Monday, September 17, 2012

Haitian Earthquake Memorial

On January 12, 2010 a devastating earthquake destroyed much of the small town of Leogane, Haiti, leaving the town without a church, whose bell towers also collapsed.  
The bells from the church would ring every morning,
 calling the predominately Catholic town to mass each day.

This poster depicts the vision for the rebuilding of the church, along with sponsor logos, one of which is Haiti Engineering,  A group of Structural Engineering students from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, partnered with Haiti Engineering for a summer project to build a memorial bell tower in honor of the more than 300,000 people who lost their lives in the earthquake, as well as raise a bell so the town could hear the ringing for the daily call to mass once again.

Our son, Alex, was one of the students who fund raised, in order to be part of the team to build the memorial bell tower.  He said the week he spent in Haiti was one he would never forget.  In order to thank some of his donors and tell them about the project, we held an appreciation  "Beachy Blue Buffet", where we served the Bacon Bomb, and Alex showed a power point presentation of his trip.  Which brings me to this third and final post - the construction of the memorial bell tower!

Arriving in Port du Prince, the students saw the living conditions of the Haitians.  There was no organized trash disposal system so trash was just everywhere until the next tropical storm, which would wash it down the closest stream to the ocean.

They took a tap-tap (taxi) to the small town of Leogane,
 the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake.

They decided to try to assimilate into the Haitian culture by paying a Haitian girl to give them corn rows - Alex's turned out to be corn "shocks" instead!
The next day they starting working on the memorial.  After laying out the site, they dug trenches for footings - quite a challenge in the hard earthquake rubble.  They needed to mix concrete for the footers but had no wheelbarrow, so they mixed it right on top of the dirt!  One of the Haitian workers they hired to help ($1.50 a day - and people were lined up unemployment is rampant there!) saw them mixing and showed them how to do it - Alex said it was a lot easier after that, and even easier the next day when someone brought them a wheelbarrow - but not before they had already mixed five yards of concrete the hard way!

With the footings poured and set, they worked together to measure and mark the site. 
 The hundred plus degree weather and high humidity made them all wish
they were back home again . . .

 . . . a water break was enough time to get this photo of the students.

Back at work, they frequently found themselves short of needed tools. Here they bend rebar by using a old hinge and lots of muscle!

The memorial starting to take shape - they stacked and filled cmu's to make the walls of the memorial. It was hard work on a hot day!  With a four day work schedule, it was important to finish what was planned each day - even if it meant working into the night!

After two days of century mark heat with matching humidity, 
Tropical Storm Ernesto brought welcome relief!  
They took out some bars of soap and took advantage of the warm rain!!

No work was allowed on Sunday, the day of rest.  Each Cal poly student brought over 25 lbs of rice in their carry on luggage to donate to the villagers. 
 Here Alex is measuring portions to be handed out.

A Haitian girl helps Alex with the portions, and then helps pass them out to the kids at her church.  Each child got 2 lbs to take back to his or her family.  The Pastor explained that food donations were many right after the earthquake, but this rice was the first donation they had received in six months!

The students worked hard to get the frame constructed that was to hold the 300 lb bronze bell.  When it came time to hang the bell, a miscommunication problem left them without a way to lift the bell up to the frame which was to hold it.  Alex had thrown a roll of string in his backpack at the last minute when he was packing 'just in case we needed it'.  It came in handy when he wrapped it many times to make a sling to hang the bell from a back hoe in order to lift the bell into place!

With the bell in place, the students then reinforced the frame they had made from lumber they had treated with a solution to prevent insect infestation and sealant. 

After some hard labor, lots of redesign and creativity, the project came together.

 In the top part of this you can see the site, with the concrete wall behind it.  The students paid a local mural artist to paint a mural as part of the memorial.  The words spell out in Haitian Creole "In memory of those who died on January 12, 2010. We wish you, eternal peace in the hands of God."

A dedication ceremony was held for the memorial.  Alex got the honor of ringing the bell for 38 seconds - the length of time the earthquake shook the city leaving so many dead, 
and the town in rubble.  
Many were in tears and the students say they will never forget the reaction of the Haitians when they heard the bell ring for the first time since the earthquake hit 2.5 years ago.

With the project complete, the students were asked to be guests at the Nuncio's home.  The Nuncio is the Chief Financial Office of the Catholic church for a given country.  Here Alex talks with the Nuncio at his home overlooking the town of Leogane.

The students were treated to a lavish meal which included Lobster Spaghetti - they had seen the lobsters walking around the lawn as they arrived!

The last day, they got to spend some time at a beach house owned by Herby Lissade's uncle. Herby Lissade is an engineer for Cal Trans, and the man who started Haiti Engineering to help after the earthquake.  His family lives in Leogane, and their home survived, while many neighbors lost their homes when the earthquake hit.

 The whole SESH (Structural Engineering Students for Haiti) group with their completed memorial!  Funds are still needed to rebuild the church and raise all the bells in the church's towers.  Information about making a donation can be found here.  The bell in this memorial, will be put in the church tower once it is built, and another bell will be hung in the memorial to be rung on the anniversary of the earthquake each year, 
as well as a call to mass each morning.  Alex reflected back on his trip, "I'll never forget our team- it was a bunch of us who barely knew each other who came together to make this happen - and I'll be friends with them forever".

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