It’s been 5 months since I left Haiti Communitere and Haiti. I expected to be back in Haiti working with the community down at Wharf Jeremie where We Advance has their clinic and Hands Together has their school by now. My plans were to get the women working on building their own houses as a community. If we can make it work in the poorest community then we can make it work in all but the more affluent ones.
We have the house in the Haiti Communitere compound. It is a wonderful house. Few Haitians will ever see it. No average Haitian will ever experience living in it because it is rented out to foreigners at a rate only the rich Haitians can afford.
I was told the other day that it was a test. The house was built to test Ubuntublox in Haiti. That hurt my heart. Ubuntublox has already been tested for earthquakes at a rate that is over ten times greater than the one that destroyed Port Au Prince January 2010. A free standing Ubuntublox wall was subjected to 90 mph winds with a rain rate of almost six inches per hour. The wall stood there for thirty minutes. It was certified to have suffered no damage of any kind. The testing has been done.
My vision was to go to Haiti Communitere, build a house. My only line in the sand was that women had to be the builders. There needs to be a project in Haiti that concentrates on empowering the women. We empower the women the same way we empower men. It’s called wages. Women already have jobs. The sad thing is those jobs don’t pay wages because those jobs are just work that has to be done. I thought that if we built a model home in the Haiti Communitere compound and trained the women we could take the compaction machines and knowledge into the community and the women would take it from there. It was not to be. Haiti Communitere decided to have the machines in the compound and build a factory to build the blocks there instead of the community. It was explained to me that if the community made a bad house then it would ruin Ubuntublox forever in Haiti. Ubuntublox has to be controlled and the best way to control it would be to have a factory making the blocks in the Haiti Communitere compound.
I disagree. Make that, I really really disagree.
When I got back home to Texas I found a lot of people wanted to help me get back to Haiti so we could build with Ubuntublox. The problem was they all seemed to believe in the big lie about entrepreneurship that is so popular these days. It seems anyone and everyone can be an entrepreneur. Bullshit. I know entrepreneurs as well as anyone and entrepreneurs are the one group of people in the world that don’t need a helping hand. An entrepreneur will make it happen because they have the keys to entrepreneurship. They have the drive and they have the risk tolerance that it takes to accept, make that, embrace failure as part of the process of succeeding. Most of the population on this planet don’t have the risk tolerance required. The drive is pretty common in us.
Here’s the reality of Ubuntublox. Millions and millions of dollars will be made with Ubuntublox. But no one person or entity is going to make a million off of Ubuntublox. The women who make the Ubuntublox and use their training to build great homes will make money they could never make any other way. Their life will be better. The same will be true of the thousands of welders that make the equipment like the compaction machines and foam shredders. They will all make money but it will not be an individual or entity that makes all the money. The community where the women are making the Ubuntublox and building the houses will be so much better off. That’s because this is the only way these communities will be rebuilt in a sustainable manner. The way men work and men designed housing has done nothing to help the community.
It is really frustrating. I look at the big NGOs in Haiti and they are all about a bureaucracy that’s primary mission is self sustainability. If they are faith based they seem to be all about fragmenting the community with projects that isolate their followers from the community at large. The big NGOs that are USAID oriented seem to be all about corporate interests first and foremost. And faith based or international NGO oriented they seem to share the irrational fear of Haitian control. They want Haitian boots on the ground but blan butts in the office.
One of the things visitors to Haiti Communitere are first to point out is the enthusiasm of the women of the community have towards the work. They are a wonderful bunch. Hopefully by next week we will be in a situation were the walls will start going up and we will get to see their enthusiasm level go up by ten at least.
I was told the Haitians wouldn’t pick up the trash styrofoam along the streets and in the ditches. They were wrong. In fact every morning when the bus arrives with the women there are bags of foam plates etc that the women have picked up on their own time in their community.
I was told they wouldn’t clean up the dirty foam pieces they had picked up. They were wrong. The women are doing an awesome job of just getting after it in the cleaning. There is one caveat there we have to mention. Her name is Roxanne and she is THE FORCE we all have to reckon with. No bigger than a minute but capable of leaping tall buildings in a single bound. No one can work around her without putting out their best. Her efforts insure that yours are going to be the best you have to give. Rox is closer to being a third my age than she is to being half of it. She is the parent in this relationship.
When I designed the system I had Owen Geiger and Ronald Omyonga all over me about making sure the jobs were women friendly. That’s because 70 percent of the most impoverished are female. We had to make the tasks where small framed people could do the work efficiently. Today their wisdom came home to me. I figured small handed people. I never figured the hands might be as small as some of those I’m working with now. Yet those same small handed people have hearts the size of Texas and they don’t let tiny hands get in the way of gettin’ her done.
One of the jobs that is critical is making the eyes in the wires that make the blocks. My friend Bob Warner came up with the original idea and I’ve only modified it a little for making those eyes. I’ve told the women that by this time next week they will be turning out works of art when it comes to the eyes.
This is an example of a good eye. A good eye is critical for a couple of very good reason. Mechanically it is important because this eye won’t break under the stress of tying up the block. If there is a knot or a kink in the eye it can break and then it is a pain in the butt to repair. But I also believe a good eye is important for the maker’s own pride. I believe they will feel better about their work and themselves if we encourage them to strive to make the best eye they possibly can.
The are finding the use of tools a little intimidating at times. Their world hasn’t involved much mechanical work and stuff that would be obvious to some men is foreign to them. The wire eye fabrication is a good example of that. The placing and twisting is something they are working at doing proficiently.
The way it works is you have your laundry ready on Tuesdays and some ladies from the community wash your clothes and hang them out on a clothes line for you. You are responsible to pick them off the line.
I was warned that my work jeans would be free of stains when the ladies are done. Of course we both understood my work jeans might only survive a couple of washings with that kind of thoroughness.
I’ve often joked that my wore out permanent stained jeans were the real deal in the land of phony wore out permanent stained fashion statement wear. Evidently someone agreed.
The culprit should be easily identified. They will be the ones with the fashion statement that requires two belts to keep in place.
Edit 3/9: the jeans magically reappeared on the line yesterday.This reaffirms my faith in the fashion genetics that guide us. It is nice to see that even though jeans around your knees can be a fashion statement, jeans around your ankles isn’t yet.
It looks like today that the women will start processing material and making blocks. Monday went as planned, the women were given an introduction to Ubuntu-blox from collection of materials to building a house with the finished blocks. We were expecting 24 women and only 18 actually showed up. We consider that a good turnout.
Monday while the women were here they were getting messages to hurry up and come home because of unrest in the community. Cite Soleil has about 300,000 residents. Our women are from different communities in that community. When there is unrest everyone wants to be close to home. The day ended early and yesterday was canceled because of the unrest.
The women are building a block with one of the two machines we made last summer while here.