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Minnesota homebuilders heading to Haiti

A man pushes a wheel barrow past earthquake damaged buildings in downtown Port-au-Prince, Haiti, recently. A building group from Minneasota will head to Haiti in December to assist with the rebuilding project. (AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini)

A man pushes a wheel barrow past earthquake damaged buildings in downtown Port-au-Prince, Haiti, recently. A building group from Minneapolis will head to Haiti in December to assist with the rebuilding project. (AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini)

By Brian Johnson
Dolan Media Newswires

Minneapolis — A group of Minnesota homebuilders will lend a hand in the massive effort to rebuild earthquake-stricken Haiti.

On Dec. 1-8 and Dec. 8-15, an 18-member delegation, representing nine Twin Cities homebuilding firms, will participate in separate building missions about 35 miles outside of Port-au-Prince, according to the Builders Association of the Twin Cities.

The association is participating in the effort along with its charitable arm, the Builders Outreach Foundation, and World Wide Village, a St. Paul-based nonprofit organization that works with Haitians on low-cost housing, medical facilities and other initiatives.

Michelle Bruhn, BATC’s public relations and marketing coordinator, said the plan is to build one home per week, in addition to helping out on other World Wide Village building projects in the country.

The trip has been in the works since shortly after the earthquake struck in January, killing upwards of 250,000 people and leaving countless others without shelter and other basic needs.

Proceeds from BATC’s Parade of Home “Dream Home” tours are helping to pay for the trip. Parade of Homes visitors pay $5 to tour the luxury homes, and 20 percent of that money is going toward the Haiti trip.

“This is a nice way to put those Dream Homes to good use,” Bruhn said.

Charities have raised more than $1.1 billion for Haiti relief, but there’s still a need for workers. Since January, only 10,000 new shelters have been built for Haiti’s 1.3 million homeless people, BATC noted.

Randy Mortensen, president of the World Wide Village, said the new shelters will be built to keep people safe.

Land is relatively scarce in Haiti, so a common practice in the country is to construct single-story residences with flat, concrete roofs, with the idea of putting up additional stories over time.

Problem is, pre-earthquake building standards in the country were virtually nonexistent. The structures lacked rebar and properly mixed cement, which led to even greater catastrophe when the earthquake struck.

“We are now looking at hurricane-proof walls and roofs and using design standards that would withstand some level of earthquake,” Mortensen said.

Mortensen, who has spent a lot of time in Haiti, both before and after the quake, said the needs are still great.

“The living conditions of the Haitian people are deplorable,” he said. “And it really rips my heart out to see there is around 1.2 million to 1.5 million people that are living in makeshift tents made of tarps and bed sheets.

“They lack sanitary facilities, so they have no bathrooms, no showers. They have no access to clean or safe water.”

Making matters worse, Haiti is in the midst of its rainy season. It’s muddy in the camps and parents will “actually stand all night to keep their children dry,” according to Mortensen.

Relief efforts in Haiti are just beginning the rebuilding phase, which is why the partnership with BATC is important, he said.

“These are people that completely understand the construction of private family homes,” he added. “… We are not going to build a million houses. But what we look to do is make an impact in the community where we focus.”

Through it all, the Haitian people have shown amazing resilience, added Mortensen, whose group has worked on everything from schools and churches to medical facilities and housing projects in the country.

“There is joy and happiness, even in the midst of their despair,” he said. “And there are smiles all around. The children are still playing. As I have said to other Americans, we could learn a lot about humility from the Haitian people. It gives you a new definition of need versus want.”

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