World ORT’s training for Haiti’s builders impresses visitors


The immediate and long-term impact of World ORT’s training for construction workers in Haiti has impressed a visiting group of senior Jewish community activists.

The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) mission to Haiti this month brought 24 Federation lay leaders and professionals face-to-face with the people World ORT is helping through its non-sectarian International Cooperation Department (ORT IC).

The ORT IC programme, funded by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) with money raised by the Federation system, aims to train at least 3,000 building labourers over five years in earthquake-resistant construction techniques. In the absence of building codes, the skills and professional pride of masons is essential to preventing a repetition of the carnage inflicted by collapsing buildings during January’s temblor. The JDC’s representative in Haiti, Gideon Herscher, wrote to World ORT’s North America Representative, Harry Nadler , congratulating him on the impressive presentations about the ORT project which takes place at the Camp Perrin workshop 150 miles from the capital, Port-au-Prince.

“We couldn’t be prouder to support this truly remarkable project,” Mr Herscher wrote.

Visiting Haiti and seeing the aid projects underway thanks to the money they help to provide was an eye-opener for participants in the JFNA mission.

“I learned a tremendous amount while in Haiti,” wrote Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh President and CEO Jeffrey Finkelstein. “Providing relief is not as simple as giving people food, water and shelter. We must be strategic. Too many organisations aren’t thinking long term for the Haitian people. Our partners, the JDC and World ORT, are. World ORT, for example, is running a programme to train masons in techniques to build anti-seismic buildings. By doing so, we will not only help to build safer buildings but we are teaching Haitians marketable skills.”

Each 10-day residential course at Camp Perrin takes on 16 “モ soon to be 32 “モ men, teaching them general business and construction skills as well as the surprisingly simple anti-seismic techniques. The course has been designed to meet the specific needs of the students, most whom are illiterate and none of whom have had any formal, professional training.

“I learned that the first days of the workshop are spent dispelling certain myths,” wrote Mr Herscher on his first visit to the ORT IC course earlier this year. “For example, big rocks do not give birth to small rocks; a square can indeed be measured, a fan cover is not an acceptable replacement for a sieve… Once these important clarifications have been made, the workshop covers the proper elements and rations needed to make cement, the correct size of a building block, and the art of laying a foundation.”

The personal significance to the trainees was brought home to the JFNA mission by one of the course’s earlier graduates, Moise Philippe, who was presented with a brick mould by the Chair of the JFNA Board’s Executive Committee, Michael Gelman.

The 56-year-old has been a builder since 1982 and even constructed his own house “モ which collapsed during the earthquake.

“He felt that he must redeem the souls of all those who were killed in the earthquake and not let their death be in vain,” Mr Herscher wrote in his report of this month’s visit to the JDC. “He says it was ignorance that killed Haiti, not the earthquake; and knowledge will change the future… An intensive 10-day session in Camp Perrin has given him the tools he needs to return to his business and rebuild Haiti with quality and integrity. His family is proud of him for going to school for the first time at 56. He now wants to create a knowledge-sharing association. No-one else in Haiti is doing what this programme is doing.”

He added: “I realised that this training session is providing something much deeper than learning. Camp Perrin is their opportunity to reclaim “モ or finally claim “モ their place of professional integrity and significance in their country. They are eager to contribute to their country in a meaningful way and this is the opportunity that ORT’s training is offering them.”

Mr Nadler said the meeting with the JFNA mission had been very successful in giving the visitors valuable insights which they could go on to share with their donors.

“After we presented a description of the project and its rationale numerous hands went up for questions which lasted over 30 minutes,” he said. “The mission schedule meant we finally had to call an end to the Q & A which continued informally on the bus and later. It was made clear during the visit that the JDC considers this programme among the very best investments they have made.”

World ORT is a member of the Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief, through which the JDC coordinates the work of major Jewish organisations in North America to prevent duplication and maximise the effectiveness of aid efforts. The JDC is funding the first year of the ORT IC training programme for Haitian building labourers, World ORT is seeking additional donors to ensure its continuation. In addition, funds are being sought to provide each graduate with a kit containing the tools necessary to use the techniques they have been taught; each kit costs approximately $2,100.

ORT IC has implemented more than 350 non-sectarian projects in nearly 100 countries to the benefit of more than two million people since its establishment in 1960. 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 (USAID), the Coca-Cola Foundation, the United Nations and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.