Friday, April 15, 2011

What a class!

Half the class stayed after the hour was done to practice the problem given to them.  Their determination is palpable. They are working on assessing the material needed to build a frame structure in Haiti: something all of them can relate to, a dream that might become their reality:  they can envision building their own house! Jackson, the tailor, rebuilt the house that he lives in with his wife and young baby last spring after the earthquake destroyed it, using the skills that he learned from the program.
 This is the 7 am English for Construction class that runs five days a week every week for 6 weeks and is part of the program to teach construction techniques and construction management with hands on practice in the field.  At the end of this course they get a certificate attesting their competency in the classroom and in the field.  This is drawing a lot of students: 48 attend the class. This comprehensive concept of construction technology is introduced by Ray, the Director/Founder of Relief Team One who is a US General Contractor with a long experience in carpentry and masonry work. This course is his brainchild: class work, with top students helping weaker ones, Haitians helping Haitians. Field work takes place at the new orphanage site, under his watchful eye enforcing a tempo and a quality of work (with anti-seismic and anti-hurricane international standards) that Haitians haven’t encountered before.   In class the concepts are reinforced in English, French and Creole by Ray, Big and Bellegarde( 2 men being trained to be leaders) and I.   I enjoy adapting my experience in the classroom to this local reality: it is super fun to teach a practical application. 
26 men are currently employed by Relief Team One on the site of the orphanage complex we are building.  Ray gives out crisp orders, paces from one group to the other, directing the men to maximize their output.  He speaks no creole and ten words of French: but all listen and all hear his directives.  He has me call the owner who calls the suppliers who deliver the material and all the pieces of the puzzle of the construction come together. No heavy equipment to ease the work.  Men work in small teams on various aspects of a structure, holes and trenches are dug with pick and shovels, and cement is mixed with shovels, and it works!  Progress is evident and at every visit I get to see it.
Those men work harder than I have ever seen anyone work before: the fact that an unpaid foreign volunteer (Ray) with strong leadership skills, expertise and vision, is the drive for providing housing to their fellow countrymen who are orphans AND training and jobs for them is a HUGE motivator.  Most of them don’t have a background in construction; they are tailors, students, managers, musicians, mechanics…. But they come every morning and then work all day under the scorching Haitian sun.

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