Earlier this year I had the pleasure of collaborating with our Sextant foundation, Project HOPE and Electricians Without Borders in a volunteer effort to build a Cholera Treatment Center in Haiti. Before this trip I was vaguely familiar with the history of the nation but recently I heard a lot about how natural disasters had devastated an already struggling nation. I had also heard a lot about scandal, corruption, and failed relief efforts. In addition to the infrastructure damage from these major natural disasters, Haitians were left to battle with a Cholera outbreak, believed to have originated from relief personnel. This (mostly) treatable disease claimed hundreds of lives, while the issue was further complicated by the lack of clean water and waste management systems throughout the nation. All of this extremely devastating news compelled me to want to help; however, until this year, I never had the means to do so.
My colleague, Johnny Chung, first introduced me to this project opportunity. He had previously worked in Haiti with our CEO Walt. During their initial survey of the existing hospital, Sainte Therese de Miragoane, they assessed conditions for the construction of the desperately needed treatment center. Over the past few months, I worked closely with Johnny and my other colleague, Hamid Matinpour, as we hammered out the details of this relatively simple design. The 1,500 square-foot, wooden frame treatment center consists of 20 beds, two showers, and three toilets, along with a six-panel solar PV system and batteries to support DC lighting and fans. The heart of the system is the ABR (Anaerobic Baffle Reactor) which is essentially a septic tank, allowing for the treatment and safe disposal of waste from infected patients. The following is a “photo-journal” of my trip…
I (on the far left) was greeted at the Port Au Prince (PAP), Haiti airport by the Project HOPE staff and warmly welcomed into their beautiful home.
After one night in PAP, we drove about three hours west to the town of Miragoane. Our trip was delayed by a protest that halted traffic in both directions for over an hour. These types of protest are quite common as the people have a generally contentious relationship with authorities.
Upon arrival in Miragoane, I was introduced to the Electricians Without Borders team: Jeff Rodriguez (middle) and Justin Connolly (left) who put me right to work. (Jeff is a hard-working, loyal friend of both Mazzetti and the Sextant Foundation.)
Construction was well underway as most of the foundation and the framing was already complete. My first task was to help finish the wiring for the electrical system. We used Romex cable to feed power from the main breaker panel to the switches, lights, and fans throughout the space.
Once the wiring was complete, we installed the solar panels and batteries that would supply the power for the facility. By far, the biggest challenge of the project was working on top of the hot metal roof to install solar panels in the blistering heat, sans harnesses!
Procurement of tools and materials was also a huge challenge. Working with limited resources, at times, lead to interesting and creative solutions to construction challenges. In many cases, we were barely able to make the most out of the materials that we had. (Left) you can see us drilling holes in metal brackets for the attachment of the solar panels to the roof.
And here you can see some of the Haitian workers have converted a handsaw into a table saw to make windows.
After work each day, we were able to enjoy a bit of the city and the culture, visiting local restaurants, stores, and food stands. Thanks to Jeff, we were able to work around the language barrier and have meaningful interactions with the people in the town.
The days were long, and the work was hard; but, the time flew by quickly. The trip was a complete success overall as we had lots of fun and were able to complete our scope of work ahead of schedule. I met a lot of great people and learned both new technical and cultural knowledge from this very humbling experience.