "I always pictured in my mind I'm a strong man, I can do whatever I want." Mascary was barely 18 when the earthquake struck. Since he knew a little English, he was immediately hired as a medical translator at a hospital in Port au Prince. But when the initial chaos of the disaster dwindled, Mascary says so did the job opportunities. Now, he pieces together odd jobs to get by: He helps take care of children during church on Sundays, he tends bar sometimes and he takes on occasional translating jobs like this one. "When I get some money I give it to my mom," Mascary says. "I take care of my mom and I just want to get back to school and finish my high school. I've got a plan to go to college and study nursing. I know God will do something for me."

Flagstaff contractor Alex Helwig gives a lesson in hanging gutters. Bon Repos, Haiti
Credit KNAU/Gillian Ferris Kohl

Alison Hosler is a 17 year old high school student from Flagstaff. This is her second construction trip to Haiti since the earthquake. "We were pretty much working by ourselves last time," she says. "But now we have Haitians working with us. " Hosler says her friends back home don't understand why she comes to Haiti to do hard work in stifling heat. But, she doesn't mind at all. She says it's like the Chinese proverb, 'Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime.' "I think it's great because they get paid for their work here," Hosler says. "And we're teaching them skills that they can use to build other places cause still some places aren't rebuilt even 3 years after the earthquake."

And since no one's sure when the next project may happen, she's grateful to be part of this one.