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June 15, 2010

Engineers and interpreters are needed in Haiti

contributor: Rob Goodier

Among the wreckage from the earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12 was the headquarters of Hands Together, a small non-profit that builds schools and feeds 6,000 Haitian children. The quake destroyed its base in Port-au-Prince and crippled buildings on its eight campuses in Cité-Soleil, a shantytown on the outskirts of the capital.

In the months since, small teams of US engineers have traveled to Haiti, assessed the damages on Hands Together’s buildings, and made repairs. They have also advanced the organization’s other projects, improving irrigation on rural, sustainable farms.

Now, they need new volunteers, both engineers and interpreters, to continue the work in the coming weeks.

Tom Hennessey, of the Los Angeles professional chapter of Engineers Without Borders, is organizing such trips. EWB is not an emergency relief organization, so, to help in Haiti, its members work with other groups, such as Hands Together.

Hennessey already put together two trips for structural, mechanical, and water engineers to work with Hands Together in March and April. Besides their assessment work, they also gave lessons to Haitian construction crews and worked with them on making repairs to damaged buildings.

To bridge the communication gap, they traveled with an interpreter, a Haitian immigrant to the United States. “We found that that model worked best,” Hennessey said. He is seeking an engineer who speaks English and either French or Creole to help with interpretations. But, he said, even interpreters who aren’t engineers could be helpful if they’re willing to try.

The volunteers would work on Hands Together’s schools and clinics in Cité-Soleil, or on rural farms. In addition to building free K-8 schools and feeding students one meal per day, the organization also provides medical clinics, adult education, and nutritional programs.

Cité-Soleil is one of the largest slums in the northern hemisphere, home to 200,000 to 300,000 of the world’s most impoverished people. Even before the earthquake, the International Committee of the Red Cross called it  a “microcosm of all the ills that beset Haitian society: endemic unemployment, illiteracy, the collapse of public services, insalubrity, crime and violence.”

Its destitution moved Father Tom Hagan to relocate to Port-au-Prince and work in Cité-Soleil in 1997. Hagan was a chaplain at Lafayette and Moravian Colleges in Pennsylvania before he founded Hands Together. Since then, the organization has become a leader in education and health services in the slum, and one of its biggest employers.

Hennessey is looking for interpreters, mechanical and structural engineers and experts in irrigation and solar energy. He is planning two trips with tentative dates: one could leave by the end of June, and the other some time in July. For information or to volunteer, please write Hennessey at tvhennessey (at)

For more information, or to make monetary donations, please see Hands Together’s web site.

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Rob Goodier

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