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Former masonry student Ronald Sadou Zami, 25, smoothes a coat of mortar at a construction site where he works in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Zami has been working for a month after graduating from a masonry professional program at MCC partner Ecumenical Foundation for Peace and Justice. He also attended a hazard reduction engineering seminar sponsored by MCC as part of its ongoing earthquake relief. (MCC Photo/Silas Crews)

Former masonry student Ronald Sadou Zami, 25, smoothes a coat of mortar at a construction site where he works in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Zami has been working for a month after graduating from a masonry professional program at MCC partner Ecumenical Foundation for Peace and Justice. He also attended a hazard reduction engineering seminar sponsored by MCC as part of its ongoing earthquake relief. (MCC Photo/Silas Crews)

MCC partner offers education, business opportunities to revitalize Haiti

Sheldon C. Good
December 15, 2011


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Before the magnitude-7 earthquake struck here almost two years ago, Ronald Sadou Zami struggled to find work.

Like many Haitians, he had discovered multiple ways to earn minimal income — he wrote poems for schools, was a sewing machine mechanic and sometimes did masonry work.

Now, after participating in a masonry seminar led by Mennonite Central Committee, he has more consistent employment and earns more money for his family.

“I know things other masons don’t know,” said Zami, now 25. “There are things I knew before but was never able to put into practice.”

James Mwangi, an associate professor of architectural engineering at California Polytechnic State University who worked with MCC during his 2010-2011 sabbatical, taught the masonry seminar in June 2010. About 40 students took the two-day class on how to build safe, disaster-resistant homes.

The Ecumenical Foundation for Peace and Justice (FOPJ), an MCC partner for more than 13 years, hosted the seminar. FOPJ also offers a longer-term masonry trade school that MCC supports with canned meat for students’ meals and through MCC Global Family education sponsorships.

Zami, who also graduated from FOPJ’s masonry trade school in December 2010, is working on building a cluster of multiple-purpose, expandable classrooms at a small university.

He now knows disaster-resistant masonry practices such as how to properly tie rebar (reinforcing bar), select sand and secure buildings.

“After six rows of blocks, you need a beam to support the walls,” he said. “Now I respect the amount of support we need to have to make it stable.”

Much of Port-au-Prince’s post-earthquake rubble has been removed, and construction sites plaster the city. Open space is hard to come by, so working conditions like Zami’s are often cramped.

Zami’s cousin, Samuel Zami, 27, also participated in the masonry program and seminar. He is now leading the construction of a three-story building, unusually high for this city.

“I went to [FOPJ’s masonry school] to improve my knowledge,” Samuel Zami said.

Zami not only understands good masonry techniques but how to manage other workers. He leads a team of 13 masons and 17 handymen — two of whom are FOPJ graduates — and helps with masonry work as needed.

“My FOPJ training helped me secure this job,” he said. “I recommend people to go to FOPJ.”

The building’s owner, Ms. Francois, lived in a small, wooden house at the same location before the January 2010 earthquake. She plans to rent space to multiple families and businesses in her new, mostly concrete building.

The building has been under construction for more than two years and sustained minimal damage — “a few cracks” — from the earthquake, she said.

Astrude Mercier, 30, who graduated from a professional training school in 2003, is now a FOPJ masonry instructor who participated in the masonry seminar.

“I learned how to build homes that can withstand earthquakes,” Mercier said. Most buildings in Port-au-Prince are built with brittle concrete that can crumble easily from natural disasters. In the past, Mercier said, masons used a basic white sand for mortar.

“But we now use river sand because it withstands weather and rust from rebar better,” she said.

FOPJ also leads professional trade programs in electrical construction, plumbing, cooking, tailoring and cosmetology.