Posted by Karl Johnson on Aug 12, 2010
Related program: Haiti Rebuilding Center
As Haitian schools continue to apply for StudentsRebuild grants, we're reminded to think about all the aspects that can affect a working relationship. We'll be working with grant winners for the next couple of years as their schools are charretted, designed, built, and inspected for functionality. There are several considerations that can strengthen or strain our resources in reconstruction–as we begin featuring candidates on StudentsRebuild and through the Open Architecture Network, and you begin to single out the schools you want to support, keep these considerations in mind!
Access to infrastructure such as main roads, power and water determines the ease of getting construction materials and equipment to the job site, as well as how the building will ultimately function. In Haiti it's not uncommon for schools in need to be in extremely remote locations–several miles from a paved road or several miles from any road whatsoever–and narrows material and construction options. Of course, "impossible" isn't a term we have any experience with, but restrictions are a reality we spar with and try to minimize. Most basic access questions can be evaluated with a look at a satellite picture of the site. We've been marking applicant schools on a GoogleMap that you can access on the Haiti Schools Initiative page on the Open Architecture Network.
Closely related to "access," the proximity of the project to our Rebuilding Center will help determine how expensive–in money and in time–it will be for us to work on it. Most days it takes us over an hour just to cross town, and there are no interstates in Haiti to be zooming around on (Jacmel is 40 miles from our offices and we can drive there in about 3 hours!). Simply: projects in or adjacent to Port-au-Prince, where our office and people are located, would enjoy more of our attention. But so too would places where we can work on more than one school at the same time. In this case, we can establish a small field office with a Design Fellow to live in the community and manage project design and construction. If you see on our GoogleMap a clustering of projects, there's an argument for this kind of arrangement.
Another problem many buildings in Haiti have–and had even before the earthquake–is that they were built on land they didn't own. Now it's very complicated for schools in this position to continue to operate where they once did. If a school didn't own their land before the earthquake (or didn't have a proper lease agreement in place), they will have to find a new place for their school. This makes things complicated. Candidate bios will discuss the school's land situation and how it might delay construction.
The schools we're to work with need to be under the supervision of administrators or owners who just as involved in improving their school as we will be. For instance, schools need to be official-registered with and recognized by the Haitian National Ministry of Education and Professional Training (MENFP). Teachers must be adequately trained and there must be enough to properly guide the student body (at minimum 1 teacher per 50 students). These details are addressed on each school's Haiti School Initiative grant application.
An assessment of the above considerations, other general issues of practicality and any school-specific circumstances determine how possible a project will be to execute, or how likely it will be as successful as we aim for it to be.
Getting to know several prospective school projects well will help being able to compare one to another. No situation will be ideal, but neither will anything be impossible. But we only work with finite amounts of money and time and need to see that these resources go to helping as many people as best we can.