Wednesday, 15 June 2011

A whole new world of complications

The new temporary offices for the national office and international team of SOS Children's Villages Haiti - Photo: S. Preisch
I think it has already been mentioned several times on this blog that everything follows its own pace in Haiti. Everything is just a little more complicated than elsewhere. The international team working in Haiti has grown used to this. And yet, the following story surprised us and exceeded our expectations: we finally moved into the new offices. On Sunday, 15 May, five containers arrived in Santo - and three weeks later, on Monday, 6 June, they were set up well enough to start working in them.

Even though the old colonial building that housed the national office until the earthquake did not collapse, it was deemed dangerous to work in - Photo: H. Atkins
 The national office of SOS Children‘s Villages Haiti in the centre of Port-au-Prince had to be abandoned after the earthquake. Even though the building did not collapse, it was considered unsafe. For the emergency situation and the international staff, who needed to live on site, the whole team moved to work from Santo, where one SOS Children‘s Village and an SOS Hermann Gmeiner School have been since 1984. For a long period everyone was working from wherever he or she found a space to hook up their computer - or at least to sit down.

Building a new national office will take a while - of course, with all the other constructions necessary in Haiti, this is not the first priority. So the gradually growing team of the national office had to find a temporary solution. The containers seemed to be the best and easiest way to provide a working space for everyone in the team.

Discussing, relocating, taking measure: a lot of people on a little space during the first few days in the containers.
„When I started working here, I had neither a desk, nor a chair. All I had was my backpack with my stuff“, civil engineer Freinet Sanon says. He says that purchasing those containers was decided on in October of last year, and that the plan was to be working in them as of the end of 2010. But it soon became evident how demanding this project was going to be.

Time and again, delivery of the containers was delayed until people began to think they didn't exist. - Photo: S. Preisch
 „The first difficulty was to find a company that produced such containers in the Dominican Republic. Then, we had to make some designs and plans for all the offices - which was not an easy task in the 12 meters long and only meters broad containers. The production delayed again and again. And finally we were confronted with troubles at customs to getting the containers to Haiti. In the end, we announced that we would not need the containers anymore unless they were delivered within a week. And here they are“, Freinet says laughing.

I had first been told about those containers that would be arriving soon upon my arrival in Santo in mid-November 2010. Ever since then, this „soon“ was repeated over and over again until we all thought the containers were a myth. Some classrooms in the school had been turned into offices, as well as one building of the housing area for the international staff and basically every terrace and living room.

The new office spaces are cramped, but are a significant improvement on work conditions up to now. - Photo: Sophie Preisch
 The 5,3 square-meters, that serve as office space for myself and two more colleagues, heats up during the morning to an estimated 40 degrees Celsius. On the way to the entrance door eight men are discussing how to position the desk in a way that still allows the door to open. Before electricity was cut, the air condition spread a smell of burnt plastic, which mixed up with the smell of the freshly painted walls. There is no printer and the internet goes on and off without warning.

We are used to complications, but we‘re just getting used to new dimensions of it. „I am contented. I mean: yes, it is a small space, yes, we still have problems with electricity and the network. But at least the containers are finally here and we were able to move our offices, after so much effort“, Freinet says.

1 comment:

  1. Great article! Thanks to everyone out there that is helping Haiti in the disaster relief. I'll be praying for Haiti.