Posted by: Dave Mallach | June 14, 2011

At the end of the road…

At the end of the road, almost at the end of the country, a new school appears:

Bodarie School, Phase I

Greetings.  I returned last night from  Haiti, having reviewed the completion of the first phase of school construction in the town of Bodarie.   For all those who could use some good news, the full report follows.

First, here is a shot of some of our A-Team:

Moe, Larry, and Curly

I will also share with you my thoughts on the state of Port-Au-Prince and Haiti overall, and end with some philosophical musings.

I.                   Port-Au- Prince

I was last there 11 months ago, just a few months after the Goudou-Goudou (the earthquake).  I am quite surprised at the improved state of affairs in PAP at the current time.  I can break these observations down to the categories of rubble, tents, economy, and mood.

Rubble:  When I was last there, PAP was a city of rubble. Streets and avenues were piled high with the concrete remains of collapsed houses.  This completely paralyzed the city. Now  I would say that more than 75% of the rubble is gone.  All major and minor streets are free of obstruction.  Much heavy machinery is around clearing lots, knocking down houses, and removing concrete. It was a major and wonderful surprise for me.

Tents: When I was last in PAP 1.2 million people were living in vast tent cities. Every bit of vacant land was covered in blue UN tents, as were the meridians of all major avenues. There was little water, little nighttime security, and the UN troops were stretched to the point of uselessness. I am told, and I have seen, that 800,000 people have now moved out of the tents and are living in more permanent housing, with friends and family, or outside of PAP altogether.  Now, wherever you look, you can find plywood cabins.

Under 400,000 remain in tents, and again, the difference is remarkable.  The size and number of tent communities has shrunk to a point where, to my untrained eye, UN troops are able to provide at least a basic level of security. I also see, for the first time, Haitian Police at critical points, including the roads into and out of PAP. We went through two manned and armed checkpoints, and it was a reassuring feeling. The firepower seemed more than sufficient to me to deal with chaos and street crime.

Economy:  After the earthquake $11 billion dollars was pledged worldwide  by governments, Non-Governmental Organization (NGO’s) and private citizens.  $4.3 billion actually arrived.  $1.2 billion of that has spent (see rubble removal, above).  The balance of unspent funds awaits the stabilization of the Haitian government after the recent elections.

The $1.2 billion already spent s is visible in a way that any Economics 101 student would recognize.  Contract and salary payments have trickled down to the street level.  Markets are busy, and cash is changing hands on every street. It is, again, a notable and wonderful difference from a year ago.

Mood: Last year the populace showed  the effects of a great trauma in their disposition and appearance.  Everywhere I saw little but  tears and “thousand-yard” stares.  Now I see far more engagement and purpose in their eyes and actions. My friends on the ground say there is a general feeling of hopefulness in the population, and I picked that up as well.

II.                 Bodarie

CONSTRUCTION:  Less than eight weeks ago we began construction of the new school in Bodarie, our isolated village 80 miles from PAP.  I was shocked to the point of speechlessness about the progress.  Phase I, the first four classrooms, is 90% done.

Here is a 30 second video that pans from the old school, to our new kitchen, to the work area, to the new school:

A concrete foundation has been poured, and cinder blocks are made on-site.  Welders made hurricane-proof steel doors, as well as framing for the steel  roof. The large rocks in the courtyard are smashed with sledge hammers to produce pebble-sized rocks. Those are then mixed with sand and concrete to make the cinderblocks. I saw roughly 20 workers, working from 4:30am until 5pm, all over the site. We are paying them $5 a day, while the prevailing wage in Haiti is $2 a day. (By the way, the same trickle-down effect noted in PAP was observed in Bodarie as well).

Here is a shot of the interior:

Interior and exterior painting will be done by next week, and then the desks will be moved in.

WATER SYSTEM: We have spent $68,200 on Phase I, exactly $6,200 over budget. This added expense was due in part to the creation of the village’s first water system. Up until now I estimate 500 to 1,000 gallons of water was brought up from the nearest creek, mostly by children, one gallon at a time. Children start this before sunrise each day:

Our brilliant team in Haiti designed and built a 28,000 gallon concrete cistern under the floor of the most elevated classroom. Rooftop gutters collect rainwater and funnel it down to the cistern. As you might expect, it rains a lot in the mountains of Haiti (Bodarie is at an elevation of 2,000 feet) and 10 hours of rain is enough to fill the cistern. Gravity drives chlorinated water down to faucets in the village. Instant water-pressure! The resulting productivity to the village is clear, but the health benefits are even more remarkable. The creek was not always clean.  The largest health concern in Bodaire is water-borne parasites. Most of the kids are affected by this, historically.  I now believe that scourge has been largely eliminated. We believe it fully justifies the expense over-run.

FOOD PROGRAM: At the beginning of this year our team at Haitian Support was able to do something remarkable, by instituting a school food program.  This week was my first chance to see it. Historically kids would walk 3+ hours to school, learn all day, and then walk home very hungry. You can imagine the ramifications of this. Now we have a kitchen and staff, and they provide enough food to feed 560 children each day.  It created six jobs, and the results are amazing to see. Plates of rice and beans that too large for me to finish are inhaled by seven-year olds, leaving not a grain of rice. I fully expect to see substantial improvements in average height and weight in the out-years, as measured by our annual January medical trips (come with me!). Here’s a great 15 second video:

III.              Needs Summary and Philosphical Conclusion:

When we sat on a porch on Bodarie one night last year and first looked over the plans for the school, we estimated that it would cost $115,000 to construct. With the substantial increase in supply costs due to the earthquake, some mission creep (food program, water system) and some refined analysis, we have determined that in the end the entire project will cost $165,000.

We need $92,000 more to finish the school.

 I have now looked at dozens of schools in Haiti. The average cost of building one of our size is roughly $700,000 (see the New York Times article last month on Royal Caribbean’s construction of a school in Labadie).  How can we do it for $165,000? The answer is that we are lean, mean, honest, and child focused. If I heard the following story once, I heard it ten times – A United States or European fund asks NGO’s what a school for 500 kids would cost. They say $750,000, and they get it. The first thing they do is buy four Toyota Landcruisers, at $100,000 each, to shuttle the NGO executives around. You can imagine where the financial story goes from there.

Right after the earthquake I wrestled with how to bring Haiti up to the table of nations.  I had few answers.  All I could focus upon was trying to improve the situation in an isolted rural area. Now, with more time on the ground, and input from my colleagues in Haiti,  and from my friends, clients and donors, my position has evolved.

Country-wide change on the order of what is required in Haiti takes money, hard work, commitment, luck, sacrifice, pain, education, democracy, and hope. But even with every one of those silos full to the brim,  in the end it takes leadership.  Fundamental big-picture change in Haiti, change that means that the Haiti of 2050 will not be the Haiti of 2000, will require a Lincoln or a Mandela.  Leaders like that come by every century or so.

Now, the truth is I don’t work very hard when I am in Haiti. I spend most of my time playing with the children, sitting with them in class, generally making things more difficult for Les Professeurs.  But I look in the eyes of each and every child in Bodarie  and I ask myself:

Is this her? Is this him? Is this the Haitian Lincoln? The Haitian Mandela? And if not, will they be born in my lifetime? Will they get their spark, their education and their iron determination in  a school like we are building in Bodarie?

My answer is unequivically yes. The level of compassion and generosity of our donors, the work put in, the uncompromising integrity of every member of our team, the cumulative result of rational analysis and planning,  the overall and immeasurable concern and humanity of the friends of Bodarie, all these things must point us straight at success.

I return from Bodarie absolutely satisfied that any contribution, big or small, has been and will be carefully and judiciously spent.  I now ask that you help once again.  Join our team and help find and support the future leaders of Haiti.

Please  write me, call me, mail me a check, and I guarantee not a bit of your help will be wasted.

Thank you, again and always.


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