Friday, May 15, 2015

Ferrocement workshop in the mountains of Verettes

Starting the workshop. We held the theoretical sessions outside the center, because primary school was in session. Participants are: civil engineer, Junior Lapaix (facing, green and grey polo shirt) in Dofine, a beautiful, fertile zone in the mountains of Verettes (Artibonite Department). Junior is sharing technical information about cement and cement construction with a group of Haitian masons from the farmer organization, MRPST. The masons are, from left to right, Fanord Toicius, Renaud Segné, Samuel Antoine,  and Clermius Pierre-Louis. Also participating were (continuing from left to right): Exode Pierre (red & white striped shirt), a mason from the farmer organization MPP (Peasant Movement of Papaye); Mark Hare, PCUSA Mission Co-worker; and Lucien Joseph, a member of MPP and part of the team helping carry out the activities of the MPP-FONDAMA Yard Garden Program. The workshop was held at MRPST's primary school and training center in Dofine from Tuesday, April 21st through Friday, April 24th. Coordinates for the center are: N 19.00151º, W 72.48059º. Photo by Herve Delisma. Note the Toyota Landcruiser enclosed truck in the background. It was purchased for the MPP-FONDMA Yard Garden Project with funds from the Presbyterian Hunger Program.
On Monday, April 20th, we arrived at MRPST's center, at the end of a long, rough road, well after dark. We were an interesting crew. I am from Ohio, but I have been a Mission Worker with PC(USA) for over fifteen years, working with rural families in Nicaragua and, for the last eleven years, in Haiti, with the Peasant Movement of Papaye (MPP, for its initials in Haitian Creole).

Junior Lapaix, born and raised in Haiti's Central Plateau, is a civil engineer who was in his last year of the University in 2010 when the earthquake brought the University crashing down. Since the earthquake he has been a member of MPP's technical team, helping execute the organizations' water projects that are part of the organization's program to make safe water available to rural communities.

Carel Sainfinis, our driver, was originally from Port au Prince. He and his wife lost their two-story house in the earthquake of 2010 and nearly all of their other material goods. That led them as refugees to MPP in the Central Plateau. Carel eventually become a driver for the organization and last year the family settled in a home of their own, in one of MPP's five eco-villages, built with funds from Presbyterian Disaster Agency (MPP Ecovillages). Carel frequently drives the Toyota Landcruiser for me, as part of my work coordinating the MPP-FONDAMA Yard Garden program. The work of the Yard Garden takes Herve, myself and our ad hoc team members all over the mountains of Verettes, Gonaïves and Léogâne.

Herve Delisma is originally from Cité Soleil, in Port au Prince, but as a teenager, his mother sent him to live with his sister in the city of Hinche to get him away from the Cité Soleil gangs. Now he lives in an even more rural setting on the outside of Hinche near the community of Papaye. Herve and his wife, Kekèt, and their two children do a good job of producing food in their yard--when it rains.Herve also works as my assistant in the PDA-funded Yard Garden Program.

Lucien Joseph is a young man who left high school due to a vision problem that can't be corrected, with lenses. He was apprenticed to a furniture maker, but now works part time with his brothers in Port (au Prince). Lucien always returns home during the rainy season to plant and care for his gardens, and to work with Herve and me when we need him. With a beautiful plantation of moringa at his parents' home outside of Papye, Lucien is an effective promoter of yard garden systems.

Ricot Joachim is the head of MPP's security team, but he is also a farmer and a mason. He learned to build ferrocement cisterns (Ferrocement) when MPP selected him to participate in a series of workshops led by MPP agronomists (Agronomist) and masons; these instructors received their training in a permaculture (Permaculture) program in Brazil sponsored by European donor organizations.

Like Ricot, Exode Pierre is also a farmer and a mason, and a member of MPP. He has been Ricot's assistant in a series of ferrous-cement cistern projects throughout the Central Plateau. When I asked them how many cisterns they've done together, Ricot said "Huh. I can't even begin to count."

MRPST, the organization that welcomed us late in the evening on April 20th, was founded in 1998. MRPST (Peasants Without Land Revindicating for their Rights--Mouvman Revandikasyon Peyizan San Tè) began with half a dozen friends meeting clandestinely at the home of George Ulus, next door to the school where we held the workshop. The goal of the  movement was to take back land that had been, in one way or another, stolen from them, their parents and their grandparents by a man named Marc Etienne. Through a local farmer who served as his agent, this landowner made a lot of money from the land he appropriated by renting it back to the original owners. Cindy Corell, the companionship facilitator in Haiti for Joining Hands (Cindy Corell) is collecting stories of MRPST's struggles which have, all in all, been successful thus far.

Since 2012, Herve, Lucien and I have been working with the leaders of MRPST, helping them establish their own yard garden program. After a series of ups and downs, this year the organization's program has really begun to take off.

Now the leaders of MRPST had also been blessed to receive funds from the Hunger Program of the Presbytery of the James in eastern Virginia and some addition funds from the Water for Life Campaign, based in Portland, Oregon. In total, the organization received about $8,000 to build three cisterns, each with a capacity for about 3,500 gallons of  rainwater. The first was to be built at the organization's center as part of a workshop that would introduce the four MRPST masons in both the theoretical concepts and their practical application. Junior was responsible for the theoretical and Ricot, with the help of his assistant, Exode was responsible for the practical. Herve, Lucien and I were along to learn as much as we could, and to document. We were also able to direct funds from the Yard Garden program to help pay for the food for the workshop.

After three days of intense work, starting around 7:00 AM each day and finishing between 4:00 and 5:00 PM, the workshop came to a successful conclusion. The icing on the cake was the arrival of Valdir França and Jo Ella Holman from PC(USA) World Mission. Valdir França is the area coordinator for Latin America and Jo Ella Holman is the regional liaison for the Caribbean. Cind Corell, the companionship facilitator for Joining Hands, had coordinated their visit as part of sharing with them an on-the-ground look at her work coordinating the Joining Hands ministry with FONDAMA. FONDAMA is a network of  Haitian grassroots organizations working to renew Haiti's environment and establish food sovereignty. MRPST is a member of FONDAMA through their relationship with MPP.

Countless personal stories that brought a dozen and a half or so individuals together, supported by the joint efforts of half a dozen organizations, projects and agencies (MPP, MPP's Techncial Team, MRPST, FONDAMA PDA, PHP, World Missions, Presbytery of the James). If any of us had tried to intentionally bring all of these pieces together to make this workshop happen, we would have been called fools.

We would have been fools.

"For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength."

"My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power."
I Corinthians 1: 25, 2: 4-5 (NIV)


Now for the pictures.
(Photos by Herve Delisma and Mark Hare, unless otherwise indicated)

Most of the tools you need for the cistern. From left to right: Shovel and pick and an iron bar for digging the base of the cistern. The bar is for cracking rocks or hard pan. Two sheets of aluminum with handles for holding the mortar onto the frame and a cement trowel. A wood "float," used as a palette to hold the mortar you are adding to the structure, and to work the final layer that seals the cistern. Two sieves. The one above to get a sand that is slightly coarser--for the structure. The one below for finer sand that is used to seal the cistern. A sledge to help with the rocks when we were digging the base. Pliers for working with the binding wire. Bolt cutters (behind) to cut the metal framework. A hacksaw for whatever the bolt cutters can't take out.

Ricot Joachim, in the read shirt, starting to pick the soil for the base. After choosing a site close to the school/center, Ricot measured a diameter of 3.5 m and put a stake in the middle. Then he tied a string to the center stake, measure 1.75 m along the string, then tied another stake which he then dragged all the way around the center stake to mark the base. Ricot was an excellent teacher for the practical component of the workshop. He would work with the team until we understood what we were doing, then he would step back and watch, to see if we were really doing it correctly.

Renaud, from LaCroix, picking out the mark that Ricot had made, all around the center stake.

Laying a base of gravel in the base. We dug out something like 5 cm at the shallow end. Bondyebon is to the left, Exode to the right.

Ricot and Samuel (green shirt) with the pipe that will feed the water from the cistern into a faucet on the lower end. Fanord is to the left.

If I couldn't find something else to do, I made myself useful by dipping water from the canal that runs by the school and filtering it through a t-shirt into one of the two plastic barrels. Carel the driver helped me.

Pouring the base. The concrete base was 2 parts cement, 4 parts coarse sand and 6 parts gravel. You can see the 2" pipe that leads from the lower end of the base underneath and out.

Preparing the mesh for the base. Ricot cut two pieces, approximately 5 meters long. The mesh is made of 1/4" pieces of iron reinforcement bar welded together into a framework of 15 X 15 cm squares.

Then Ricot overlapped the two pieces and tied them together with binding wire (#16)

Then Ricot repeated approximately the same process he used to line out the hole. He measured a diameter of 3.5 m in every direction, then put a stake in the ground in the center. With a string that measured 1.75 cm, he walked around the center stake, but instead of using another stake, he borrowed a black Sharpie marker from me to mark where the mesh would be cut. As Exode continued to mark, Ricot began cutting with the bolt cutters.

When they were finished with the mesh, they laid it on top of the concrete base. The base was already mostly dry, so it was not embedded into the concrete. You can see they lbits of rebar, about 5 cm long, sticking up.

The next piece was for the sides. Ricot had us roll out the iron rebar mesh, 11.2 m long (the rolls of mesh are about 2 m wide).

On top of this, they lay one width of good quality chicken wire, also 11.2 m long. You can see that the width of the chicken wire was about 45 cm less wide than the rebar mesh.

Then they wove the two materials together

With almost everyone helping, they stood the framework up and walked it down and around the base, forming a nearly perfect round cage.

Then they tied the framework to the rebar mesh base. In four our five places, they also put in stakes and tied the stakes to the framework with binding wire, to help assure the framework would keep its shape. We finished all of this around 1 PM on Wednesday, April 22nd.
Early in the morning, Thursday April 23rd. Mixing the mortar for the first layer of plaster. The next morning, early, we all got up and began the process of plastering on the first layer of mortar. The mix for the mortar was 2 parts cement and 4 parts of the coarser sand. For more strength, the mortar needs to be only as wet as it has to be.

The team also invented a double ladder that went up and over the framework. This is because for every person plastering on the outside, someone has to be on the inside holding up an aluminum sheet with handles.

Lucien Joseph on the inside, holding up the aluminum sheet while Herve plasters. This is not a perfect process. A lot of times, the cement would fall instead of sticking to the framework. Ricot taught us to use our mistakes. The mortar falling around the edges, he explained, help in sealing the cistern's base.

Around and around, up and up. A look at what the plaster looks like from the inside.

After the cistern had its first layer, and the mortar had stiffened somewhat, Ricot showed us how to go around and fill in the holes. After the holes were filled in, we went and ate lunch.

Around 3:00 PM, we came back and kept going, adding two or three more layers of plaster all around on the outside, and one really thick layer of plaster on the inside.

Renaud, finishing up with the final layers on the outside.

Friday morning, April 24th, Ricot had us mix up a batch of mortar using the finest sand. This mix was to seal the cistern, and they did a layer on the inside and the outside. The mix was 1 1/4 parts cement and 2 parts fine sand. when this layer was starting to dry, they used the wooden floats to finish the sealing process. You can see Clermius with a piece of plastic bottle. He would throw a little water, then pass the float. Inside the cistern they did not use the wooden float; instead, they used a hard sponge.

Lucien and me, working on the gutters. The organization purchased 4" drainage pipe, which we cut on one side, then slid the pieces onto the tin roof. Herve and Lucien fixed the pipe using the #16 binding wire, wrapping it around the pipe and through any convenient spaces under the tin roofing. They are more confident on a home made wooden ladder than I am.

Local kids helping with the construction. Mario is on top of the double ladder, Anel is handing the mortar up. There are three or four masons inside to receive the mortar, which was for sealing the base of the cistern. On the roof you can see the PVC gutter, with the elbow just over the cistern. Herve, Lucien and I had to leave the final piece of the pipe for the folks from MRPST to put in, because the cistern was still too soft for us to lean a ladder from the inside.

Left to right: Samuel, Clermius, Renaud and Exode, sealing off the base with a thick coat of the mortar made with cement and fine sand (1 1/4 parts cement to 2 parts fine sand).

The almost finished cistern with the outlet for the water, ready to be connected to whatever type of faucet the organization wants. The top of the cistern has to wait until the cement has cured, at least 5 days, according to Ricot. The cistern also needs to be kept moist, sprayed with water at least twice a day. Or, Ricot explained, if it rains, you can start filling it with rainwater, as long as it has had 5 hours to harden. The team was finished by 10 AM Friday. Ricot and Exode were packed, bathed and dressed to head back to Papaye by 11 AM.
Valdir França (black shirt, far left) and Jo Ella Holman (beside him) listening to Mark Hare (blue shirt) translate for Ricot and the other masons. Valdir and Jo Ella arrived Thursday afternoon and listened to the masons as they explained what and why they were learning to build this type of cistern. Then later in the evening, they listened to the members of MRPST's executive committee tell the story about how MRPST came to be. Photo by Cindy Corell.
Mark Hare and Herve Delisma resting from working on the gutter, and frustrating Cindy Corell's efforts to get a decent picture. Photo by Cindy Corell (even if she won't admit it).

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