Monique Lexy Builds Back Better
Monique Lexy, her husband and their six children saw their lives turn upside-down when their house was completely destroyed in the January 12, 2010, earthquake that hit Haiti.
The family set themselves up in a makeshift shelter made of plywood and timber, but lacked the technical know-how to rebuild their house, let alone to rebuild it in an earthquake-resistant manner.
In 2012, more than two years after the earthquake, Monique and her husband participated in a homeowner-driven housing reconstruction program implemented by Cordaid, with technical assistance and training from Build Change.
They first participated in a safe construction awareness seminar that provided them the knowledge of why houses collapsed during earthquakes, and what key elements were needed to make a house earthquake-resistant.
They then sat down with a Build Change engineer to jointly plan the layout of their new house. The Lexy family used savings in the bank to leverage the subsidy from Cordaid, they were able to construct a two-room expandable house. The total cost of the house was $4,300, of which the Lexy's contributed almost $900.
Monique and her husband contracted the construction work to a neighborhood mason trained by Build Change and began the process of acquiring construction materials. It came to their attention that a neighbor had gravel for sale. Understanding the importance of good-quality construction materials, the Lexys requested Build Change's assistance to assess the gravel's suitability for use in construction.
Build Change took a sample of the gravel, made concrete cylinders from it, and tested the cylinder's compressive strength. After it was established that the gravel was safe for housing construction, the Lexys purchased the quantity they needed for the construction of their house.
Monique and her husband both supervised every step of their house's construction, with technical assistance provided by Build Change. Monique is proud to have chosen personal touches for her house, and is extremely thankful for Build Change's assistance, as without it, neither herself, her husband nor the builders in their community would have had the knowledge or skills to rebuild in an earthquake-resistant manner.
Now, they are confident that when the day comes for them to expand their house, they will remember the essential advice given to them by Build Change engineers to build a safe expansion on their own.
Interview with a Builder in Training - Pierre Rene
Mr. Pierre Rene has been working in the construction sector for 38 years. Leaving his studies incomplete, he began his building apprenticeship when he was 12 years old, working on site as a laborer and slowly progressing up the ranks, earning his first independent project when he was 27. Pierre lives near J/P HRO’s Delmas 32 project area with his wife and 7 children.
Since December 2012, Pierre has participated in J/P HRO-Build Change homeowner-driven retrofitting projects in Delmas 32. Over time, Pierre has shown a notable increase in earthquake-resistant skills and abilities. Build Change caught up with Mr. Pierre while he was making evaluation of his latest site, the 4th one he will be completing in the current project.
Build Change: Pierre, do you have any formal qualification?
Pierre Rene: No, at the very beginning I tried combining work and studies but I soon saw that it made more sense to work full time.
Build Change: Do you work full time as a builder now?
Pierre Rene: Yes, though my own sites in Delmas 32 aren’t always active and I need to find additional work in other neighborhoods. I’ll soon begin a house in Canaan and I have just completed my brother’s house in Miragoâne. I’m working on two more houses there now.
Build Change: Do you consider there to be a difference in the way you work with J/P HRO projects and your own independent projects?
Pierre Rene: Not anymore. The principles I’ve learned in Delmas 32 are the ones I now apply everywhere else.
Build Change: Does that limit the places you can work? Do homeowners resist these new principles?
Pierre Rene: No, not at all. The two new jobs I have in Miragoâne are because people saw me using toothing on my brother’s house. After I explained why I did it they asked me to become their builder.
Build Change: So people are not concerned about any additional costs relating to building earthquake-resistant homes?
Pierre Rene: People are very aware of the need to build safer, especially those who were victims of the last earthquake. My costs when building safely haven’t really changed, and any necessary increase has been accepted and understood by homeowners.
"I think overall [learning about earthquake-resistant standards] is a long process and that many repetitions are needed to get things right. I think all builders can achieve this with practice."
Build Change: Have noticed an increase in the amount of work you have now in comparison to the work you had?
Pierre Rene: No, not as of yet. Only the way I build has changed for now, the amount of work I have receive is the same as before, though J/P HRO-sponsored projects are good because they are all completed in a short time frame. Most of my other projects are completed over much larger periods of time.
Build Change: Do you work with a team of builders? Are they also trained in earthquake-resistant techniques?
Pierre Rene: I’ve trained more than 25 people over the years but not specifically in earthquake-resistant construction. I currently employ four people that work with me, and I ensure they apply all the principles I have learned with Build Change. I’d also like them to attend the next builder training session if possible.
Build Change: Do you find that building up to earthquake-resistant standards is harder that the way you used to build?
Pierre Rene: It was in the beginning, as it is with anything new. Until recently I struggled with the correct steel detailing for slab roofs but I’ve just completed one with Build Change trainers and it went very well. I’m confident I’ll be able to do it well on my own now.
Build Change: What do you consider is the hardest technique to implement while working on these projects?
Pierre Rene: Concrete overlays are very labor intensive, but I’ve become much better at doing them now so it takes a lot less time than it did before.
Build Change: What do you consider is the most valuable technique you have learnt from Build Change?
Pierre Rene: Everything I’ve learnt during training really. It takes all of those techniques for a house to be safe.
At this point in the interview, Pierre highlights a two-story house nearby.
Pierre Rene: I built the second story of this house a year ago. There are many things I’d do differently now. I’d add reinforcements around the windows, add a column at the wall intersection and would have used concrete spacers to avoid those bars being exposed (pointing to exposed bars in the intermediate ring beam). I’ve learnt that all those things are important.
Build Change: Do you think some builders are naturally better at learning about earthquake-resistant standards than others?
Pierre Rene: I think overall it’s a long process and that many repetitions are needed to get things right. I think all builders can achieve this with practice. I’ve had builders come up to me and complain that toothing is slower and more expensive to implement than the way they are used to doing things [with no connection between wall and column]. I tell them that it takes me just as long to do toothing as it takes them to break and place half-blocks, plus it’s much stronger. Builders need to realize that, but it takes time and practice, just like it did for me.
Build Change thanks Pierre Rene for his time and, seeking a photo opportunity, asks if he can remember the first ever house he worked on as a 12 year old apprentice. He responds in the affirmative, it’s in the neighborhood and nearby. We ask if it would be okay to take his photograph in front of it and he pauses; “There may be a problem” Pierre says.
“What’s that?” We ask.
“It’s not finished yet,” he replies with a sheepish grin.
Pierre Rene works in the La Paix area of Delmas 32 and has recently completed his 3rd house, for Kendy Lafortune, as part of the J/P HRO-Build Change homeowner-driven retrofitting project.
He is currently waiting to start work on Faronie Levy's house, where he will continue to receive Build Change training and support.
(Kendy Lafortune's home is shown on the right. This neighborhood is quite dense, making it tough to get a photo of the entire house.)
Build Change in Haiti: Nicolas Chevelon
Nicolas Chevelon lives in the Delmas 32 neighborhood, one of the most severely damaged areas from the January 2012 earthquake. In 2011, he decided to start a block-manufacturing company. Nicolas invested about $11,000 in mechanical machinery and hired 12 employees from his neighborhood.
His initial blocks were of such a poor quality that they were only purchased by neighbors and residents in Delmas 32. No other potential buyers wanted to pay the transportation costs for a poor-quality block. The compressive strength of the blocks he was producing averaged 4 MegaPascals (MPa), well below the minimum 7 MPa for construction of two-story buildings and 10 MPa cited in the Haitian Ministry of Public Works (MTPTC) guidelines.
After training, Nicolas' blocks went from 4 to 14.36 MPa, twice the minimum strength for earthquake-resistant building.
Nicolas was approached by Build Change to participate in a program to improve the quality of his blocks. Nicolas realized that better-quality blocks would help him expand his business, so he signed up for training. Build Change's trainers provided a series of recommendations to improve the strength and quality of blocks.
Some of the recommendations were no-cost improvements to existing practices, such as shifting the pile of sand and cement three times to improve the concrete mix or prolonging the time the mechanical vibrator compressed the concrete into blocks. Other changes required a financial investment, such as increasing the amount of concrete in the mix and extending the wet-curing period to seven days and the dry-curing period to 10 days.
The blocks produced during training showed a marked improvement: at 28 days after production (the amount of time it takes for a block to reach 95 percent of its strength) the compressive strength of the blocks averaged 14.36 MPa.
With these impressive results, word spread that there was a block maker in Delmas 32 able to produce high-quality concrete blocks, and Nicolas broadened his market to include customers outside of the Delmas 32 neighborhood.
His daily block production increased from 300 to 2,000 blocks per day. Nicolas hired six new staff to keep up with the increased demand.
Students Use Earthquake-Resistance Education to Build Their School
SMKN 2 Lubuk Basung, a vocational high school for technical students, partnered with Build Change to train its students in earthquake-resistant design and construction (ERDC). This school focuses on vocational training in carpentry. The Headmaster, Mr. Dinin, is a former civil engineer who recognized the importance of ERDC training both for his students' careers and for the impact on the greater public in Indonesia. Through Build Change, students received hands-on practical ERDC training, and the schools' instructors learn how to administer ERDC training to future classes. Since the instructors were trained to give ERDC education, the school has seen increased enrollment in their construction and design courses.
Mr. Dinin believes that all students who major in construction, no matter what their focus is, should have basic construction training.
Students applied their ERDC training to build a headmaster room and the library at the school.
Mr. Dinin believes that Build Change training combines well with his mission to expand his students' skills in construction. For Mr. Dinin his hope is that the Build Change technical team can continue to develop the capacity of his teachers so they can ensure that the tragedies from earthquakes they have witnessed in the past will never happen again.
Gerald Clerge Saves His Home with Retrofitting
During four days that followed the January 2010 earthquake, Gerald Clerge lay in a makeshift morgue, until a nurse realized he was still alive. One of his legs had been crushed and was amputated.
Cordaid and Build Change recommend
that upper floors not be larger than the floors underneath.
Six months before the earthquake, Gerald, a civil servant, had borrowed money to build a third floor on his house, which he intended to rent out. When the earthquake struck, he still had 12 payments to make to pay back his loan, a collapsed house, and no renter income to help pay back the loan. The two top stories of his house were completely destroyed, leaving only a badly damaged ground floor where he lived until mid-2012.
At that time, Build Change engineers were evaluating damaged houses in Gerald's neighborhood to determine whether they could be retrofitted. Retrofitting is the process of bringing a damaged house up to earthquake-safe standards by addressing the damage and by making changes which strengthen the overall structure. Build Change engineer Matthew Hockley approached Gerald to discuss how to retrofit his ground floor, and how to build an earthquake-resistant second floor.
Gerald set about designing his house with help from Build Change, and quickly understood why the engineers insisted the second story have the same footprint as the first floor. Many buildings in Haiti have upper floors which jut out past the first floor's walls, which creates a top-heavy and unstable building. Cordaid and Build Change recommend that upper floors not be larger than the floors below it.
Gerald received $3,500 in funding subsidies from project partner Cordaid to conduct the retrofit of his house himself. He contributed an
additional $400 to the project.
Gerald managed the retrofit of his house according to the design he and Build Change had agreed upon, under the supervision of a Build Change engineer.
Thanks to his training from Build Change, Gerald also plans to keep the building just two stories. "Its weight was too heavy! That is why it collapsed and why I lost my leg."
Elizabeth and Civil Retrofit Their Apartment Building
Elizabeth Senelia and Civil Senel have a big three-story house with 45 people living in it: nine families in total, four of which are renters. Although the house had been damaged during the January 12, 2010, earthquake, Elizabeth and Civil were extremely distrustful of foreign aid organizations, as they had heard of many of them leaving projects unfinished and not honoring the services they claimed to provide.
They met with engineers from the homeowner-driven retrofit program that Build Change was implementing with partner J/P Haitian Relief Organization, and Civil learned that he would be in charge of purchasing building materials, hiring builders, and supervising the work according to his schedule. He agreed to the retrofitting program and convinced Elizabeth.
Civil and Elizabeth were very involved in the design phase, arguing firmly to not reduce the living space on the third floor. In response, Build Change engineers came up with an alternate retrofit solution that took their wishes into consideration.
They understood the importance of making their property earthquake-resistant, and agreed to apply structural plaster to the walls on the second floor, reducing the size of the rooms.
Civil was very involved in purchasing materials and supervising the building crews under the oversight of Build Change engineers.
Retrofitting the house cost a total of $21,000, of which Civil and Elizabeth contributed $9,000.
Today, Elizabeth and Civil are extremely pleased that their three-story house is
retrofitted. They value the fact that their asset is a safer place for all who live there.
Civil especially values the fact that he was allowed to be in charge of the retrofitting
of his house. He would have not trusted anyone to do it in his stead. In addition, he
says he has acquired construction management skills, as he has had to hire builders
and account for the materials, storage, and usage himself.
"The great advantage of Build Change's method," says Civil, "is that there is no waste
and theft, because people in the neighborhood would not dare steal from me or be
lazy on a job they're doing for me. Because of this, the project is a great success!"
Build Change in Haiti: Mirlande Joseph
It took 25 seconds for the 2010 Haiti earthquake to level Mirlande Joseph's home. The 38-year old seamstress was at home sewing a shirt as a favor for a friend in Carrefour, right outside Port-au-Prince.
Mirlande and her niece lived in a tent for over a year, and then it came time to contemplate building a new home.
what I experienced on January 12, 2010, I knew I
wanted to make sure my house was going to
withstand another earthquake or any of the many
hurricanes we get in Haiti. When my friend told me
about the organization Build Change, I was eager to
meet with someone from this organization to help
me make that happen."
Mirlande met with Build Change engineer Louinel
Pierre, who explained that Build Change provides free
estimates, and on-site training and supervision of the
construction professionals that homeowners hire to build their homes. WIth the education and information from Build Change, Mirlande could be confident that her new home would be earthquake- and hurricane-safe, along with being a fair cost and made with good materials.
"I learned about how to properly dig for the house's foundation, lay blocks and bend rebar."
"The way the engineers talk to me and explain
everything to me, along with how they work with the
construction professionals, as well as their level of
energy, passion and enthusiasm, have all been better
than I anticipated. I would certainly recommend
Build Change to anyone I know building a house!"
By providing technical support and information, Build Change empowered Mirlande to build a safe home. Mirlande noted, "I learned about how to properly dig for the house's foundation, lay blocks and bend rebar. I also learned that what's going to keep my house sturdy during adverse weather is making sure that all the walls are tied to the posts and the beams and are all reinforced so that they don't collapse."
Back in the late 80’s, all Fred Elicart wanted was a car. He wanted the freedom to easily go anywhere he wanted, without having to depend on Haiti’s unreliable public transportation. So he asked his uncle who was in the block-making business for advice regarding what he should do to get a car. His uncle asked him what means he had to make a living, such as what type of work he did or if he had a business. Fred told his uncle that he didn’t have any means, as he wasn’t working nor did he have a business. So his uncle asked him what he planned to do with the car. That’s when Fred realized he had no idea. He just knew that he wanted a car to get around freely and easily. Upon hearing this, his uncle told him that he should look to do something that will make him money instead of costing him money, a lesson Fred holds dear to him until today.
After that conversation, Fred started thinking heavily about what his uncle told him and decided to look into the idea of starting a business. But Fred always knew that he didn’t really have the mindset to have a business. The uncle continued to encourage Fred and suggested that he purchase a machine to make blocks instead of purchasing a car. “But I don’t know anything about making blocks,” Fred told his uncle. The uncle responded by saying, “Just come by my block-making business for a couple of days to see how it’s done and you can take it from there.”
“I made my first block on September 9, 1988 and the rest, as they say, is history.”
Fred did as his uncle suggested and in a couple of days’ time, he grew enough of an appreciation for making blocks that he went to the bank and got the money he needed to purchase the machine. Once he had the machine, he needed a site and found plot of land from a family member. But the lot needed to be cleared and prepared to manufacture the blocks. So Fred tapped a friend who had access to a tractor and this friend helped him every Saturday until he was able to open his own block-making business. Fred proudly recalls, “I made my first block on September 9, 1988 and the rest, as they say, is history.” Read more about Fred's story.
Gertha Alerte lives in Delmas 60, a densely populated neighborhood in Port-au-Prince where most of the houses were damaged. Gertha’s house partially collapsed during the earthquake killing her young nephew and injuring her mother.
“I know now that my house collapsed because it was not well built”, she said, after receiving Build Change’s Homeowners’ training workshop.
“Even though I don’t know when I’ll be able to rebuild my house, I know now how to build it right.”
“Even though I don’t know when I’ll be able to rebuild my house, I know now how to build it right, and I want to thank Build Change for that.”
“Your training is great, and that you should keep up with your excellent work.”
Moise is a mason by trade whose house was so badly damaged during the earthquake that he is unable to repair it.
“I have found this training extremely useful. I learned new things that I can use every day in my work.”
“I have found this training extremely useful, as I learned things I didn’t know about laying blocks, making better connections, and about using the right proportion of materials for mixing concrete. I learned new things that I can use every day in my work.”
“Even though I am a builder, I would be very thankful to Build Change if it could provide me technical assistance when I start rebuilding my house”, he said, after attending Build Change’s Homeowners’ training workshop.
DONATE NOW. Help Build Change Empower More Homeowners to Rebuild Safe Houses.