All Hands Volunteers: Project Leogane
by Timothy D. Dunn, EIT, Civil Engineer, New Hampshire Department of Transportation
With another year comes another devastating disaster and the latest volunteer project for All Hands Volunteers. All Hands was previously known as Hands On Disaster Response and has spent this past year focusing their efforts on the Haitian city of Leogane and will continue supporting the area through 2011.
On Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 4:53 PM local time a 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked Haiti. The epicenter of the powerful quake was located 16 miles west of the capital of Port-au-Prince near the city of Leogane. At the time the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies estimated that the earthquake affected as many as 3 million Haitians. The Haitian government has estimated that 316,000 people have died, 300,000 injured and 1,000,000 made homeless by the quake. They also estimated that 250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial buildings had collapsed or were severely damaged. While outside estimates differ, experts agree that the total cost in human lives and injuries will never be known due to the lack of development in Haiti. Haiti is the poorest county outside of the African continent. Spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs, of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said, “This is a historic disaster. We have never been confronted with such a disaster in the UN memory. It is like no other.”
Leogane was a city of 180,000 people before the earthquake. The United Nations assessed Leogane as the worst affected area with 80 to 90 percent of buildings damaged. “Nearly every house was destroyed here.” “It’s the very epicenter of the earthquake,” said World Food Program spokesman David Orr.
An All Hands Volunteers assessment team arrived in Haiti on January 21, 2010, nine days after the earthquake. During the assessment period the team was able to network with contacts from Project Genaives, a hurricane response project in Haiti during 2008 and 2009. All Hands also coordinated with other non-governmental organizations, local officials and evaluated recovery needs in order to further involvement and determine the potential for volunteer projects.
Project Leogane was announced on February 3, 2010. The project opened to the public on February 15 but is limited to 100 volunteers at a time due to the overwhelming outpouring of interest and the available accommodations. Project Leogane was originally scheduled to run for six months. After extensions in May and October 2010 the project will now run through December 2011.
While at a project site All Hands works on a diverse set of programs. The fundamental program of All Hands is deconstruction and salvage. In Haiti, as with all earthquakes, some buildings only partially collapsed, leaving walls or the majority of a structure still standing. Due to the hazard these buildings present to the community they must be safely brought down and the resulting debris must be removed. The decon team uses chains, pulleys, sledgehammers and mainly human strength and numbers to bring buildings down to ground level safely. While decon entails climbing on potentially unstable structures safety is always the priority. The team utilizes spotters, watching for structural changes and cracks during the deconstruction while utilizing braces to stabilize the structure until the final pull-down. Salvage teams then attack sites to clear what remains of a building. Before a permanent structure or even a temporary shelter can be erected, before public spaces can reopen, before traffic circulation can resume, before life can return to normal it is necessary for these piles of concrete and rebar to be cleared. Sledgehammer, shovel and wheelbarrow were used to create mountains of rubble in designated dumping spaces. Salvage teams also provide volunteers the unique opportunity to be team leaders for the day, the site, or an extended period of time. Being a team leader can provide a greater sense of accomplishment to a volunteer if they are eager to take on additional responsibilities.
All Hands is also involved in building transitional schools. Education is one of the most difficult challenges facing Haiti. Three hundred schools were damaged or destroyed in Leogane. All Hands’ Transitional School Program works with communities to provide both a safe and comfortable learning space and the opportunity for children to return to the normalcy of a daily routine. The first priority of the school building program is to identify schools and communities that can best use the buildings. The schools have three rooms and can fit approximately 150 students. The buildings are built to resist earthquakes and hurricanes. The foundations are made of reinforced concrete and the framework is bolted to the foundation. The structure is then finalized by using finishing concrete, painting the interior and exterior, adding murals that reflect the community, and finally by building and painting desks and tables so the students have a truly functional space. All Hands has already built seven schools with another three in construction in the Leogane area. The goal is to complete thirty schools by the close of the project.
Another roadblock to recovery in Haiti is the lack of access to clean drinking water. One of every eight children in Haiti won’t live to see their fifth birthday because of a water-born illness. To address this problem All Hands constructs Bios and filters at their base utilizing local materials. The filters allow natural biological processes to take hold and remove 100% of worms and protozoa and up to 99% of bacteria and viruses from most water sources. The filters can clean around 100 liters of water per day, enough water to properly hydrate fifty adults every day. Volunteers can currently produce four filters a day and over the course of six months expect to produce between 350 and 450 filters. All Hands then distributes the filters to schools and communities around Leogane and teaches the communities about hygiene and sanitation.
Since All Hands Volunteers small inception in 2005 as Dave Campbell’s response to a devastating Pacific tsunami All Hands has hosted 17 projects, nine in the US and eight overseas. During that time All Hands has helped 5,867 volunteers from over 40 countries donate 384,574 hours over the last six years. All Hands is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization. They do not charge a participation fee, require any specific skills, or require a minimum time commitment to volunteer. Volunteers only need to supply transportation for themselves to and from the project and in return All Hands provides shelter, food, and a rewarding and unique volunteer opportunity. While All Hands encourages everyone who can to volunteer they are always in need of civil engineers. If you wish to volunteer with All Hands in Leogane or on future projects, wish to donate, or just want more information about All Hands and the projects and programs they run visit www.hands.org.
All Hands Volunteers has announced Project: Tohoku in response to the recent earthquake near Japan and the subsequent tsunami. Due to the sheer scale and complexity of this disaster emergency response remains active. As a result All Hands does not yet have a specific start date for volunteer opportunities but does anticipate opportunities for general international volunteers. Please check www.hands.org for future updates.