ORT IC course lays foundation for safer buildings in Haiti


World ORT’s International Cooperation Department (ORT IC) has started training Haitians in earthquake-resistant construction techniques to help the country build a more secure future.

Each residential 10-day course takes on 16 men, teaching them general as well as anti-seismic building skills and instilling within them a sense of professional pride.

“I am very proud of this project,”? said World ORT’s Daniel Kahn, who has just returned from a week in Haiti where he saw a training course in progress. “I am not aware of anyone else addressing this very real need.”? World ORT is a member of the Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief, through which the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) coordinates the work of major Jewish organisations in North America to prevent duplication and maximise the effectiveness of aid efforts. Although the JDC is funding the ORT IC training programme for Haitian building labourers, World ORT is seeking additional sponsors.
At least 200,000 people were killed when an earthquake hit Haiti in January “モ most of them crushed beneath shoddily built homes and offices. Survivors appreciate the need for better built housing but the reality of life in this impoverished country weighs against their desire for safety. It is estimated that 160,000 homes need to be built “モ a task that could take 30 years.
“Poor and middle class people will never get any help to rebuild. All they had was a piece of land with a small house, no savings. So when they rebuild they will do it in the way they did using the same means which proved to be so disastrously inadequate,”? Mr Kahn said.
These means usually involve the hiring of a local team of two or three labourers plus a “boss”?, who will make a house to order but who do not have the essential skills and knowledge that even “cowboy builders”? in developed countries have.
With the support of UNESCO and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), ORT IC has started training these labourers at pre-existing workshops in Camp Perrin, about 150 miles from the devastated capital, Port-au-Prince.
“We didn’t need to publicise anything; word got around and before we knew it we had 600 applicants. We had to reduce the number of trainees from the original plan of 1,000 per year because they are illiterate and so everything has to be explained several times so that it can be learned by heart. The budget works out to $500 per student,”? Mr Kahn said, adding that the size of the training courses will increase to 32 from October to accommodate all the applicants.
The techniques taught at surprisingly simple, said Mr Kahn, who devised the project with award-winning high school principal Igal Guez after being sent to the Caribbean island soon after the earthquake to see how ORT could use its expertise in vocational training and education for its long-term benefit.
“And the cost of a properly made building is less than one-fifth more than the low-grade buildings which were so common in Haiti before the earthquake. The idea is to train at least 600 people per year for five years “モ the more money we get the more people we can train and the longer the programme can continue.”?
The trainees are so poor that they are paid a daily attendance allowance which enables them to continue to feed their families despite not working.
“One man cried because he was getting three meals-a-day on the course while at home his wife and children were getting a fraction of that,”? Mr Kahn said.
In addition, graduates get to keep the tools they used on the course as a way of helping them get work.
Typically for an ORT IC programme, it is implemented together with a local NGO and involves the training of local people so that they can conduct the training themselves.
“The hallmark of ORT IC is its ability to strengthen a self-sustaining, locally-based training capacity through local, regional and national partnerships,”? said the Director of ORT IC’s Washington bureau, Celeste Angus.
The aim is to focus the intake for each course on proximate neighbourhoods so that critical masses of skilled workers develop in geographical areas which can create a culture of quality.
“These men are illiterate and are looked down upon as the lowest of the low even in their own neighbourhoods. Because they are made to feel like nothing they feel compelled to do anything they are asked to do,”? Mr Kahn said. “But you can see how doing the ORT course gives them self-esteem. They are very grateful and very sensitive to their studies: they wear their best clothes for classes “モ and some of them have even borrowed clothes so that they can look presentable. This new sense of pride means they will be reluctant to do work in a way which they know is inferior. They want to change things.”?
In the absence of a legal building code, it is this new-found professionalism which could literally lay the foundation for safer housing.
While much foreign aid continues to be spent on vital short-term programmes of security, medical care and food, the speed with which ORT IC has set up a programme for the long-term benefit of Haitians is remarkable “モ and most welcome.
The UK’s leading magazine for the construction industry, Building, quoted a British architect working in Haiti as saying the immediate challenge was to get people into housing as soon as possible.
However, the magazine noted the cautionary lessons learned from the post-tsunami reconstruction of Aceh as detailed in a report by Jo da Silva, Director of International Development at Arup, the renowned, London-based international engineering consultancy.
Building quoted Ms da Silva as saying that in Aceh the immediate emphasis was on building houses “when their efforts might have been better spent using the post-disaster window of opportunity to build the capacity of the construction sector through vocational training programmes”ᆭ “?.
Mr Kahn, whose career in education, social welfare and international relations has taken him from France to Israel and then to countries across Africa and south-east Asia, said it was satisfying that ORT was already contributing to the future while the international community was spending billions of dollars in ways that barely satisfied immediate needs.
“The situation is worsening there overall; it makes you angry to see it,”? he said.
ORT IC has implemented more than 350 non-sectarian projects in 92 countries to the benefit of more than two million people since its establishment in 1960.
From a sustainable forestry school in Guinea to rehabilitating ex-combatants in Burundi; from capacity building of NGOs in Montenegro’s nascent democracy to (in partnership with the JDC) support for Kosovar refugees and the rebuilding of Indian and Sri Lankan communities devastated by the Asian tsunami, ORT IC has provided meaningful support to disadvantaged people in every continent except Antarctica and Australia.
ORT IC’s work has received support “モ and praise “モ from major organisations such as the World Bank, Hewlett-Packard, the United States Agency for International Development, the Coca-Cola Foundation, the United Nations and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.