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Domes For Haitian Orphanages

BWB is proud to have contributed $800 toward the building of Domes for Orphans in Haiti as a part of BWB’s Grant Program.

Domes for Haiti recently returned from two and a half months in Haiti after successfully completing our first humanitarian effort.  The project was conceived of in late February in response to reports coming out of Haiti about the lack of tangible aid making it to the actual people suffering on the ground there. After five months of working diligently on fundraising and procurement of materials, I finally had raised over $30,000 in cash to match the $30,000 + of in kind donations it took to successfully implement my project. My goal was to build ten pre-fab 17′ geodesic domes at orphanages in Port Au Prince, to house at least 100 kids in a dry place away from all that mud. I hit the ground in Haiti on July 17th, my shipment arriving at the nearby airport the same day. I set up the tent that was to be my home for the next two months at Grassroots United base in Port Au Prince and got acquainted with the notorious Haitian Customs Ordeal that was to last for an entire month of endless paperwork and hoop jumping.

I made productive use of this time, utilizing a list GRU had compiled of local orphanages to set about finding my beneficiaries. I dusted off my motorcycle riding skills I learned when I was 15 and entered the insane chaos that is Haitian traffic with my translator clinging for dear life on the back of a borrowed moto and went to visit about 15 orphanages in the PaP area. Later I would be driving the same moto back and forth across Port Au Prince from the Customs office downtown to the Minister of Finance and the Civil Protection offices ad nausea when I also learned just how intense the dress code can be in Haiti. I was refused entry to at least two buildings during this time due to improper attire.  I was driving a motorcycle! I had to wear my motorcycle boots. It was hot! I had to wear shorts. No, honey, you can’t come in here dressed like that. I felt like I was being turned away from a posh club in Manhattan, not the rubble strewn inner courtyard of a government building in Haiti.

The dome sites were chosen based on demonstrated need for shelter as well as other requirements such as showing deed or lease of the land and proof of official orphanage status.  Also, I looked for places that had basic infrastructure already in place such as a toilet, kitchen and bathing area.  The geodesic domes I had brought are transitional shelters, they are adaptable into permanent housing with some modification, but they do not come with a bathroom. I became acquainted through GRU with an organization called Give Love that is based out of their compound in PaP. They are working on building container houses and they also have a composting toilet system they are implementing at sites in PaP. They are building a composting toilet system at a site that I built two domes at in Bon Repose that is soon to be the new home for two dozen street kids. This is a collaboration with another American nonprofit organization called Haitkaah Social Justice Project based out of Massachusetts who is working with an amazing woman named Dr. Julie Bertrand of Kore Timoun to establish a new orphanage for these street kids that fall through the cracks of the system.

As I was assessing orphanages, the domes were sitting in a warehouse next to the airport gathering dust along with many other shipments of humanitarian relief goods that were being held there. I saw hundreds of shelter box cases stacked ineffectually being rained on while a mile away people in tent cities got rained on daily in torrential down pours. I saw 5 brand new SUV’s that had been donated by the Clinton Foundation shortly after the earthquake that had vines growing up all over them.  I saw boxes upon boxes of computers gathering dust. The infrastructure is not functioning well to say the least. For profit shipments sail through customs while humanitarian goods can sit for months uselessly while people in real need of food , shelter, medical supplies, tools and equipment are stranded with nothing.  The government is trying to fix the situation, they recently created an “expedited customs” office for NGO’s.  It requires a lot of leg work, however, to be added to their special list of NGO’s.

In the meantime, Port Au Prince remains devastated with people still living in shabby, sun-bleached and torn tents that were donated to them 9 months ago. Recent storms have made confetti out of many thousands of peoples already pathetic versions of shelter. The situation is absolutely dire. The Haitian people manage to persevere, somehow existing on nothing. They have an enormous amount of self esteem and pride in their appearance. People living in tent cities who are dressed immaculately with clean shoes are not a rare sight. I did not see any permanent housing being built for people living in camps. I saw work crews moving rubble hand over hand on the sides of the road every day. I am not sure where they were moving the rubble to, but it seemed like they were just being employed to move rubble around, not making any real progress in fixing the roads or building new homes.

After chasing paper all over PaP, on August 11th, I finally managed to get my shipment out of Jail. My one crew member was long gone, however, neither of us had planned for the added time and she left weeks before I actually started building. I returned to Brooklyn for a brief respite and then back to PaP on the 20th of August to start building the domes.

I hired 5 Haitian teenagers to be my build crew and set about teaching them the basics of geodesic dome construction. Two of the crew members were sisters and I put them in leadership positions.

It was part of my goal to inspire and empower Haitian youth to be in leadership roles and to learn basic building / construction skills. Especially young women. My crew of 5 was totally awesome and we bonded over the next month, working daily together in the hot Haitian sun.  They got so good at building the domes, I barely had to give any guidance at all after the 3rd dome. Nelleke proved to be more adept at record keeping and number crunching and her sister Nephtalie showed a natural ability to wield tools. The rest of the crew, the guys Marco, Madson and Watson are all friends that grew up together  with the girls and so the vibe was incredibly positive every day.  There was a fair amount of flirting going on within the crew, but that’s what you get when you put girl teenagers in charge of hiring the best workers. They hired the hottest guys they knew and then had a great time every day working with them. Lucky for me, they were also hard workers and strong. These kids mean the world to me and I plan on staying connected to them for the rest of my life. I paid them and fed them in exchange for their labor and

We put up 9 domes in Port Au Prince at 8 orphanages. One orphanage received two domes to accommodate the amount of kids being served. The last dome, number 10. was built in Jacmel, down on the coast at an orphanage that was in great need there.

This project was my first humanitarian effort.  It stretched me to the very edges of my resources and knowledge.  It was the most intense two months of my life and it had a profound effect on me. The added challenge the difficult environment in Haiti provided forced me to be even more resourceful and persistent than normal. I had to problem solve on a whole new level to get the job done. I am excited that through my community support and my own perseverance, I was able to help house at least 100 kids in dry shelter this year.

Domes for Haiti is currently fundraising for our next project in Haiti. We plan on commissioning local builders in Jacmel to construct 50 bamboo bunk beds to bring to the orphanages we served so that they can have beds! This project will simultaneously benefit the builders, in country reforestation efforts and the kids who are currently sleeping on dirty old mattresses on the ground. Please visit our blog and make a donation today. Every dollar helps.

I like to fantasize about what kind of creative solutions to the basic survival problems in third world countries the Burningman community could invent. The skills many of us have honed over the years, conceiving of and implementing ridiculously huge art projects on the playa are exactly the same skills needed to embark on a humanitarian project in one of the hard hit places on the earth. Just imagine if 1/10th of the energy that is spent every year at Burningman was directed towards finding ingenuous solutions to the questions of shelter, water, power and food, how much collective good could be done in the world at large.

The entire Domes For Haiti project is documented in the blog which can be found here:

Thanks to Burners without Borders for their support towards this effort.



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