Who would have thought that nearly every conversation my teammates and I have had during these past couple days, would be about toilet design? I am not just talking about a passing comment – no, we’ve spent hours trying to figure out the waste water design for the Lambi 2 Project we are working on…hours!
I guess I should back up a bit and share with you what I have been doing since arriving in Haiti on Saturday.
I am working with a team from the US – our group is comprised of architects, surveyors and engineers serving with Engineering Ministries International (EMI). We traveled to Haiti to help a local organization called Grace International come up with a design for a new housing project. The objective is to move families from the tent villages (that they have lived in since the earthquake) into permanent homes in a nice village setting (garden area, courtyards for soccer, etc).
We did research prior to the trip on how to design for the Haitian lifestyle – we didn’t want to come in and put together an “American” design. Certain features, like a front porch, are extremely important for the Haitians so a lot of time is spent running ideas past the people we are designing for in order to fashion a development that is both economical and pleasant for the families.
There have been innumerable challenges we have faced in the few days we have been in country. For example, the site is located on top of a large hill (small mountain?) and the grades we are working with are very steep (approx 33% in some areas). Also, we have to design considering there will not be any large equipment available for excavation, everything will be done by hand!
Our days start around 6:30 a.m. and usually I don’t get to bed until 11:30 pm. Besides spending the first couple of days in the field digging test pits, tracing drainage maps and talking to locals to help clarify drainage questions, the rest of my time is spent researching and designing at the Grace compound. It is a really stressful/fun experience, because we need to complete the master plan by Saturday morning. It’s a huge project with design challenges and changes happening often. Communication is important and it’s relatively easy, since we all work in the same (hot!) room together. We all get along really well and I feel super blessed to be part of this great group.
The funny thing is that the part of this project that I considered the easiest part, before arriving, turned out to be the hardest. I came here expecting to design ventilated pit latrines for the waste, but found that Grace wanted a modern (“sexy”, the host descriptive term, not ours ) flush toilet. We literally spent hours going back and forth over the design, because the steep conditions and rock near the surface make leach fields nearly impossible. I am preparing to head back to the field again tomorrow, to dig more test pits, so hopefully I will have a solution for draining the waste water, by Friday night. The problem is the village, Lambi 1, that’s currently being constructed, does not have flush toilets. My concern is that flush toilets will not be sustainable, but our host wants the Lambi 2 village to be more modern. It is always tough balancing what we think is best, against what the community desires and hoping to ultimately create what is actually best for everyone in the long run.
Keeping my head together during these long days and stressful schedules has not been easy, but one song that I have been playing during most of this day is “10,000 Reasons” by Matt Redman. I put it on, when I was sitting up on the roof, during devotions this morning and it really helped me relax and re-focus. I remembered why I was here and that God would give us the wisdom we needed to complete this design. It doesn’t mean we don’t have to work hard (we are!), but it does give us comfort knowing that we have been called together as a team to accomplish this task and, although it is overwhelming, we trust that we are a part of a bigger providential plan to provide homes for the families living in the tent village.
Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers. Please continue to pray for our health (on a personal note, my rib is still giving me pain), and most important that we meet our Saturday deadline.