Sunday, October 27, 2013

Have we accomplished anything?

When we agreed to come to Haiti for FHM, we knew we were to be here only temporarily.  We were on location to help out until a decision could be made on the next guesthouse manager. 

As I write this, the decision making process is still in progress.  We are orienting another interim manager over the weekend.  He will work at least for November and December.

The good news is that our 40 pages or so of guesthouse manager notes should make life easier for anyone new to running a guesthouse in Haiti.

A bit of reflection on our time here -

  • We've learned a lot about ourselves and how we personally and as a couple have been able to respond in a situation like this.  Yes, we're still married.
  • It's been rewarding as well as frustrating to figure out the "systems."  We have enjoyed the challenge. It's been immensely interesting to get to know Leogane, the good, the improving, and the imponderables.  We would have to live here a long time to understand more, to even know the questions to ask.
  • We've enjoyed getting to know staff members, Yvette and Richard particularly.  We've met and interacted with many others, although getting to know them less well.  It has been a special privilege to develop relationships with local people.
  • We have also met quite a number of interesting Americans, some just here for a week, others here for longer term.  It's a treasure trove of people dedicated to helping Haiti.
  • We had a very long list of projects for Kathy, some expecting analysis which first required our understanding of how things worked.  Other projects were repairs that Jeff did or we asked others to do.

    Many projects we added ourselves because we saw they needed to be done.  And some we added to "entertain" ourselves, to pass the time well.   

    We've actually done everything on our list, close to 60 small and larger projects, so that feels good.  I think the guesthouse is in better shape physically than when we arrived.
  • We haven't read all the books we brought, which is a good thing, because it means we didn't have a lot of spare time to fill.
  • We have seen many beautiful sites, some of them right here at the guesthouse. Haiti is truly a beautiful place.
So, I think we've meet our simple objectives, as recorded in our second blog - 'for fun and adventure and challenge.  And also to serve.'

We still believe in the work of FHM, to collaborate with local partners to bring better health care to Haiti, particularly cervical cancer prevention and safer motherhood. 

It would have been especially interesting to have been here for the start of construction on the Women's Clinic in the Fondwa mountains and the Surgical Center here on the coastal plain.  But we knew that these were probably not going to happen while we were here.

But, we have great hopes for all that is planned.  We have been pleased at all the new development made since the earthquake.  And we hope that Haiti keeps being Haiti.

So, laughing with the pleasure of going home, and with wet eyes at having to leave all we've gotten to know here, we say good bye.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Better use for styrofoam

View from the Christianville site, near Gressier, looking east towards the mountains
Many of you know Dale and Ingram from their days at CODEP.  I first met them there and had been interested in visiting their new site.  On Friday, they spent time with us at Christianville, where they now work.
Christianville is famous for its goats, chickens, and fish (a church in our neighborhood in Apex sponsors some of the goat farming).  Most of the eggs, meat and fish are used to feed the many school children the mission supports.
Interestingly, we met a volunteer at the site from Apex who works with NC State's goat project. He was in town working on breeding.  If you compare the size of the goats below to the photos we usually post, you'll note that the goats at Christianville are HUGE.
The goats come when their Haitian master calls, "Goat, goat!" No, that is not Kreyol.
Local homeowners are being encouraged to start a small fish pond
the size of this blue-lined container
Christianville is an innovative place, from how they are working to help Haiti to the many partnerships they have in place.
Maringa tree leaves are being fed to the fish
University of Florida Lab, now being expanded
New culinary school, almost completed
One of two guests houses, this one where Jimmy Carter stayed
for both of the Haiti Habitat for Humanity blitz builds
The sole remaining classroom from the 2010 earthquake,
recently remodeled to become a classroom/potential guesthouse.
What we found most intriguing at Christianville is all the construction that Dale is supervising, building new earthquake- and wind-resistant buildings out of wired styrofoam.  The construction technique is called SCIP, structured concrete integrated panel construction.
The buildings are lightweight, so if they do collapse in a storm or other disturbance, they won't hurt anyone.  The structure above was built in one day.  They're cheaper to build than concrete block buildings, too.
Wiring makes the foam pieces strong and resistant to break-in with a machete, something people fear who live in the all-wood houses built by many organizations since the earthquake.  The walls will flex if necessary and are impact resistant.
After putting the walls together, the workers blow concrete on every surface.  There was a forest of jacks inside this new orphanage building to hold up the roof while the concrete was still wet and heavy.
The workmen did not want their photo taken so we didn't get a good shot of the parging.  They were working efficiently, while being careful to make sure the walls were flat and true.

This construction technique makes electrical wiring a different kind of challenge.
When a building is finished, like this one set to house the new culinary school, the exterior is smooth.  You can't tell that it was made of styrofoam, and even better, it was amazingly cool inside.
Many of us have read about styrofoam causing harm to the environment, and certainly in Haiti, unsightly styrofoam food "clamshells" are often blowing around.  We pick up one in front of the guesthouse almost every day.
It was great to see styrofoam being used in such a positive, "constructive" way.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Clean water distribution, anyone?

Another projects that Jeff has been making slow progress on during our stay in Haiti is getting engaged with Living Waters for the World.

This is a Prebyterian Church-based organization that partners with US churches and local operating groups mostly in Latin America to produce clean water for their communities.

Living Waters, or LWW as they call themselves, are quite active in Haiti, including at a location just up the Jacmel Road from the guesthouse.  One of their installations is well-known to us, at the Blanchard Clinic compound in Port-au-Prince.

Usually a US church picks a Haitian organization that wants to build and run a clean water facility.  The church gets training for its members at "Living Water U" and then sends them as a mission team to Haiti to train the local partners.
In FHM's case, donors have already given FHM money to build a clean water facility for the community and the Leogane Family Health Center.
So far, FHM has dug a well.  This wasn't entirely straightforward - a second well had to be dug before reasonably clean water was reached. And one of the projects that Jeff has done while at the guesthouse is cleaning out faucets that collected small rocks and sand when the well water wasn't very clear.
FHM then approached Living Waters to get on their list for an installation.  Because we're not fitting their usual model, and because their personnel in Haiti has been changing, it's taken us a while to get connected.
However, this week, a Living Waters staff member came by to test the water from our well, and we're hoping to get the results on Friday.
Then we'll have to get a building constructed to house the water project. 
Water will be pumped from the new well to the roof of the even newer building to a 300 gallon tank. Using filtration, microfiltration and ozone treatment, local technicians can treat a tank in about an hour.  Then local people line up with their containers, paying a small price per 5-gallons for their clean water.
Currently we buy water for the guesthouse at 30 gourdes per 5-gallon container, or about 75 cents, delivered by a water truck that fills our 14 containers every 10 days. So that's the price to beat.
An amusing side note for those of you who have stayed at Matthew 25 House in Port-au-Prince - Remember the Titantic theme song played there early in the morning as the water truck came by?  Perhaps we can come up with our own water song for the Leogane Family Health Center?
Living Waters estimates that an initiating partner needs about $25,000 to construct and equip the water treatment building, train people in the US, travel to Haiti to train the local operating partner, maintain the equipment, and pay two Haitian technicians to run the facility.
Seems like this is a pretty cool project for a group like our Sunday School class at church.  Who knows, maybe we'll be back in Haiti with Living Waters for the World?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Solar anyone?

Jeff has been looking over Apex UMC electricity bills since we've been here, with the objective of understanding how the church can manage usage and costs even better.

So it was natural on Wednesday for him to be "talking kilowatts" when we visited EDH (Electricité d’Haïti).

Yes, we are not yet on the grid at the guesthouse and wanted to figure out how much it will cost to get connected, and of course, how much after we're hooked up.

The idea is that could charge the batteries with EDH rather than diesel via the generator.

The guesthouse uses 1200 kilowatt hours per month, as compared to the Apex UMC office which uses 1600 kilowatt hours per month in the winter, running many more lights and computers.

But here, we have to know what kind of electricity we're running to know which electrical appliances we can use - low power from our batteries for the lights, fans, booster pump and refrigerator or higher power from the generator for air conditioning, the well pump, the whole house fan, and the washing machines.

Electricity is four times as expensive here as our residential rate in Apex, which is not the cheapest place in the US to buy power.  Haitians pay 47 cents per kilowatt hour compared to our 11.

We had heard it would cost $6000-7000 US to connect to EDH, so even though diesel is much more expensive, at $1.10 a kilowatt hour as compared to EDH at $.47, it could take a long time to justify the expense of paying for the poles and the hook up.

Why is electricity so expensive?  A little research tells some of the story:
  • According to some pre-earthquake numbers that we suspect are still quite accurate, EDH has the power producing capacity of 270 megwatts. 
  • The demand is more like 550 megawatts, and some people estimate that EDH only produces about half its capacity because of maintenance outages at its old plants. (This means that those who are connected to the grid get power only part of the day.)
  • Haiti has 10.17 million people and 4 state-run plants, with most of their power produced by burning diesel or other fossil fuel.  Their one hydroplant can operate only during the rainy season.
  • For comparison, North Carolina with 9.753 million citizens  has 131 power plants, and production capacity of almost 30,000 megawatts.  Shearon Harris, near our house, produces over 900 megawatts. 

We went to the EDH office in Leogane, a 20-minute walk into town, to find out the process and how to get an exact price for installation. 

The woman who helped us talked to Jeff in French, to me in Kreyol, and eventually a bit in English to us both.  She never lost her patience.

After explaining a few things, including the fact that they had no rate cards or other handouts that she could give us, she searched through her wallet for several minutes.

The next thing we knew, she had found a business card and made a phone call. A few minutes later, a private contractor came to the EDH office and picked us up, drove us back to the guesthouse, and looked at our situation. 

He spoke to us in English, making it all so much easier.  He said he'd send us an estimate for connecting us to EDH in the evening's email. Then he got to work with his GPS to measure the distance to the poles out at the nearest intersection.

It turns out the process here is for a private contractor to apply for the electricity connection, put up the poles, and then get EDH to do their inspection and sell the meter to the new customer.

It's not quite the same as the US, but so far it's been friendly and efficient.

We are now wondering about the cost for a solar installation, feeding our batteries directly, leaving the fossil fuel in someone else's tank.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Lucky day - guesthouse a "beehive" of activity

Tuesday was a lucky day.  It rained during the afternoon and brought most of us inside.  People were buzzing around the guesthouse, and we got a lot done.

We are pleased that the frog infestation didn't reappear with the heavy rain, although there were quite a few jokes from staff about the aptly named "krapo."  And they were noisy again last night, even though we couldn't see them. 

Junior, our gardener, cleaned all the light fixtures inside the house, and on the porch, but first he enjoyed modeling the new mop Jeff had purchased earlier.

We needed the new mop to clean up the water that came pouring in the front door during the rain storm. 

Two electricians, volunteers with Building Goodness Foundation, were loaned to us for the day.  Lucky for us, the job they were supposed to be working on was already finished.

We traded lunch for all kinds of electrical work which they did amazingly quickly.  They also had loads of tools and supplies with them which really helps!

Keith (left) and Shane (right) tightened and cleaned up the batteries, and made some recommendations on how to extend the battery life.

Then they went around the house fixing outlets and switches that were showing wear.  They even hung our new towel bars - all eight of them, no easy feat in our harder-than-plaster walls.

And they promised that after going into town later this week, they'd put an actual light switch in the generator house -- a big improvement on the current system of touching bare wires and getting sparks. They're checking out a cranky security light, too.  Fortunately for us, both electricians are staying at the guesthouse until Saturday morning.

We're looking forward to what they have to say about our water pressure pump and bladder.  We hear there is another volunteer coming on Friday who is a pump expert.  Exciting times if you're a guesthouse manager.

Having Keith and Shane here freed Jeff up to install the various artwork that had been accumulating.  Michael Anello, also of Building Goodness, had some of his local staff make stretcher frames for us.  Yup, they have tools, too.

You may recognize this painting as the companion piece to the painting that Bob and Claudia Lempp bought for us a couple of weeks ago.

In addition to all the hammering, Yvette was chopping away in the kitchen, a friendly counterpoint.  Another lucky thing is having her as cook.
Jeff also fixed our broken chair. 
It's fun getting everything fixed up for the next guesthouse manager.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

List making

We've been thinking about what's next for us, as our last 10 days in Haiti are in front of us. 

We've made plans for our exit next Wednesday to Port-au-Prince, and on Thursday to the airport, and we have fun plans for this Friday night with a Building Goodness team.

We also have some guests coming this week, so we have some more hosting to do.  And we're working on some last projects, now that we've borrowed some tools.

But every night, as we sit in the salon, waiting for the generator to get turned on before we go to bed, we end up talking about what's going to happen when we get home. 

We wonder how we will adjust to being back, and what we want to do next. 

Aunt Emily's memorial service in Nashua, NH, will give us a chance right away to visit my dad in Pleasant Valley, NY.  Thanksgiving and Christmas will follow close behind.

We're looking forward to more volunteer work with Fiesta Cristiana and resuming bagpipe band activities.

But those activities will only allow us to put off the bigger questions of next careers until maybe January.

Jeff keeps mentioning the Half Time book by Bob Buford that he read a while back on Lance Youngquist's recommendation.  Buford suggests these questions - which look to me to be good ones no matter what stage of life:
  • What am I really good at?
  • What do I want to do?
  • What is most important to me?
  • What do I want to be remembered for?
  • If my life were absolutely perfect, what would it look like?
This is a pretty challenging list, and I would add yet another question - What do we know about ourselves that we need to apply in the next situation?

When we first got here, we made a list of all the projects we needed to work on for the sake of FHM.  We were pleased that the list was so long, over 50 items, because we had been worried that we wouldn't have enough to do here.

So still in the list making mode, we're making more lists, some of them only mental, others written down for future thinking.

We're listing what we've learned about ourselves, what we've missed from home, what we will miss when we get back to Apex, what we found out we don't need, what we need more of as we move forward.  Even to have time and energy to make such lists is a privilege.

I was reading this morning that we as Americans not only have "freedom from" but also "freedom for." 

The latter may be our biggest blessing as we look forward to the next chapter.

We hope many of you will offer us advice and counsel as we search out the next adventure, the next big challenge, the next opportunity to serve, the next chance to explore the world.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Multiple views of good intentions

The new Fondwa school, several days before the grand opening
Jeff and I both just read More Than Good Intentions: Improving the Ways the World's Poor Borrow, Save, Farm, Learn, and Stay Healthy by Dean Karlan and Jacob Appel.  It's a very readable book by two behavioral economists. 

Karlan and Appel believe that good intentions are not enough.  They are very interested to know what poverty-fighting strategies work and why.  Then they can recommend reproducing those approaches in different places around the world. 

The book tells about a number of their program evaluations done to help non-government organizations like FHM look at their success (or lack thereof).

Their argument for rigorous evaluation is compelling, because so often, things are not what they seem. 

It's hard to tell what is working, and what we're really seeing versus what we want to see or what others want us to see.  There is also the issue of what we do not see, or see but not realize we're seeing.

One of the most common solutions to poverty amelioration is education.  So, I've enjoyed the intellectural exercise of applying Karlan's and Appel's ideas to thinking about measuring the effectiveness of the new Fondwa school. 

If Karlan and Appel were in Fondwa, they would want to look at test scores from the pre-earthquake school in the old (unfinished) building, as well as scores from the years since the earthquake in the temporary wooden shelters, and then new scores at the end of this school year, the first year in the new building.

They'd probably want to look at teacher and student attendance rates.  They would want to know about class size.
Maybe they would want to record heights, weights, and hemoglobin counts at the beginning and then at the end of this school year, to see if being in the new building has helped the children be healthier. 

Most importantly, they'd want to figure out whether attending the Fondwa school is helping to improve the quality of student lives. 

Because they'd have to have a control group, and would also need to figure out whether there are other factors influencing the quality of the education (are the teachers properly prepared?  Is the Haitian education system measuring the right goals in its end-of-year exams?  etc. etc.), the evaluation design would be complicated.

And given the wide variety of "career paths" Fondwa students take after leaving school, the questions we need to ask about "quality of life" are quite varied. 
How do we compare what happens to the young woman who marries at 16 and who has three children by age 20 to another student who goes on to Port-au-Prince and university?  I think it's possible that the first student could in the end benefit more from school than the second, depending on how the years roll out.

Perhaps most critically, how do we measure"improved quality of life" with a "Fondwa lens"?  Do we even know how to describe what we are setting out to measure?

Giving in to the overwhelming complexity of the questions that should be asked, I am switching gears to zero in on the practical. 
The two economists would be happy to know that on our second visit to the school, students were receiving antiparasitics.  Giving out free deworming medicines is one of Karlan's and Appel's top seven recommendations for improving the lives of people who are poor.  That's being done at the Fondwa school.

All this thinking brings me to a somewhat funny story.  If you read our post about the new Fondwa school's opening, you know that the photo at the beginnng of this post is the new Fondwa school building from the front courtyard.

A few days after that photo, we were back in Fondwa, looking down into the valley from a new vantage point,.  This is what we saw:

Yes, a bright blue roof on a large building in the middle of the valley.  At first glance, we had no idea what it was.

After a few seconds,  we realized we were looking at the roof of the new school.  (Yes, it's pretty obvious to you, dear reader, given the way I've shown you the photos.)

We had no idea, from being out in front and inside the new building, that the roof was bright blue. 

I think this could be an extended metaphor for what is good and not so good about Karlan's and Appel's book.

Do we know what we are looking at?  And, are we smart enough to measure what it is we need to know? 

For example, how do we measure the effect of the blue roof, a key architectural element that some people miss because of their perspective (or lack thereof).

When you live in a steep mountain valley, the color of your roof matters.  So many people can see it from afar.  And the color of the school roof is "Fondwa blue," the color of Fondwa school uniforms.  It was carefully chosen - oversized "school spirit."

Would Karlan and Appel be thinking about the intangible effects of the new school building on the Fondwa comunity?  How important are these effects in improving quality of life for their students?

I'm guessing the people across the Fondwa valley are very proud of their new blue roof. 

Even if they don't walk all the way down the hill to see the new ironwork, the beautiful block laying, the new desks and book shelves, and the many, many children in attendance, they know the new school represents a rebirth from the 2010 earthquake.  And it's a rebirth in a building that's more beautiful than what existed before the disaster.

I wonder if Karlan and Appel would be able to figure out a way to measure the satisfaction the community must feel after working so hard, when there have been so many other urgent demands since the earthquake, for the sake of their young people. 

And how about all the donors who raised the funds to purchase the building materials and pay the workmen?  How do we measure their pleasure, in giving kids who have very little, a place to receive an education? 

Yes, it takes more than good intentions to fight poverty.  But there is a huge blessing from those same good intentions.  May we all feel them and and enjoy them.