David Casey – Volunteer Report – Duchity, Haiti – 2019
Trepidation was the watchword as I prepared for my 10th consecutive volunteer work-trip to Haiti this year. News reports described a country roiled with violence and turmoil. Four days before departure, two protesters were shot dead in the streets of Port-au-Prince. Another was killed the next day. Thousands of people marched, and blocked roads with burning tires and makeshift barricades. President Jovenal Moise had been implicated in a 3.7 billion dollar oil scandal and the calls for his resignation were growing in volume and vehemence. Not the best environment in which to bring my 26-year-old nephew, Daniel, or for wearing $13,000 in aid-cash “discretely” hidden under my clothes. (Report continues HERE)
After two days trapped in PaP by the protests, we decided to risk an early run to Duchity, where I have spent my last eight Junes helping to build a campus devoted to vocational education. Many of the towns we passed through showed evidence of burned tires and dismantled barricades, but three flat tires (protesters strew nails on the road) were the only delays we suffered. Our usual six-hour drive took almost nine. Our late arrival left us with only 13 days to complete our work, but with no off-days and an eager local workforce, we were able to accomplish more than I imagined possible.
This year’s effort was divided into two crews: one for masonry, the other for painting. The masonry crew varied in size, but on an average day it numbered 20: three master masons, four boss masons, six laborers, and seven skilled masons (previous graduates of the two-year masonry course). I headed the paint crew of five. Painting was my path to avoiding the back spasms and knee-swelling pain that has severely hampered my ability to perform manual labor the past two years. Daniel was in my crew and while not a painter, he demonstrated the Casey Work Ethic with diligence and steadfast commitment.
The masons completed four major tasks. They topped the school’s 900 linear foot wall with a finishing “collar” of rebar and block. The skilled masons then finished 400’ of the wall, interior and exterior, with a cement texture known as krepisage. The boss masons krepisaged two unfinished sections of the main building, subdivided the 90’ small schoolhouse with two krepisaged block walls to reduce noise and improve durability, and they constructed and deconstructed our two-story painting scaffold using 2x4’s and plywood, four times. My small crew painted the 8,000 square foot, main building twice: two coats on raw concrete is a must. It was like painting a never-ending, horizontal, popcorn ceiling.
Many of you reading this were part of the 62 generous households or businesses that contributed a total of $12,111 to enable this year’s work. As in each of the past eight years, every dollar of that money was spent in direct aid: it paid workers’ salaries or bought locally sourced building materials. Daniel and I paid our own expenses, including the money we donated for free daily worker lunches. Additionally, I distributed 150 toothbrushes, 150 pens, 18 pairs of work gloves, 4 scientific calculators, 3 English-Creole dictionaries, 3 solar lamps, 2 graphic calculators (Thanks, Betty!) and 2 soccer balls.
Total Payroll: $4,575. Per day pay rate: Masters/$27.50, Bosses/$16.50, Skilled/$11, Laborers/$8.50, Cooks/$7.25, (Daniel: one gourde for 13 days = 1.2 cents total, paid in full by his uncle: he earned it!). Total number of individuals employed: 55. Total paid hours: 2,427. Average hourly pay: $1.89.
Total materials: $7,544. Including: Rebar/3,420’, Cement/160 bags (90 lb.), Block/2,200, Paint/245 gallons, Sand/6 trucks, Collar lumbar, Scaffold rental, Painting tools and supplies, Nails (7 boxes), Wire, String, Shovels, PVC pipe, and Saw blades. (Budget overage: $8.00)
I was conversing with a good friend several weeks before I left on this trip and was shocked when he referred to his donation as “a symbolic gesture.” As I wrote him in reply, nothing about the money I collect and painstakingly spend in Duchity is symbolic. As our work began, the very real meaning of that money could not have been clearer. Providing people with work that puts food on their table and feeds their families is not symbolic; it is life sustaining. Inflation in the past two years has halved the value of the Haitian Gourde; consequently, every morning saw a surplus of work-starved applicants. There was nothing symbolic when Jean Fritz, a top boss who usually gets $60-$70 a day, gratefully accepted work at $16.50 a day because his daughter desperately needed asthma medicine. Abstraction was absent when we had to fire Sonson after his first day for working too slowly in the broiling sun. He returned that evening and begged for reinstatement because his house needs a roof and ours was the only paying job-site in town. The next day, he fully redeemed himself with backbreaking effort. In fact, the need for work was so ubiquitous that we hired most of our crews in four-day increments, to give as many people as possible an opportunity. There may be symbolism in building a vocational center that will, for decades to come, equip Haitians with lifelong work skills, but for the last eight years the $70,803.00 we’ve raised, and I’ve spent, has had a palpable impact on dozens of families. I call that impact the Power of Us and know it’s truly felt.
That power is not easy to come by. I take no pleasure in asking you for money every year, but it humbles me when you respond, and we, as a small philanthropic community, make a positive difference in a very negative world. The campus was alive with learning when we arrived: the primary school had grown to three grades, the hurricane-displaced high school had six classrooms preparing for exams, and night classes in the computer lab were making the most of the new solar energy system (provided by Vermont Haiti Project, the center’s major benefactor). It would be wonderful to report that the work is nearly complete, but the truth is, the challenge of nurturing development in Duchity, Haiti is just beginning. With your ongoing support next year that challenge will continue to be met. Thank you.
Power of Us,