Billy Ponko – Design, Aftershocks, Land Ownership

Billy Ponko, Director of Field Operations in Haiti, is currently on the ground there with partner Frank Purvis. Now more than halfway through their intial planning venture, read Ponko’s day-by-day reflections. This is part three of his reporting (see parts one and two).

April 10 – Day 6 – Design

The quest of the luggage continues. It is supposedly in Port-au-Prince, but I will not believe it until I set eyes on that beautiful, forest green canvas duffel with two handles. It’s okay. I am surviving on a rotation of three shirts and washing my drawers at night. It really is okay. It turns out that I don’t need much to survive on; thus all the effort to buy, find, and pack the "right" items for Haiti has not been able to prove its worth. Another car to the airport today will make another attempt to retrieve the elusive luggage.

Yesterday was a slow day around Leogane. We wandered the streets in the morning after a breakfast of MRE crackers and raisins. It was actually very helpful to get acclimated to the town and the lay of the land. We have not found the beach yet, but we did find a cemetery full of collapsed tombs and mausoleums. It is hard to believe they both suffered the same fate when their walls are the same thickness and contain the same rebar.

The afternoon was spent working on the computer trying to dodge the intense sun and crazy high humidity. We started assembling a list of tools and materials based on the week in San Diego and what we can find around here. So office progress was made. We resolved our design issues and feel confident about a one-bedroom design now that we want to implement. Providing at least one bedroom has become a must. We have gotten some good news from a roofing product out of Brazil that looks very promising and appears to fit the constraints of our tight budget. Doors and screens can be made here, so once the foam blocks arrive, the buildings will practically put themselves together right out of the box.

Life around the compound is changing. The dogs still bark and play all night and sleep all day. The dinner meal is still good. But the doctors and nurses are starting their turn over. The next batch is arriving this weekend, so the friendly faces will change to new ones. Our compound room has three metal beds, no closet, a desk unused, no sink, a door that stays open and the noise of the streets outside the window (we hear cows, roosters, and the dogs). And they have these cool mosquito nets draped over the bed.

April 11 – Day 7 – Aftershock

We traveled to the next town west along the peninsula to Grand Goave to visit a group from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (read about their work with The Fuller Center). They are rebuilding a school and church complex using local materials and building techniques, but are implementing them in more earthquake-resistant ways. The meeting was interrupted–while we were sitting around a plastic table sipping Cokes from old glass bottles–by the jingle of bells, and a thunder-like rumble. Everyone’s eyes flew wide open and they leapt away from the building. We were told it was a long, one-second aftershock. It was strange because it was more of a deep thunder than a violent shaking. The January quake, lasting 22 seconds, couldn’t have been mistaken for anything less than it was.

Frank and I have been talking about how much we have to do when we get back. I am eager to return and turn our work around and get it back out to our partners and friends to do their part. There are already discussions about scheduling bulldozers to grade part of the site.

April 12 – Day 8 – Land Ownership

This is a topic I probably will never logically understand. Land is either owned by private people or the government, but land is used by many.

For example, one of the properties we have been looking at is owned by someone who lives elsewhere in the country. Farmers are using his land to plant and have been for sometime. His property is big and a system for subdividing it developed among the squatters. They have been told before not to farm it. But despite ownership, any vacant unprotected property is a free-for-all, whether it’s used as a tent city or for farming. If this landowner wants us to build on his land, he is expected to pay the squatters for the lost value of their crop.

There are these illogical dilemmas that exist here. They aren’t debated, just accepted. I am glad that I am not the one that has to accept them.

It’s getting very exciting! Frank and I have made a few trips to where we think The Fuller Center will begin its work. It’s a parcel of 3.5 acres of relatively flat land being used to farm. There is an access road around two sides. It is the first property just at the east edge of Leogane off the main road from Port-au-Prince. If the project is well-liked and progresses smoothly there is an option for an additional nine acres. This is a great opportunity for The Fuller Center to partner with local organizations to create a model for more to come.

To donate to or learn more about the Haiti initiative, visit our Haiti page.

We'd love to hear your comments!