The goal of our second visit to Coupeau was to oversee the state of the construction, to specifically plan out the work with our foreman, Jean-Yves Dormevil, and identify possible sources of delays.
We satisfactorily found that the work is coming along well despite the difficulties intrinsic to building in a place of such difficult access. To the already massive effort of transporting tools and materials such as cement and wood, on foot from Carrefour, distant three arduous walking hours from Coupeau, other logistical issues arise, like the one concerning sand. As the school will be built on bricks and concrete, a constant supply of big quantities of sand is fundamental. In order to assure this supply, we are using the local and popular "konvit" custom, in which around 50 villagers transport bags of sand on their backs, from a quarry by the river, in exchange for food. The konvit includes coffee and bread in the morning, a plate of rice and beans at the end of the day, and the popular sugar cane distillate "clairin", when the suffocating tropical sun demands a break.
The work is hard, but rewarded when new challenges are faced by new solutions. For example, in the presence of a dire need for great volumes of water for fabricating concrete, nature and the community worked with us, by providing torrential downpours and labor, respectively. It inspired awe to watch the children collect, on their own accord, the rain accumulated on places like the plastic tarp roofing their temporary school, using any container at hand, from bottles to empty food cans.
These same "timoun" (children in Créole) have lost their shyness, participating in the construction during their school breaks, jumping and playing among tracings and excavations, and discussing among them about where will their future classrooms be located, and how will they be like.
Several tasks were completed during this visit. Finished tracings and excavations, assembled brackets and iron pillars, established the correct positioning of the pillars, and put in place the wooden moldings necessary to soon start pouring the foundation's concrete. Besides, we commissioned the making of 1400 concrete bricks, and confirmed the donation of 2 m2 of land, part of a local peasant's property. This piece of land is necessary to build one of the corners of the new school.
Coupeau's new school will differ in several key aspects from the former construction, mortally wounded by the "goudou-goudou" (as the Haitians call the earthquake that devastated the country on January 12th). The new school will be built following the strict Chilean anti-seismic building code, one of the best in the world, as attested by the relatively little structural damage suffered by Chile after the earthquake of February 27th, much stronger than Haiti's. For example, the brackets in the new pillars have bended ends that face inwards, which makes them much more resistant to strain. In the pillars, these brackets will be spaced every 20, instead of 40, centimeters. The new pillars are rectangular instead of triangular, which gives more support to the structure, and are built using thicker iron bars. Plus, the new pillars will be set over foundations, which were lacking in the previous building.
During our next trip to Coupeau we intend to explain in detail such differences to the community at large, through a guided visit to the construction site organized by local leaders. The idea is to show the people simple and replicable anti-seismic construction techniques. An important aspect of repeatability is the choice of building material, preferably using the commonest one. In Haiti, country heavily affected by deforestation, wood is not easy to come by, and concrete makes for the safest option.
The gross work of Coupeau's new school is well underway to be completed in the originally expected 4 week time frame.
(This little series of articles about Haiti's reconstruction process and recuperation of work spaces with children, youth, families and communities after the catastrophe of January 12th, will continue).