Dixon has urged the Haitian government to rebuild critical parts of its infrastructure—schools, power plants, hospitals—away from the danger zone. But relocating certain parts of Haiti’s infrastructure may not be a viable option because terrain in some areas of the country is too hilly and unsafe, says Dixon’s colleague Falk Amelung, the task leader of a Haiti Supersite that provides scientists with satellite data about seismic measurements in Haiti. Better building codes are needed, Amelung insists.
How and where to rebuild was the subject of a weeklong design charrette the University of Miami hosted in March at the request of Haiti’s Commission on Planning and Reconstruction. Unable to work back at home because of an infrastructure still in ruins, Haitian architects, engineers, and planners toiled for days in a studio at the School of Architecture, which has offered to serve as a long-term support office for Haiti’s rebuilding efforts. They sketched the outlines of roads, houses, hospitals, and schools, collaborating with UM faculty and students on a recovery plan for their nation.
“There’s an urgency in what’s being done here,” explains School of Architecture Dean Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, who contributed to the so-called Haiti Charrette.
Just days before a group of nations pledged an estimated $5.2 billion toward Haiti’s recovery during a donor conference in New York, the charrette’s 12 design teams suggested initiatives that ranged from building civic spaces such as churches, clinics, and community centers to restoring Port-au-Prince’s historic district.
“The earthquake exposed problems that have long persisted in Haiti,” says Denis Hector, a School of Architecture professor and associate dean who helped organize the charrette and for the past year has led a design studio in renovating a 1940s-era hospital in Haiti’s Central Plateau. One major issue: “Haiti is very centralized, with most of the services concentrated in Port-au-Prince.”
The post-quake mass exodus from Haiti’s overcrowded urban core has led the Haitian government to consider creating smaller, economically sustainable communities in outer-lying regions to be driven by agriculture, animal husbandry, tourism, the garment sector, and construction and housing, explains urban planner Leslie Voltaire, Haiti’s special envoy to the United Nations.
Charrette participant Sonia Chao, an assistant professor and director of the School of Architecture’s Center for Urban and Community Design, advises that building roads around the port at Saint-Marc, which is unaffected by Haiti’s two fault lines, may help attract more tourists and tourism dollars to Haiti’s hinterlands.
Among the other issues addressed at the charrette: the massive amounts of rubble delaying recovery efforts and concern over untrained individuals beginning to cobble together unstable housing once again. Addressing the latter, Antonio Nanni, professor and chair of civil, architectural, and environmental engineering at UM’s College of Engineering, recommends distributing to the people of Haiti illustrated guidelines for how to build sound shelter. U.S. building codes are the world’s best, he said, “but they are really of no use to people who don’t have engineering knowledge. We need to come up with something better than just telling Haitian citizens that we’ll translate those codes into Creole.”
After soliciting feedback about the charrette proposals from residents throughout Haiti, government officials want to return to UM with potential projects needing design, Voltaire explains. “We want everyone to participate in Haiti’s rebirth.”
seismic activity. Estelle Chaussard, one of Amelung’s doctoral candidates, spent three weeks in Haiti a few weeks after the quake, taking measurements of aftershocks and surface displacement. The data she and a team of Purdue University geologists collected is helping to determine precisely where on the eastern half of the Enriquillo Fault stress has increased.
“It was sad to see such destruction,” Chaussard says. “Perhaps what we’re doing can help in the long run.”
But University of Miami lecturer Yves Colon arrived in Port-au-Prince with a different mission: Get information in, and fast.
“Information saves lives,” said Colon, tapping out a radio dispatch on how to keep drinking water clean in the squalor of a tent camp. He worked from an office with blow-up mattresses propped against the walls and a closet stocked with tins of tomato paste and bags of pasta. The makeshift newsroom doubled as a recording studio.
“This is a different kind of journalism,” said Colon, who took a twomonth leave from the School of Communication after the quake to work with Internews, a media development organization serving poor and disasterstricken countries. “It’s journalism for communities in distress, not just for consumption by people sitting at their breakfast tables in the morning.”
Colon was the only Creole-speaking editor on Internews’s Port-au-Prince team. Every day was a blur of translation, editing, and coaching young Haitian journalists as they came in from the city’s food lines and rubble-strewn streets. The results: daily 10- to 15-minute newscasts burned onto CDs and rushed by motorcycle to 25 local radio stations that had managed to stay on the air. One typical broadcast that ran just a couple of weeks after the quake included instructions to mothers to keep breastfeeding their babies, information on where to find a clinic to treat broken bones, and a feature on daily life in a tent camp. A piece about legislative terms, deemed low-priority, ran last.
“We’re trying to get them to think [about] who they are writing for, where news comes from,” said Colon, “things I teach at the University of Miami in my 101 class.”
Although his work left little time for exploring, what Colon did see of his native Haiti floored him: “Miles and miles of crumbled buildings and broken people. I’ve never seen so many people with broken arms, broken feet, and broken legs. It’s hard,” he said. “So many people are in need. So many people are suffering. I’m just trying to do my own little part. That’s the only skill that I have to offer, and I wanted to do something that would be useful.”
After a brief pause, Colon turned back to his computer and began pounding away again, fighting against time and a spell-check program that doesn’t read Creole. “We are so late,” he said.
“We have to do a lot of follow-up,” says first-year Nneka Utti, 23, who spent her spring break participating in the school’s Health and Elder Law Clinic outreach efforts in Miami’s Haitian immigrant community. After several knocks, the door of a single-story duplex cracked open, revealing a home nearly devoid of furniture. The elderly woman within eyed the trio suspiciously until Utti, who is of Haitian and Nigerian descent, explained in Creole that they’d come about discrepancies on her application for temporary protected status (TPS). “She calls it ‘Obama’s bill,’” Utti says of the woman, who, in the end, gave the UM law student a hug. “I see this as an opportunity to make sure people don’t become marginalized. I’m sure that if I were in the same situation, someone would be doing the same for me.”
TPS gives foreign nationals who can’t safely return to their homelands because of armed conflict, natural disaster, or other life-threatening conditions 18 months of amnesty to live and work in the United States. Within days of Haiti’s earthquake, President Obama extended TPS designation to undocumented Haitians who had been living in the U.S. prior to the January 12 catastrophe.
Associate professor JoNel Newman, who directs the Health and Elder Law Clinic, knew that many in Miami’s large Haitian community would need help completing the complicated TPS application and coming up with the $470 processing fee and other affiliated costs in time for July’s filing deadline (at press time, that deadline had been extended to January 2011). She and her staff of supervising attorneys and student fellows held TPS application drives on the Miller School of Medicine campus in late January, providing free assistance and application fee waivers to Haitian immigrants on site.
“The Haitian TPS Project provides a valuable service because it enables those who are here the opportunity to work and send money back to Haiti,” Newman says.
The crisis also inspired Newman to develop a TPS Project alternative spring break program, whose training and processing model can now be replicated at any legal service institution or law school clinic. During March, law students from across the United States set up at Chef Nicole Restaurant in Miami’s Little Haiti to conduct information and intake sessions. They also handed out flyers around town.
“If we saw people barbecuing in their yards, we’d stop and talk to them,” says Melissa Swain, a supervising attorney with the clinic. For more difficult TPS cases, students followed up at the clients’ homes. They sometimes faced suspicion, explains Utti, because Haitian immigrants have lost hard-earned wages to fraudulent lawyers who promised to file their TPS applications, then disappeared with their money.
As of late April, only about 50,000 of the estimated 100,000 to 200,000 undocumented Haitians living in the U.S. before the earthquake had applied for TPS, according to the Department of Homeland Security. So far the Health and Elder Law Clinic has helped Haitian immigrants in Miami complete and mail to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services more than 150 TPS applications. Almost twothirds have been processed with a fee waiver, and 72 of the applicants have received their employment authorization cards, with more approvals arriving every day, Newman says. In May these efforts earned the Clinical Legal Education Association’s Award for Excellence in a Public Interest Case or Project.
“We know now what we suspected before we started this effort,” Newman concludes. “TPS does help Haiti. Lawyers can help Haiti. We can be first responders in a way.”
To Haiti and Back
Two months later UM’s Center for Latin American Studies invited Marcelin, chair of Interuniversity Institute for Research and Development (INURED), to lead a discussion about the pulverization of Haiti’s already fractured education system. With each image he projected for the audience, Marcelin recited the name of a school the crumbled concrete once housed— around 135 universities and professional schools in all. “The nerve center was hit,” he said of the devastation in Portau- Prince, where 85 percent of Haiti’s schools operated.
An initial report conducted by INURED, comprising faculty from UM and more than 35 other universities, with a contribution by students from the Haitian Education & Leadership Program (HELP), estimates that as many as 200 professors and anywhere from 2,599 to 6,000 students in higher education perished. Now, Marcelin advised, the country has an obligation not only to rebuild more stable structures, but institute a solid regulatory framework for Haiti’s education system. Establishing standardized learning centers throughout the provinces, he said, is one way to help democratize knowledge and bolster a critical mass of intellectuals in a nation whose onceflourishing academic system, the University of Haiti (Université d’Etat d’Haiti), dates back to the 19th century.
The desire to open portals of knowledge and spur conversation also inspired the School of Communication to launch kozeayiti.org this past April. A volunteer effort of faculty, staff, alumni, students, and members of the Haitian diaspora, the bilingual (English/ Creole) initiative offers young Haitian media makers a way to connect with the world, states the site, giving “Haitians a forum to produce their own media about underreported issues in their country.”
And for months clinical psychologist and UM associate professor Guerda Nicolas, a native of Haiti who lost family members in the quake, has been helping to coordinate disasterrelated mental health assessments, trainings, and counseling services in Haiti and in Miami’s large Haitian community. Nicolas, chair of the School of Education’s Department of Educational and Psychological Studies, has published a great deal about how Haitians handle tragedy. “Despite the negative portrayal of Haiti and its people often depicted in the media,” she wrote not long before the earthquake, “it is a country that is steeped in cultural traditions and strengths. This history and these strengths, together, are the roots that continue to sustain Haiti and that allow it not only to re-grow but to flourish in the midst of the storms.”