École La Dignité officially broke ground last Friday, April 1st, following a ceremony organized by the school and attended by community and family members, partners, designers and contractors. Architecture for Humanity volunteer Gerry Reilly recounts the afternoon, which could be described as "modestly majestic."
Chairs set up beneath a palm canopy faced a wall of the existing school, which shortly after the arrival of our team from Port-au-Prince launched into a student reenactment of the new history of the school. Depicted were the school principal, headmistress Mme Vieux (distinguished for non-Creole-speakers by a large wig), and a financier from Architecture for Humanity. Then the real Mme Vieux delivered a concise speech in Creole and English. A bottle of champagne was popped and distributed to the older guests in attendance, including the local chief of police, representatives from the Ministry of Education and Gramine bank, and parents. Following a toast, Vivianne walked the bottle over to the new site and poured champagne over the ground.
About 60 of the younger students then went out to collect large pieces of stone to bring back to the site. A drummer added to the mix the sense of a formal procession. The stones were collected at the site and will be incorporated into the native-stone façade proposed for the building.
Following the ceremony, Gerry and Design Fellow Darren Gill held a crane-folding breakout session with several of the students. Students Rebuild is helping orchestrate support for Japan, finding support even within its sister program and kindred earthquake-stricken nation of Haiti.
Builders and contruction-minded Design Fellows Stephane Cherduville and Carl Harrigan arrived after all the pomp, and had time to walk the site and discuss some of its challenges, as well as challenges to access, which were already being addressed.
Down from the hilltop school, a crew of local workers had assembled to improve the road. Many of the workers were parents of Dignité students and were excited to be part of improving access to the school. Each parent committed 2 days to the project. The road will need a bit of attention, as one length isn't much more than a creak bed. The crew had begun digging storm water trenches and grading the road where it ran along the creek.
The whole day seemed to give Gerry a good vibe. "It was fantastic. The staff and students of the school laid on an excellent ceremony for Architecture for Humanity and everyone involved with the project. You could see how much the kids appreciated our help and what Students Rebuild is doing for their school."
The two-classroom addition to Dignité is expected to finish in 90 days. Construction is managed by the Haitian company BECEI, and overseen by Architecture for Humanity. Contractors, Design Fellows and the local labor crew will all attend a
three-day Dignité construction training program with Build Change.
April 1 is a significant day in Japanese culture, widely associated with renewal and manifested in company launches, first days of work for new employees, and the start of the school year. It seems timely for a school in Haiti to kick off on April 1 as well, and that some paper cranes would be in attendance.
Photos by Gerry Reilly and Darren Gill