Week 2 Of Construction By Chloe
Have you ever heard people talk about something spectacular – maybe a place, an object, or a sight – and you KNEW it was real.. it’s been described to you, you’ve seen pictures, and you’ve watched videos. So of course you believe what you’ve seen is true, but it seems distant perhaps, because you haven’t been there yourself to witness it with your own eyes.
Maybe it’s like Disney World: a colorful, joyful place full of happiness and fun. You’ve dreamed about what it would be like to go, and when finally given the chance to see it for yourself, it overwhelms you with an emotion greater than you ever pictured – because you’re finally in the midst of it.. sunlight shining in your face, squealing children bustling around bumping into you, tall architecture challenging your own stature, music playing in the distance, the smell of candy and churros lofting through the air. Because you’re there, you finally believe it’s true, magnificent reality.
Two weekends ago, Danielle, my dear friend and BLB’s Social Media Coordinator, was preparing to leave Brit’s Home in Haiti after a month long stay. Many of you know that at the end of her stay, she documented Week 1 of construction at Brit’s House of Love, so the team was sad to see her go because she had done such an excellent job with both photography and videography. Being a photography lover myself, I watched each video and viewed each photo she took with great admiration. Jokingly, or maybe very seriously, when Len said he wished she didn’t have to leave, I emailed him back saying, “My bags are packed.. put me in Coach!” Lo and behold, I get a text not even 12 hours later from him saying, “Hey, do you want to come to Haiti tomorrow to pick up where Danielle left off?” My emotions were that of Christmas Eve.. first day of school.. a surprise birthday party.. one of the best texts I have ever received! Haiti, here I come.
So as I walked up to the construction site of Brit’s House of Love, a project we’ve been talking about all year, it was like walking through the gates of Disney World for the first time. Absolute fireworks – as I heard the many sounds of electrical tools and lively chatter from our workers, with the sun beating down on my face, and concrete dust swirling through the air – it was finally REAL as I saw the magic for myself.
We jumped right into Week 2: each day we started our morning and ended our afternoon with a Facebook Live video – many of you have seen these as we documented the week’s work and progression. Len does a great job of bringing in our team members for the video, whether it be our project supervisors, Mami Love, or other construction workers. Then, throughout the day, I would photograph the progress and update our Instagram Story, just as Danielle had done.
Framing each workday with live videos, over the course of the week I was there to witness the 2nd story of Brit’s House of Love being built. Naturally, I was compelled to document the progress chronologically by day: Monday (Day 8), Tuesday (Day 9), and so forth with my photography. However, as I recap for you now, the documentation of our multi-faceted blur of the week, with all of its moving parts, is much easier to understand when divided into different “mini projects” of focused construction. So let’s dive in!
THE 2ND STORY WALLS: As our Blocks for Brit campaign powers ahead, the 2nd story walls required hundreds of cement blocks to encapsulate the level. So many of you have donated online $10 for each block, as have many of my family members in friends. As I watched this project develop, it was quite emotional, seeing our masons lay each block so delicately.. each of which I know had been donated by a kind soul who truly believes in what we’re doing for Grand Goave, Haiti. Each block was secured vertically and horizontally with long strands of rebar, fortifying the solidity of the structure as the 2nd story was encapsulated.
CONCRETE: If you know me, you know this is my personal favorite part of any job!! There’s something about combining all of the ingredients that feels like baking a cake – except with water, rock, sand, and concrete mix! Each individually weak, but together, they basically form the strongest cake batter imaginable. It’s the glue that holds everything else in place. The best part of this neverending process is the teamwork that goes into making it all happen. A team of about 4 or five workers will quickly combine all of the supplies together (thankfully into an automatic machine mixer), and it dumps into a wet concrete pit. From here, 2 more workers mix it manually and begin to transfer it into buckets. The “bucket guy” as I like to call him, rapidly places more buckets in front of the pit so that they can be filled. From there, a whole line of 2 dozen workers pass the 30 pound full buckets from one person to the next, up the stairs, and to wherever the concrete finally needs to be poured. It’s absolutely fascinating to me to watch them all work together, often cheering, singing, chanting, and encouraging one another to move faster! Despite the 90+ degree heat, I watched as sweat rolled down their smiling faces, laughing if someone dropped a bucket or the song was sung faster and louder than before.
RETAINING WALL: So where was most of that concrete being moved to, you ask? Well, some of it was placed in between each row of concrete blocks for the wall, or around the walls, but most of it was being transported by the “bucket brigade line” to the back wall of Brit’s House of Love. This area behind the guest house is being formed as a retaining wall to channel rainfall and also support the loose soil of our luscious and thriving garden. When I arrived at the beginning of the week, it was simply a dirt plot, but as the week progressed I watched the area mapped out, rebar crisscrossed and woven into security, and rocks placed strategically to enclose the area. Then came the concrete. Layer by layer, our team of masons would place large stones and rocks covering the expanse of the retaining wall, then concrete was added atop the rocks to secure them. This continued to the end of the week, when about half of it was complete and would be taken up the following week.
PROJECT LUNCHTIME: As I relay all of this to you, I feel drained just talking about it.. so you can imagine how exhausted our 70 construction workers were! Let’s take a break to talk about another team of people who helped make this all happen – our kitchen staff! Our joyful and wonderful women who manage our kitchen make almost 100 meals, 3 times a day, for our children and staff. So with dozens of hungry workers outside working on Brit’s House of Love, they provide meals for them too! I applaud this group of women, who smile and play through their busy day, full of pride, as the aromas of fresh bread, chicken, and rice waft through the air of Brit’s Home all day long. We love you and we adore you. Bon travay, good job!!
REBAR AND FRAMING: Ok, back to work! The rebar project was the one that was most astounding to me. These are essentially the bones of the building; rebar is strong, fortified metal formed into thin, 1-inch thick poles that are cut into different lengths to line the concrete blocks, and make bond beams. Bond beams are short pieces of rebar, cut into about 2 ½ foot strips, then skillfully bent into a shape that I like to think of as a paperclip. Sidenote: I’m a young woman in her mid-twenties who knows very little about construction, hence my awe, appreciation, and also, layman’s terms for these processes. Nevertheless, I hope that my description of this portion of the project brings you deep admiration for Len’s construction genius, and the skill possessed by our metal-workers to secure the 2nd story. The rebar bond beams were secured at the top of the 2nd story, surrounded by formwork (wooden 2 by 4’s and plywood) to create a mold for when concrete was poured through the rebar. Once dry, this created an extremely strong hold for the divide between what would soon be the 2nd story ceiling and the 3rd story floor.
CATWALK: Finally, one of the most exciting things to watch during Week 2 of construction was the catwalk. Many of you know that Brit’s House of Love will become a guest house for our Britsionarys (missionaries/volunteers) that come to visit us in Haiti. Currently, our Britsionarys reside in 4 rooms of Brit’s Home where our live, so by providing them with their own building, this creates more personal space for our children. It will also allow some of our older teens to move into those now freed up rooms, learning to become more independent as they transition into young adulthood.
So in order to have easy access for our Britsionarys to walk back over to Brit’s Home to hang out with our kids, we are building a catwalk! At the beginning of the week, I watched as a few foreman started nailing in 2 by 4’s into what I thought were weird, random joints. It started off looking like a wobbly spider web, with a few workers hanging on, balancing like members of a circus. Seemingly within a blink of my eyes, a catwalk had begun to form, the “spider web” finally coming together as meticulously calculated placement for each beam, creating a support system for the walkway. When it was strong and fortified, I was invited to talk a walk across it.. instead, I videotaped as Len, Mami Love, and LaPorte tiptoed across, haha! I then slowly made my way onto the walkway, and without even a creak or a wiggle beneath my feet, I said a prayer of gratitude and more appreciation for the advanced skillset of our team (Mesci, Jezi – Thank you, Jesus!!)
As my week came to an end, I couldn’t have felt more blessed to bear witness to such an unbelievable transformation. Our 1st story garage had doubled in size into a 2nd story building, and the reality hit of what I had witnessed. I was not yet part of the Be Like Brit Family until January 2017, so I never had a part in Brit’s Home being built in 2011-2013. I could only imagine the willpower and determination it took to complete such an impressive structure, and turn it into a Home. Finally, I have seen first-hand the raw reality of a feat such as this, and my admiration for the Gengel family and our team is tenfold. I am ever-thankful that now we have passed the photography baton to Shelby in Haiti for this week, as she is documenting Week 3 of construction for you all to continue to watch. But alas, the photos that Danielle, Shelby, and I have captured thus far do not do this miracle work justice…. so you know what I’m going to say next….. “COME ON DOWN!!” in 2019 to see it for yourself! I promise, the beauty of Grand Goave and our 66 children will fill your heart and open your eyes unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. Just like seeing Disney World for the very first time.
This blog post is dedicated to our Construction Supervisor and beloved team member, Francky – for not only his great leadership managing our project, but for supporting me literally and figuratively this week. Thanks, Papi Len, for capturing this hilariously terrifying moment as I “made sure to get the right angle” for the perfect shot!!
If you’d still like to be a part of this incredible project, please visit www.BeLikeBrit.org/Blocks to donate your own $10 concrete block to help us build Brit’s House of Love!
Love and respect,
Florida Director of Outreach