Building a Better Haiti - Block by Block

program graduate

PHOTO: Program trainees compete for prizes including bags of cement and a stationary bicycle which is attached to a cement mixer, which can help them launch businesses in their new field. More than 50% of the graduates are HIV+.

“For blinding concrete, if you have three wheelbarrows of sand and add one sack of cement, how many wheelbarrows of gravel will you need?”As the question was announced many hands shot up from the audience of re-cent masonry graduates, a training course offered by CHF International and CEMEX. Animated talk erupted and applause as the correct answer was given. At stake was the highly prized Bicimex apparatus – a stationary bicycle which is attached to a cement mixer. Through simple and efficient foot-power one can produce much more cement than by doing it by hand.

The five-day course given over a month was offered through the partnership between CEMEX (an international cement company operating in Haiti) and CHF International implementing USAID funds. The course taught people how to make concrete blocks, how to deal with cement, how to best mix the cement to get the best quality cement and how to become better masons. There was also a day dedicated to becoming good entrepreneurs. Apart from the 5 lucky BICIMEX winners, all graduates got 4 sacks of cement, 5 sacks of sand, molding material, manuals, measurements and tools to help them start up their own business. The package was given for free and it guarantees that they will be able to make their first 250 building blocks.

Bicycle winner“They are not only receiving training, but also a package so that when they go out they can make their own business right away,” says Ignacio Muñoz, Director General of CEMEX in Haiti. The CHF-CEMEX partnered training course has taken place over the past three years and has taught 360 students from lower income areas of Port-au-Prince like Cité Soleil and Fort National. Also, 56% of the participants were people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA), a component of the training funded through PEPFAR.

“One of the problems we had in the first year,” points out Linda Gaillard, Commercial Manager of CEMEX, “was that all the students would come hungry and tired and thus would be falling asleep or couldn’t pay attention.” This was addressed by offering participants breakfast and big hearty meal at lunch. Their transport was also paid for to get to the training location.

Many of the students of the course were women who defied traditional stereotypes in this sector. “Since women are ignored in this technical sector, by participating in this training I want to prove to men that women can also do the same work that men can do,” says Belerice Onege, 30, who was one of the recent CEMEX graduates. She was also a proud winner of one of the graduation ceremony’s prizes – 50 bags of cement.

Program graduate making blocksThe course focused also on making sure that the graduates would not just have a short-term work but would keep it for the future. “They might get the tools, they might get the knowledge, but once they get into life they’re lost,” points out Linda with CEMEX. “We have to teach them how to manage their own life and their own business,” she says. In order to ensure this, for three months after the course has ended a technical engineer will visit the graduates once every month and make sure that they are working well. Any problems a student might have encountered will be addressed and advice given for how to best continue.

“Some of them use the money in the first opportunity they find and then it stops there,” points out Linda. “We have to teach them that it’s a long-term process.” Delerice is very clear on this. “It is true that I have a family and that there are seven members in that family, but I will not spend all the revenues of my business on the needs of my family,” she says, emphasizing that “the money from my small business will be economized.”

With time and hard work progress can certainly be made, as some graduates of this training have seen. Alcide Delcy, 23 used to work under another mason and was only able to make 2,500 gourdes ($62.50) a month. But now Alcide has set up his own business and is able to make 5,000 gourdes ($125) a month. “Of these 5,000 gourdes,” he proudly states, “I have reinvested half in order that my business grows further. Now, I am planning to have a laborer in order to have an even bigger productivity.”
Alcide points out that after the earthquake there has been a tremendous demand for construction material but he says this time people are also demanding a better quality product and service.

Ignacio, the Director of CEMEX in Haiti, points out that there is a tendency in Haiti to do things by eye. “This is the problem. You have to teach them to do things with exact measurements,” he says, emphasizing the importance also of using good quality water and sand in the cement mix. “This is one of the biggest challenges for the rebuilding of the country for the future,” he says.