In the middle of Port au Prince, nestled between the UN, the airport, and Cite Soleil–Haiti’s largest slum–groups of international development workers, volunteers, and Haitian community leaders are working on improving life in Haiti through the maker ethic.
Founded immediately after the 2010 earthquake, Haiti Communitere has been on the ground for the past three years, serving as a community, networking and shared-overhead space for both international NGOs and Haitian groups. Their current focus is on developing their Resource Center, a community workshop, computer lab, and conference space that also serves as Haiti’s only makerspace.
Much of the focus here is on hacking recycled materials to meet the needs of the local population. Haiti Communitere has model homes of strawbale and shipping containers, composting toilets, and extensive gardens. They have three large current projects going right now. First, Makerbot generously donated a 3D printer and local staff is getting trained on it as we speak. The first application will be printing umbilical clamps, as our partners at a local hospital have resorted to using rubber gloves as umbilical clamps.
The other two projects focus on upscaling trash. Former gang members from Cite Soleil have been coming to the workshop twice a week to experiment with making benches, chairs, and art out of old tires and other trash to put in schools and public spaces around the slum. Harvey Lacey, an inventor from Texas, designed bricks made out of compressed styrofoam trash, and brought them to Haiti Communitere’s makerspace to experiment. The compressed bricks are lightweight, flexible, and a model house built from the bricks stood up to a simulated 8.2 earthquake. Groups of interested Haitians are collecting the Styrofoam that chokes Haiti’s waterways and turning it into homes and composting toilets.
Most importantly, the makerspace serves as one of Port au Prince’s only safe spaces for community members to work, share ideas, and experiment with improving their lives. As community leader Robillard Louino explains: “This workshop was the reason that many young men and women in Cite Soleil woke up every morning. It gave them a purpose, a place to go, an activity that made them feel dignified.”
Haiti Communitere is trying a new model of development, one based on collaboration and the maker ethic and we are asking the international maker community to help us reach our goals. The makerspaces’s yearly rent is coming up and organizers are calling for a global konbit–a traditional form of Haitian communal labor–to help keep the workshop space alive. They have launched an indiegogo campaign to raise funds and are asking the international community for support.
As Robillard explains “Haiti Communitere is the only space we have in Haiti that truly welcomes youth from marginalized communities, from lower classes, those without voices, and treats them with dignity, as leaders. Not only do they welcome us, but they help us take our ideas and dreams and develop them into realities… This is rare, and this is truly another model of humanitarian response and development.”
Jim Dauster is a farmer, maker, and activist who splits his time between sustainable design projects in Washington state and Haiti.
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