Kay piti, ou prann nat ou anba bra ou. – [When] the house is small, you hold your bedding under your arm.

Been having a lot of trouble adding in photos so I kept putting off posting this, but it’s taking ages so I’ll just post this and keep trying to add in photos later. Written: 7/17/2013. Another update coming soon.

I spent one and a half days doing all thirty interviews for NGO B. This is a very large, Christian NGO that provided a wooden framed, tarp-walled structure. The t-shelter was tied down into the ground in concrete holes, but there was not a concrete slab foundation unless the homeowners did it themselves after the shelter was built. 22 of the 31 beneficiaries I interviewed poured a foundation for the t-shelter shortly after NGO B built it. Most beneficiaries told me that NGO B gave a few bags of cement for them to do this.  Those who didn’t do it, really couldn’t afford to, otherwise they would have. The tin roof provided, according to NGO B, was of very high quality. The thought behind investing in high-quality tin roofing was that it was the bit of the shelter most likely to be reused over and over for many years to come. Despite its high quality, many beneficiaries complained of leaky roofs. One beneficiary attributed this to poor construction – for example, nailing the roof in, then taking the nail out and putting it elsewhere, creating a hole. In the areas where there was a bit more land available, these t-shelters were built with porches (although they only had foundations if beneficiaries poured them themselves) and where there was less available space, like in the center of Leogane, porches were omitted from the design.

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Changes & Security
The biggest issue people had with this t-shelter design was the lack of security. Tarps don’t provide security – anyone can cut it open with a knife and steal, as many beneficiaries claimed happened to them. Additionally, the tarps are very hot during the day and cold at night. The majority of beneficiaries claimed that NGO B said they would be returning to replace the tarp with plywood, but never did. 23 out of the 31 t-shelters still had tarp. Security seemed to be people’s number one concern after pouring the foundation (although that provides security in another sense) and over two years later they still do not have the means to upgrade. Those who were able to do this did it immediately because they felt they absolutely had to. If they do not have the means to upgrade something so basic and necessary to their security, I can’t imagine them being able to sell their last, very minimal bit of security, the t-shelter itself, for anything.

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Safe Reconstruction
Among the few people that had started building with blocks, only one of them had constructed it with rebar throughout. A few had only put rebar in the main columns and one family didn’t put any rebar in at all. No information (as far as I know right now) was provided on safe reconstruction. Perhaps NGOs are providing safe shelters in the interim period, however when beneficiaries go to upgrade and transition these shelters, if they are not educated on safe reconstruction, they are likely to build similar poor, unsafe structures as those which existed before the earthquake. It is unclear to me if people knew how unsafe it was to rebuild without rebar or if they knew, but did it anyway because they simply could not afford rebar. If I were to speculate, I would assume people would not reconstruct without rebar if they knew how unsafe it was. People have been terrified of unsafe structures since the earthquake and based on conversations with t-shelter beneficiaries with partially standing structures, that hasn’t changed.

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Land Security
Land security was another big issue I ran into. A large number of people, particularly in the Santo community of Leogane, do not own their land. They were IDPs on that land following the earthquake and when NGO B came and said they could get a shelter if they got permission from the land owner to live there, they did. However, that land owner just happened to be the government. Most people said that the government gave them permission to live there and that they paid every few years. However, when I inquired about the long term, they just said that if the government wanted them off of the land, they would just have to take apart the t-shelter and leave. When I asked if this would prevent them from upgrading and improving the shelter, they said no, however most of them hadn’t made any changes other than pouring the foundation (but perhaps that is because they don’t have money too, as they said). One woman said that the government doesn’t think the tarps will last very long, meaning the probably think people will eventually move or build elsewhere, however that is not always how transitional shelter works and certainly not going to be the case here; nobody is going to move unless you make them or they have a really good reason to. I wonder if the government thinks that people will eventually move away once the shelters and tarps begin to degrade instead of upgrading and improving the shelters. I hope to interview someone at the mayor’s office in Leogane and ask about this.

A few interesting stories:

  1. This is an amazing story of one of the two t-shelters provided by NGO B that actually transitioned the way it was meant to. This young guy I interviewed told me he had a house that was destroyed in the earthquake and in 2011 he received a t-shelter from NGO B to put on his land. He and his girlfriend have been living here since then, but have had to replace the tarp with plywood because people came and stole his things during RaRa (Haitian festival). His mother and her 4 other children also received a t-shelter from NGO B and put it next to his on this same property. His mom and siblings lived in their t-shelter for 1.5 years and then sold it so that the money could send the kids to school and so that she could invest some of the money into building a small concrete structure with her oldest son (who had his own t-shelter) on that same property. She moved into town and rented a place while they started to build a little boutique. Not long after, his aunt, who lived in Darbonne (neighboring community), was eligible for a t-shelter from a different organization (HELP – I think they are German), but didn’t have any place to put it. He moved his t-shelter on top of the new store building they constructed out of concrete so that his aunt’s new HELP shelter could be built on his property too. Since then, he has upgraded his t-shelter (now located on top of the store – so like a second story) by adding concrete block a third of the way up the walls and putting new, treated plywood for the rest. He will not continue with more concrete blocks, but just replace the plywood after about 10 years when it is no longer good. He also painted the plywood to help protect it. Additionally, he wants to rebuild where his old house was and is trying to get a loan from BNC (I forget what it stands for). Once he rebuilds, the people who used to rent it will come back.                                                                                                                    IMG_3839  IMG_3837  IMG_3835  IMG_3837
  2. One man received a NGO B shelter which he lived in for 1 year and then he sold it for parts and kept the tarp. He is now renting and IRD t-shelter from someone else so he can rebuild where the NGO B shelter was on his property. He has started making blocks.           IMG_3842
  3. About 4 families only lived in the t-shelter for a few months before deciding it was uninhabitable and that they needed to find another place to live. All 4 families found places to rent or family to stay with and their shelters are just sitting there (none with foundations) and worsening tarps. When I spoke with them, they all said they do not want to sell them because eventually they will try and put foundations and make them better to live in, but right now they don’t have the money. I wonder how long those shelters will be sitting there until they have the money.                                                         IMG_3877 IMG_3856
  4. A few families have put bits of tin along as much as the outside as they could in what seems to be an act of desperation. They can’t afford plywood or blocks, but they don’t feel safe in the tarps, and you can’t really blame them. IMG_3847
  5. Some families have attached their businesses to the t-shelters  or operate their business out of the t-shelter.IMG_3867  IMG_3869
  6. One woman bought two shelters from two different people who received them from NGB B after the earthquake. One of the original recipients sold the shelter because someone died and they needed to pay for the funeral. The other original recipient didn’t have land so a friend let them put the t-shelter on their land temporarily until they could sell it (this seems to be popular). These two t-shelters were put together to make one big shelter. They put a new roof on and blocks up half of it. There is no rebar in the blocks except for the front columns. There are only two people living here. The reason they bought two t-shelters is because a few months after the earthquake her father died and they needed a place for people to sleep/stay when they came from all over for the funeral.   IMG_3880 IMG_3878

There are a lot more interesting stories, but those were the ones that stuck out.

As a part of my research methodology, the last question I asked every beneficiary was whether or not they knew anyone who had transitioned their house such as through selling it, upgrading it, renting it, rebuilding, etc. The reason I asked this was because otherwise I might overlook these beneficiaries because I cannot always see or identify what they have done with the shelter they initially received while walking through a community. Without inquiring about these people, I might be overlooking many who have actually transitioned and therefore, not getting an accurate sample of the t-shelter beneficiary population.  However, I ran into a bit of trouble with this methodology. Most Haitians I asked this question to would either evade the question, say that they didn’t know anyone who had done this, or say maybe, but they do not know them.  Occasionally, someone would tell me that yes, people sell and rent the t-shelters, but they will not tell me. It is unclear to me whether or not this is because of embarrassment or because they think they might be doing something wrong, or perhaps because they seem to think that they won’t receive any additional assistance if the NGOs find out. In my opinion, selling and renting t-shelters are not necessarily bad. If the ultimate goal is to safely house people, than both of these things are usually achieving it, one way or another. One woman said she didn’t want to tell us who rents because the attitude in Haiti is “If you want to know about me, ask me – don’t ask others”. Which is fair enough, but a problem for me in that it is more difficult to find the people who have transitioned, if they exist. I suppose I’ll have to pop that into my limitations section. Someone else said, “Lots of people sold their house because they were hungry” and another said “some people who were not in need got a shelter and sold it”.

In other news:
Berlyne and I got in a minor moto accident the other day. I was sitting second (of 3) on the moto and holding onto my backpack on the side with one arm, as I always do. My moto driver drove too close to another moto going around a corner and the other handle of my bag caught onto the other moto and started pulling me back and pulling the other moto over. I pulled my arm out quick, but it was too late for the other moto and he fell over. He was fine and came running after our moto driver yelling at him and we had to make our moto driver stop (if my bag hadn’t fell I think he would have kept going) and then the yelling moto driver who we tipped over took our moto drivers keys so he couldn’t go anywhere. Then the police were called. Pretty much everyone that saw it happened (30+ people) followed the police to the station to argue about what happened at length. We just paid our moto driver and took another moto home. It wasn’t a big deal – nobody was hurt and his moto was fine I think. It wasn’t really anyone’s fault. I mean, he shouldn’t have been that close to the other moto, but it was an accident – I don’ t think he was a bad moto driver

Besides working on my research, I’ve found plenty of time to beach it up this weekend. Jameson, Junior, James and I took a half day on Friday and went to Jacksonville Beach. James managed to lock the keys in the car (if he reads this he is going to claim it wasn’t him) so we (read: our crafty Haitian friends) had to break back in it to get them, but other than that it was a delightful afternoon. On Saturday, Jameson, James, and I tap-taped it up to Grand Goave to enjoy the even more beautiful beaches there. We spent the night at a hotel. James got his entire body attacked by mosquitos and somehow Jameson and I managed to wake up unscathed. #win. Not sure what adventures are in store for this coming weekend, but I’m sure it’ll include some quality beach time.

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This week I did all 30 interviews for NGO C in one day!  I know, I’m impressed with me too. I have finished all of the interviews I have set out to do (30 beneficiary interviews for each NGO), not including interviews with NGO staff, however I’d like to beef up my research by doing more interviews. Specifically, I’d like to interview 10% of the t-shelter beneficiaries. This would mean 95 more interviews for NGO B and I think almost 200 for NGO C, but I am not sure. NGO A only provided 300 t-shelters so the 30 interviews I already did is enough. Whether or not I will be able to do this will depend on 2 big things: 1. Whether or not I get the IOM shelter sector internship I just applied for and 2. Whether or not I have enough money to keep paying a translator. I know you’re all on the edge of your seats just desperately wanting to find out what happens so, I’ll keep ya’ll posted.

NGO C Interviews in Brache, Leogane.
This week I tackled the interviews for my last NGO. NGO C provided 3617 t-shelters in the Leogane Commune. After the initial assessment, NBC C came in 2011 and gave tarp walled, steel framed, raised shelter structures to selected beneficiaries. A year later, NGO C came back and put up chain link fence and rendered walls. Many beneficiaries claimed NGO C said they would come back to do blocks, but never did. NBO C also provided three small buckets of paint for the beneficiaries to paint it themselves. About half never painted it – when I inquired they either said it wasn’t enough paint or they just hadn’t done it yet – I sort of get the feeling some may have sold the paint, but I can’t say that with any certainty. NGO C only dug and poured cement on the corners where the t-shelter was tied into the ground. While a foundation was not provided for the beneficiary, most families sold their plywood floors so they could pay to lay a foundation. A few families reused the plywood for things like porch constructions and shelves, and some still haven’t been able to afford to lay the foundation so they still have the raised plywood floors. Most people didn’t like them because they were noisy, water flooded underneath and ruined them, if they weren’t high enough up, people could steal stuff by crawling under and removing the boards, or they didn’t like animals sleeping underneath them.

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In the original tarp design, there was only one door on the t-shelter. When NGO C came back to chain link fence and render the structure, all of the beneficiaries asked for them to leave a second door opening. The majority of the time the workers were happy to do it and left the space where the beneficiaries asked and later on the beneficiary got a door for it themselves. A few beneficiaries said they had to argue a bit with the workers before they listened, but overall it wasn’t a problem. Most people also found a way to divide the shelter into two rooms, either by using blocks (without rebar), plywood, or most commonly, just a bed sheet.


Families with more than 6 people were meant to get two shelters. While some very large families did get two shelters, a few families interviewed that had 6-8 people, although they had signed for two shelters, did not receive them. According to the families, the workers made them sign for the shelters before they received them and then they only brought one. Often, they claimed they ran out of materials, but the beneficiaries seem to think they just sold the materials for themselves, which seems likely. Another problem with the shelters was that the roofs were very bad. Almost everyone complained of rain coming in when it rained. The tin roofs did not extend far enough out over the edges of the shelter. Some people boarded up windows so it wouldn’t come in.

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Despite these few issues, NGO C shelters seemed to be the best quality. I am wondering how transitional they really are though. I mean, only one person I interviewed actually moved their shelter and she probably wouldn’t have been able to do it without the help of someone who knew how to put together the shelter. Additionally, the t-shelter may have transitioned from a tarped structure to a rendered concrete like walls, but the NGO did that FOR beneficiaries – so people aren’t really transitioning on their own. The only thing about this shelter design that people are upgrading are the floors/foundation. But to be fair, they don’t really need to upgrade much more except for the size of the shelter, which I don’t think many people will be able to afford for many years. When I asked if people wanted to do anything to upgrade or improve the shelter, pretty much everyone said no unless they hadn’t yet poured a foundation or unless they wanted to expand (which most did). The majority of people probably won’t rebuild their own homes – they will likely just add onto it or build another structure next to it, unless the t-shelter is not built where the old foundation was and they have the means to rebuild.

A few interesting stories:

  1. This woman rented land across the river and received a tarped t-shelter. Then the owner wanted her to move so one of the workers who put together her t-shelter in the first place (presumably a family friend) helped her take down the structure and put it back up on the other side of the river on new land that she rents. Even though she told NGO C that she was moving, when they came back to render other people’s homes they wouldn’t do hers. Eventually she upgraded to plywood sides. She also poured a foundation and added a tin walled porch. I am very impressed that she was able to move this t-shelter as the frame is welded steel and probably very difficult to take apart and move. I doubt she would have been able to do it without the help of one of the workers who put it together in the first place.                                                                                                               IMG_4076 IMG_4075
  2. After the earthquake this guy built a wooden tin building with a porch on top of his old foundation. Then he received a t-shelter from NGO B and put it next to the other shelter he built. Recently, he built a third building out of plywood next to the t-shelter. So now his family has three houses in a row on the old foundation. While they are using all of the shelters, they do want to eventually rebuild a real house. He said it feels like he is living on an IDP site because everyone has the same kind of shelter. IMG_4080
  3. I noticed that this guy had steel poles on his porch that looked similar to the steel poles used for the frame on the NGO C shelters (like the one he has). When I asked about it he said that someone took a part their shelter and sold it for parts so they bought some steel poles and used them for the construction of his new porch.                                        IMG_4082
  4. One of the last guys I interviewed had a large family so was given two t-shelters put together. He then added a porch and a new kitchen is currently being constructed to the right. He is actually transitioning his transitional shelter! The owner was a really lovely guy – such fun to chat with. I don’t usually inquire about what people do for a living, but I asked this guy because I wanted to know how he could afford all of this while other people couldn’t. He just told me he was a professional of everything- he just does every type of job. The only part I was a little annoyed about was that he kept saying that he wanted more NGOs to come and help him with all the other stuff he wanted to do, like put in a flush toilet.                                     IMG_4112

I’m going to go ahead and end this post with a little puppy love from Pop-Pop, Leo, and Lily, the Klinik Kominote dogs:

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That’s all for now -


Categories: Haiti | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Kay piti, ou prann nat ou anba bra ou. – [When] the house is small, you hold your bedding under your arm.

  1. Everett

    So I have two things for you…
    1) remember when you wanted to be an elementary school teacher? Baha

    2) We are now making working guns and medical equipment on 3D printers. I am still holding on to my prediction that 3D printing will become the most cost and time efficient way to build simple and secure structures for t-shelters. When you make this happen I expect you will name them after me. I’m thinking EvHomes. Thoughts?

    • 1) yeah..what a joke!
      2) haha, we’ll see! it’s not as easy as it sounds. And while the 3D printer may be able to pass produce these t-shelters, they need to be designed in a socially and culturally appropriate way, you still have to do assessments, you still have to remove rubble for a place to put htem, but probably most challenging is that you still have to secure land tenure to be able to put the shelter somewhere. So perhaps you can mass produce thousands of socially and culturally appropriate shelters very quickly, they are useless unless you have somewhere to put them! But I’m not dismissing the idea…definitely has potential! “EvHomes” will definitely be kept on the table and I might even throw you into my design team..

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