What an amazing accomplishment!

The following is an email from Hal Seifert, the supervisor of construction of the FIH clinic in Fondefred, Haiti. It is only because of the relationships Hal has nurtured and developed with the Haitian people that the roof was poured. Knowing what to do to build a building is one thing, but it takes a special person to accomplish it. You are FIH’s hero Hal!   [Click on photos to get a closer look]

Saturday March 10, 2012

Today was an interesting day.  After a week of preparations we were to meet the crew at 6:00 to begin to pour a cement slab over the clinic.  It is well over 100′ long and about 30′ wide.  The way they pour second story slabs in Haiti is to set up a bucket brigade.  In our case, we had two shelf/ladders that men stand on and pass small buckets up in rapid succession.  They aren’t very big, but after passing them all day they start to seem huge.  We had to get cement mixers, ample sand, gravel, and 400 sacks of cement,  and what we thought was an endless supply of water.  We contract out all work, this contract went to two bosses, Mano and Jean Claude.  

Last night the last thing I asked Boss Mano before i left was how many many men he had lined up.  He answered 26, fair enough.  When I showed up first thing this morning, there were 200 men in the compound.  I could actually feel the aggravated energy as I approached on by bicycle.   Things continued to escalate after my arrival.  Things were divided into 2 camps, the locals from the neighborhood and men from Les Cayes, the nearest large city.  When Haitians are agitated it is intense and just gets worse.  Things were on the verge of total eruption, no blows were thrown, but why I’m not sure.  As it turns out it is business as usual.  There were two men that were at the center of the agitation.  We’ve had trouble with both of them in the past.  

After writing everybody’s name down they were herded outside the gates, only those needed were allowed back in.  I think we ended up with about 60 men.  Things finally got underway at about 9:15.  Things started off well, a mixer broke, but we were able to get it fixed after a while.  Local women cooked meals for all of us, starting well before the men.  Excellent food, with great attitudes.  By now, we had several of the neighborhood kids hanging about.  A real community moment.

The well we use wasn’t producing enough to keep up so we went to great lengths to set up a pumping system at our second well site.  Turns out it’s dry.  We have really good carpenters and electricians/plumbers who stayed on site all day in case of any problems that might occur.  That is unique and very nice.  Fortunately there is an American with a water project nearby that I called and we started hauling water to the site.

Things were going along well in terms of the men working, it was amazing, really.  An army of ants moving in unison, some drinking rum, all joking around at different times.  We poured close to 100 yards of concrete, an amazing fete anywhere, but lifted by hand, all in one day, unbelievable.  

At 4 o’clock we were about 80% complete.  The rabble-rousers decided it was time to quit.  Not good timing considering all the systems in place. Turns out we have a loyal following that just stayed put and continued to work.  We shut down one mixer and got ready to finish with a diminished force, hard to do because it had been a while since they ate and they are very tired and sore.  

There was group of men who had quit early sitting there watching the rest of us work.  I notice one them, a young man I had spoken to in the morning.  He told me his girlfriend was pregnant and needed work.  I told him we had more to do and he should talk to Boss Mano.  I yelled at him to come over.  He came over and I asked him if he really thought he had any kind of future working for FIH if he wasn’t willing to step up.  I told him there was no way he would work for us again.  He said he felt pressure from his friends to join them.  I said it was his choice.  He said ok, my bad, essentially, and started working again.  I called one more over, had the same conversation, next thing they were all working except the two trouble makers. 
As the end approached the men started a call and response singing, we all knew we were going to finish.  The men lined up to get paid, the women got paid, every one cleaned up and we were on our way.  Riding my bike home in the dark was well worth the effort of the day.  

Our slab exceeded the engineers requirements, and was poured in a day.  Period, new paragraph.

Hal Seifert