Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Hope of a New Home

The Place.  Haiti has come a long way since January 2011 when a massive earthquake rocked this small Caribbean nation.  Slowly but surely the slabs of broken concrete have been chipped to rubble, mostly by hand, and carted away and reconstruction began soon after in the midst of sprawling tent cities.  Street clearing programs established to remove mountains of rubble have transitioned into street cleaning programs, with a noticeable positive effect on the look and feel in many parts of the city.
Driving through Port au Prince

Resilience and Faith.  The people of Haiti are resilient.  Surviving 200 years of bitter living conditions first under colonialism and even through independence, from one corrupt leader to another, it often seems little is left but to be resilient.  But there is more going on then is first easily seen.  From its voodoo past, Haiti is slowly transforming into a hopeful country.  Many decades of Christian missions, embodied in often small scale neighbourhood level efforts, provides a marked counter-point to the despair and discontent one might expect to find.
Children from Life is Hope 'B' greeting us in song
Hope.  It is true: many (if not most) missions have the word "hope" in their names.  So many, in fact, that one can hardly be faulted for getting their names mixed up.  But hope is in there for a reason, because Christian missions, when done well in a culturally sensitive, patient, "long perspective" way brings hope not just for education, jobs and material betterment but hope to the soul as well.
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The current conditions in the rented home are more crowded than ideal
Life is Hope Orphanage.  This orphanage was started by Haitian pastor Jean Larochel as a response to orphaned children, not necessarily of parents who have passed away but of parents unable to feed, house and care for them.  Through no fault of their own these children face the potential of abandonment but often worse; becoming indentured servants to other, slightly better off households willing to buy their services.  These children (often referred to as "restaveks", Creole for the French "reste avec" or "to stay with") seldom get schooling, are often abused and receive the worst morsels of food in often already poor households.  These children grow up with little hope for a productive future…but Pastor Jean wants to change that.
Our first meeting listening and learning about the Life if Hope vision from Pastor Jean Larochel
A Place to Call Home.  Life is Hope Orphanage was established before the earthquake and quickly grew in numbers after the earthquake.  Almost 170 children now live in two rented facilities but these are not suited or large enough for the children.  Renting is also an unstable situation, with tenants suffering at the whim of landlords.  So Praying Pelican Missions has come alongside to help by purchasing a parcel of land and inviting eMi to master plan their property.
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Rod, our civil engineer conducting the survey chats with a boy from the neighbourhood
Re-uniting Families.  But while we were tasked to design an orphanage, a loving and caring home for such children, the intent is not for these children to be adopted away from Haiti.  In fact, a major goal is to reunite them with their birth families.  But the only way to achieve this is if the parents can be able to afford to take them back.  So the orphanage is step one, the next step in Pastor Jean's vision include providing vocational training for adults, many of them the parents of these children.  Another part of the vision is to establish a school and community centre, where children receive a good education and families come to build community.
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Our team at work and in discussions with Pastor Jean during our week of work
Baby Steps First.  But the first step is to build the orphanage and an adjacent guesthouse.  This guesthouse will provide visiting teams (such as eMi!) a place to stay but also become a funding source for the orphanage and a place where skill and job training can happen.
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SketchUp model of the proposed orphanage (foreground) and guesthouse
Project Photos.  A new project video has been added to the right-side menu and a new set of annotated photos has been placed in my Photo Gallery with various options to view it.  If you want to browse the set, click here.  If you want to see the titles and read the captions of each photo, click here.
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Cut-away of the ground level of the orphanage
Thank you to all who have made this work possible through your financial support, encouragement and prayer; you have been a part of making this project, and the resulting touched lives, a reality.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Life is Hope Orphanage - Haiti

The Ministry.  In the days following the January 2010 earthquake, few orphanages in Haiti escaped a swell in the number of children they cared for.  Such was the case for Life is Hope Orphanage in the neighbourhood of Croix des Bouquets on the eastern edge of Port au Prince, the capital city.  With 100 children living where there was formerly 60 and with the realization that few families were able or even alive to claim the children, the orphanage began to make plans to better care for the children.

A Partner.  As a ministry operating under a family of Haitian Baptist churches, Life is Hope Orphanage received hope for its future when church leaders invited an American missions organization called Praying Pelican to become involved.  Praying Pelican is an organization that arranges short term mission opportunities for American churches and so began a relationship where mission teams began to visit Life is Hope Orphanage to help meet some of their needs.

The Need.  It didn't take long to realize that the current facilities of the orphanage had become inadequate to house and feed the children and have adequate facilities to provide schooling for all the children.  The leader of Life is Hope Orphanage, Pastor Jean Larochel, began to search for land to purchase and found it on the northeast edge of Port au Prince.  These underdeveloped land was spacious but had no services and utilities; it became clear that a construction project with little in-house understanding of planning and construction would be a great challenge to overcome.

eMi Canada Comes Aboard.  eMi Canada first received an email inquiry from a Board member of Life is Hope in November 2012.  After further emails, phone calls and a completed eMi Canada Project Application, the project was approved to receive an eMi team.      I will be jumping in to help with the architectural design, leading a team with two interns (U of Manitoba, Ball State) and volunteers that will include an architect (North Carolina), an electrical engineer (Saskatchewan), a structural engineer (California), two civil engineers (Illinois and New York) along with two spouses who will join us to help the team and spend time at the orphanage.

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The Project.  eMi Canada will be there to develop a master plan, design all the facilities needed house, feed and care for the children.  Also, there will be enough land for school buildings and a guesthouse for visiting teams.  As donations are raised to purchase more land, Life is Hope has a vision to build adjacent vocational training facilities so as the children grow up, they can be taught practical skills of a trade.

To read more about the project on the eMi Canada website click here: Project 10038 - Life is Hope Orphanage

Please keep us in prayer as we travel in the air one the ground and also remember all team member families as we are away for this project.  Thank you to all our supporters and friends who are making it possible for me to do this work.  I will update this blog as I am able in Haiti but for sure will provide a follow-up upon our return.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Building a Bigger Vision

Hot and Muggy.  The climate on the west coast of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) did not slow the pace of our work.  Thoughts for a reworked master plan came quick as we had twice-a-day meetings with senior school administrators while our intrepid survey crew toiled in the heat, their only consolation being a beautiful view down toward the historical city of Boma and its surrounding hilly landscape, stretching out below the series of ridges on which our project location was perched.
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Looking west toward Boma below and the Atlantic Ocean beyond.
Phase 1.  In 2008 eMi sent a team to FACTEB Bible Seminary to re-master plan and extend the life of an aging campus, anticipating a future pastoral training population of 300 students.  Along with the new master plan the team designed a new Library/Classroom building and a quadplex for married students with families.  This standardized design was intended to be used several times to eventually replace several aging and poorly service residences.
Almost complete quadplex designed by eMi in 2008.
Phase 2.  In February 2013 our second team now visited the same campus for Phase 2, knowing that the campus had been renamed University of the Alliance in Congo (UAC), to recognize two new programs; business management and IT management/technical services).  With this new, broadened vision for the university the anticipated campus population on any given day almost tripled in size.  As we listened to the expanded vision of the school, it was a great encouragement to learn that in its first year implementing pilot courses, the new classes have already become very popular and well attended.
Meeting with senior campus administrators.
Progress.  The ground floor of the new Library is operational with classrooms at this time and the first quadplex is nearly complete.  When eMi was invited back to design Phase 2 the priority was to tweak the master plan for more classrooms, provide direction for the renovation of a large, decrepit Meeting Hall building and revisit power and sanitation requirements throughout the campus.
Lower portion of new library designed by eMi in 2008.  Upper level are classrooms.
Family Hospitality.  Not only was the school administration excited to receive the eMi team but we were given a formal greeting by the student body who sang and danced their welcome to us.  What an honour and how truly humbling it was!  Each day as we walked the campus we were greeted with big smiles and accepted as a part of the campus family.  So when our work of surveying, investigations and meetings was complete, we left a community that had embraced us and welcomed our partnership.
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We are formally greeted by students and faculty with song and dance.
Sensitivity.  Many of the students who will train at the University of the Alliance in Congo will never travel to Canada or the United States.  Most will never step foot on a university campus here and while we do not wish to impose our opinions, aesthetic or cultural baggage on UAC, we will pray that what we do bring as a design resource will transfer the best of what we have learned to their learning environment so UAC will become a thriving place of learning, discovery and discipleship.
Final presentation of our remaster plan and building designs.
Final Presentation.  The presentation was not a typical one (what's really "typical" at eMi?).  The "presentation" was gathering around a supper table with the former Rector Dr. Kenzo and his wife Lau and two senior administrators.  We shared our vision for the central academic core, a reinvigorated Meeting Hall, proposed how there could be enough classrooms to meet the teaching load and various approaches to increasing faculty and guest housing.
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Remaster planned academic core of the campus.
Next Steps.  The next phase of construction will see the renovation of the Meeting Hall, repurposing of the existing Library building to be classrooms with a second level and flanking faculty office wings.  As before we have promised to return to Boma as needed in a few years to review their progress and once again sit down with them to envision the next steps for the campus.
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To be renovated Meeting Hall (right) with new Cafeteria/Student Centre (left)
Project Photos.  A new set of annotated photos has been placed in my Photo Gallery with various options to view it.  If you want to browse the set, click here.  If you wish to see a slideshow of the photos, click here.  If you want to see the titles and read the captions of each photo, click here.
Thank you to all who have contributed to this work through your financial support, encouragement and prayer; you have been a part of making this project, and the resulting touched lives, a reality.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

New Facilities for Broadening Education

I am heading back to the Democratic Republic of Congo on February 2nd with a seven-person eMi team.  Not to the north-eastern reaches where ongoing unrest continues with rebel forces but rather to the far west, on the Atlantic shores of Boma, one of the earliest cities settled by Europeans in western Africa.  Despite its rich history and stability because of its strategic location by the ocean and its proximity to the capital city Kinshasa inland, the standard of living in the region for many citizens is still quite low.
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Our first team in 2008 prepared a new master plan for FACTEB seminary with the goal to enlarge and enliven the aging campus.  To this end the team designed a new library building and married student housing quadplexes that will eventually replace the current poorly-serviced housing units.  The first level of the library is now built and in use, awaiting final funding to complete the upper classroom and faculty office level.  The first married student housing building will be completed for occupancy some time in 2013 with more buildings to be constructed as funds become available.
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This Phase 2 Project will revisit the master plan and incorporate new ideas to match the now broader mandate of the school.  In the intervening years of our visits, the Congolese leadership decided the school would go beyond seminary training for pastoral vocations to include technical and management training.  The school is now to be called the University of the Alliance in Congo (UAC).
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The new assignment for our team will include designing a new roof for an aging meeting hall to extend its usefulness, designing new faculty and guest housing, designing administration offices and developing plans to replace the large, single-space meeting hall with a multi-purpose, multi-room conference centre.  These additional spaces will increase the capacity of UAC to offer a greater range of courses and welcome more guest professors and trainers.
Site Plan
Our team of seven will include an Architect/Campus Planner (Florida), Civil Engineer (California), Structural Engineer (Calgary), CAD Drafter (California), a Civil Engineering Tech student experienced in conducting topographic surveys (Loyalist College, Ontario) and an eMi Intern who is a civil engineering graduate (Cal Tech).  Following the project trip we will also have the assistance of an electrical engineer (Kentucky) and a structural designer/drafter (Ohio).  What a team!

To read more about this project on the eMi Canada website click here:  Project 10036: University of the Alliance in Congo

Please keep us in prayer as we travel in the air and on the ground and also remember my family and the families of each of our seven team members as we are away for this project. Thank you to all our supporters and friends who are making it possible for me to do this work. I will update this blog as I am able in the DRC but for sure will provide a follow-up upon our return.