After the earthquake in 2010 John Edmondson concentrated his disaster relief work in Haiti. He worked extensively with NGO’s, churches and other organizations to provide water-purifying packets, emergency medical supplies and pre-packaged emergency food packets mere days after the quake. Pretty soon John and his partners from Canada and the United States began working on an innovative new building system to solve the problem of the hundreds of thousands of people that had been displaced and were now living in Tent Cities… In Jun 2012 the final product was about to be tested in Haiti for the first time. As John entered the guarded gates of FourSquare basecamp in Port-au-Prince he was met with an enthusiastic Haitian concrete team. They were eager to work (by our standards a low wage of $10-$12 per day) for an eight hour shift. Surprising though by Haitian standards this would be a high paying job.
The team was highly experienced in concrete projects in Haiti only worked sporadically. They would have never lasted with a North American construction team as they had their own way of pouring the cement and laying the ultimate foundation. They used a small gas-powered cement mixer with two small bags of concrete and once mixed with water the crew would use one gallon pails to carry cement into a old, beat-up metal wheelbarrow. Once poured into the wooden frame for the foundation the men would quickly smooth out the cement with small triangular hand trowels. We had on site a US bull float which the team tried but did not seem to like the foreign tool and went back to their traditional method instead. However pain-staking this was to watch…. this is what they were familiar with. The Haitian crew worked all day under the hot sun until the foundation was laid.
The next step was to have the shipping container unloaded that held this new GigaCrete house and all the materials and supplies to build a 540 sq foot 2 bedroom house. As the styrofoam panels were unwrapped the Haitians seemed quite perplexed. Some of the crew spoke some English but most spoke Creole so I could not understand what exactly was said but I could read the expressions on their faces. How was a house made of styrofoam going to last with the first gust of wind that comes along? They continued to scratch their heads and laugh but I had to tell them “This will work…just wait and see”. They started to install the metal tracks into the concrete foundation. This is how the styrofoam panels would be attached to form the walls. The numbered panels are put together like a 3D jigsaw puzzle and soon the puzzle looks like the walls of a real house. The foundation of not only the house had been started but the “foundation of our project” had just begun.