Off the grid in Haiti… for real
January 27, 2011
by Hill Pierce, guest blogger
I am writing at the request of Dave Hampton who I left in Port au Prince just over a month ago to continue fighting the good fight. The Barbancourt-fueled discussions about the role of architecture, sustainability and international aid that were begun there have consumed me since. Back home in Seattle, learning how to be an architect and spoiling a couple of urban chickens seems a long way from the center of the action.
While in Haiti I was involved primarily with a school in Cite Soleil, a world famous slum before the earthquake and ground zero for anyone interested in the world’s billions of urban poor. A two-story building that remained precariously standing after the quake needed to be demolished, but due to the density of the area and the fact that school will remain in session throughout construction meant that hauling away the rubble would be expensive and difficult. Solution; make use of it all on site. There is no municipal water system so the school pays for trucks of water from the tuition that these poorest of the poor children pay. Solution; use the rainwater of course. No electricity? Skip it, we’ll hold classes during the day and hope for solar panels and computers in some magical future. Sewage in the time of Cholera? Yup, you guessed it, compost that shit. How is that for a sustainable project? LEED what?
The sewage question is where I focused my five weeks of energy.
A Haitian architect named George Apollon (maybe a future contributor?) mentioned dignity and pleaded with us to provide good toilets to the kids on the first day I was in Haiti. This little building will trap rainwater for hand washing, drain urine in a leachfield of rubble and manage all of the schools waste on site. Most importantly it will be a huge improvement over the single, full pit latrine that has proven too costly for the school to empty. When emptied, that toilet and countless other in Port-au-Prince are dumped on open ground in one of the most disgusting and pathogenic places on earth.
During the course of our research we became acquainted with SOIL who are taking a different and potentially more far reaching tack in dealing with human waste. Their model is to gather buckets of the stuff mixed with organic matter and separated from urine in small centralized composting facilities that can be spun off as sustainable businesses that sell good compost to replenish the desperately depleted country. The image of productive good earth spreading out from the city rather than being consumed by it is inspiring.
I miss the exciting work that I was doing and that Dave continues to do and I’m proud of him and the others fighting to make the world a better place.
- Hill Pierce