Grassroots Home Base

Posted: December 24, 2010 by tinatherrien in Uncategorized

The Ti Kay Pay is being built at Grassroots United, an extremely worthy and interesting NGO. In addition to distributing medical supplies, doing cholera training in communities, demolition work and shoring up damaged buildings, Grassroots United ( do an amazing job of networking with other organizations and volunteers from around the world. It is a transient station, with people stopping by for a night or two, while others have been here for months, all the way from Australia to France to the U.S. and even Canada! There is a definite warmth here, not unlike being amongst family. There is always something really interesting going on here. Yesterday, one group of volunteers went up to a remote village, accessible by donkey trail only, that has been really badly hit with cholera. Jesse & Chrissy, two relatively new volunteers from the U.S., brought water filtration systems with them, so the team is taking about 15 systems up to this remote community. A wonderful Christmas present!

Many visitors and other NGOs come to Grassroots for information sessions or to stay here. The Ti Kay Pay has been really well received, with most people really appreciating the fact that it is being built with (mostly) local materials, and the fact that it fares well in seismic conditions. I haven’t heard a single Three Little Pigs joke (but perhaps that’s cultural?). In any case, people are enthused about the project, and love touring it, asking intelligent questions.

A few days ago, Martin & I went to the countryside near to visit with Father Bénite Jeune about some construction projects he is doing in his community (with straw bale one option that is being considered). After our meeting with him, we went into his community to speak with the villagers about their homes. We were particularly interested in the earthen plasters and any possible additives they may have used. My French allowed me to converse somewhat with folks, and Alex, our amazing translator & chauffeur, asked more in-depth questions in Creole. It was a most wonderful experience. There were a variety of homes there, including wattle & daub, brick, banana leaf, wood and cement. Post earthquake, the brick & cement buildings had lost chunks of walls, or even entire walls. The wattle & daub buildings were still intact, but many of them ended up slanted or skewed.

We were hoping to investigate plaster recipes and succeeded in learning that they took the mud from the ground and smeared it directly onto the walls, sometimes adding a bit of sand. There was lime wash on some of the homes, so I asked one of the villagers where they got the lime from (since we’ve been waiting over 5 weeks for our shipment of lime!). He told me that they use ash left over from welding to make the lime wash, and he claimed that it has no protective properties for the plaster, but rather, is used to make the buildings look pretty. That may be so, but it would be worth investigating. The lime wash seemed to have failed at the lower sections of wall, but was fine up near the eaves where there was overhang.

Last night I put the ridge cap onto the building, which means our roof is now completely on. While it wasn’t snowing (every year it seems that I have at least one ridge cap to put on in December in the snow), it was dark by the time I was finished, and I had to wait for Martin and the boys to finish installing a door buck before they put up the ladder to let me down.

The eavestroughing for the house was rolled by a local fellow, and then he soldered it here on site to length. It was an amazing thing to see- they arrived with a bucket of glowing coals, and a slab of silver, and an assortment hammers, some of which no longer had a handle. Their process was very similar to blacksmith forging. After the solder was complete, they painted muriatic acid onto it. I’d love to invite these fellows to tinker in my forge back home.

Most of the door bucks & window bucks are installed, but installing them after the bales are already in place is fiddly work, and not at all a time saver. Once they are all installed, the rest of the compression straps can be cinched down, and the hurricane X bracing completed.

Today is a holiday for many people in Haiti. Christmas is celebrated more so on the 24th than the 25th. Our cook is wearing a Santa hat today, getting in the spirit. I guess she isn’t taking a holiday. Jean-Louis & Annio are taking today off, but both want to work tomorrow, and Martin flies out today, so I guess I’ll continue tweaking the building on my own.

One other thing that the good folks at Grassroots do is provide supplies to several orphanages. I am hoping to go with Emma later today and possibly tomorrow to a couple of the orphanages, to hang out with the kids a bit, and to give them each a present. Imagine, for many of these kids, this is the first time they will have ever been given a gift at Christmas. That really puts the season spirit into perspective for me. Joyeux joyeux, tout le monde!

  1. Colin MacDougall says:

    Hi Tina

    Would you mind if I used some of your images for my undergrad classes? The skewed hut above shows perfectly what earthquakes do to buildings.

    Colin MacDougall
    Queen’s University

    • tinatherrien says:

      Hi Colin. Not a problem. I’d be happy to share more photos with you, if you like, and in higher resolution. I love the fact that the skewed wattle & daub is still standing, unlike many of the ‘reinforced’ concrete buildings I saw. Send me a personal e-mail if you’d like more photos.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s