Thursday, June 3, 2010

Haiti Disaster Response Trip

Thank for your prayers and support of me through my recent trip to Haiti.  Our small, four-man team had a successful two weeks, and we were able to serve a large number of people and ministries by traveling all over the country.  All of our logistical concerns were taken care of as far as places to sleep and food to eat, which was a huge blessing.  I think before I had communicated to some of you that I really felt a strong desire to serve on another Haiti trip since the earthquake, and once I realized I was going on this one, I again really felt that I was going for a reason other than just to provide engineering help.  Well, I still don't know exactly what that reason is, and maybe I won't know, but if nothing else the trip challenged me to try to understand what serving really is and what it really means to love our neighbor.

To give a quick overview of our trip, we went to Haiti to assess the safety and damage of many of the buildings standing after the earthquake, and then design repairs to salvage the damaged buildings if possible.  So many people have requested help since the earthquake, and through other teams (many from EMI), most of them have been reached.  However, with each prior team focusing their efforts in a centralized area, many ministries and people living farther away were left unreached.  We went on our trip with the intention of traveling to as many of these unreached areas as possible.  Although that meant a lot of "work" to provide a little bit of help, it was a worthwhile trip.

A lot of what we saw was an absolute fear of being anywhere near a building.  We looked a several houses that survived the earthquake with almost no damage, yet the people would refuse to sleep under the roof.  It was nice to be able to tell these people that their home was completely safe, and they had no need to be sleeping in tents anymore.  In one extreme case, we went to a school where we were told that parents wouldn't let their kids attend school, out of the fear of the building.  We asked if there were any particular areas of concern in the building, and they said, "Oh no, no one's even been willing to go inside the building to look..."  It turned out that that building withstood the earthquake well, and was completely safe the way it was.  Of course not all the buildings we saw were that way, but I was surprised by how many of them were okay.

I think as I was preparing for this trip, I was pretty excited about all the help we were about to provide for these people that are suffering so much!  Now, as I reflect back on the trip, though, I'm somewhat frustrated by how much work there is still left to do for the Haitian people and how much help they still need.  I don't mean to say we didn't do our job, or we weren't able to accomplish what we set out to do, but being there I got an eye-opener for how much need there is beyond a group of engineers just doing their thing.  People we're of course very appreciative of the help we provided them, etc., but it often seemed like engineering help wasn't the biggest concern.

For example, in one of the orphanages we served, the kids seemed so starved for attention and love because they had very minimal adult presence.  So, it's important to fix their home and therefore our job was important to tell them how to do it, but I felt like the greater need was something else.  While we were there, we were able to love and give them some attention, but we only had limited time.  I guess I'm trying to say I have no regrets about what we were able to do, but it's hard leaving a place like that without doing more.

Another way I am challenged is to comprehend the idea of "loving your neighbor" and what extent we are willing to take that.  One of the missionaries we met that runs a children's home there really encouraged and challenged me just by his example.  There are a number of high voodoo priests that he's in contact with, and I was amazed to learn the extremity that the voodoo priests (and the government) go to try to appease their angry voodoo gods, whether it's performing rituals, striping people of their resources, putting "curses" on people, and even human sacrificing.  They perform unspeakable evil, yet this guy we met loves them, cares for them, and treats them like human beings even through all of that darkness.  He says that many have been transformed away from that evil culture, and are now some of the most loving and genuine people he knows.  That's the almighty power of love.  I want to work on having a more unconditional love like that.

I guess in summary, we had a really successful trip in that we were able to help a lot of people with their buildings, and I did get to learn a lot about engineering and construction.  But what I take home from the trip is a desire to do even more, whether in Haiti or not.  I don't know what that means for me yet, or whether I have the courage to do what I say I should do, but I do think there exists a better world out there if we do what we're supposed to.  And I think, for me at least, the first step to that is working on loving my neighbors more where ever I am.

Here are some pictures from our trip...

These are the Young Life director's two daughters, who were so excited to show us their house and where they live!


The Young Life director, with his kids and their friends






This is Haiti's presidential palace, damaged severely by the earthquake.  On the first Sunday we were there, we spent part of the afternoon driving around to see some of the destruction in Port-au-Prince.  The next couple photos are a few of the fallen buildings.










After being in Port-au-Prince for the first 3 nights, we took a small plane with Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) to a small town in north Haiti called Ranquitte.


At Ranquitte, we spent most of our time inspected a large school there of about 1300 kids.  One of the floors had some sagging issues as you see above.  The people in the picture are George the mayor and Renac the school's principal.


This is Ivy who took care of us while we were in Ranquitte.  She founded the school a long time ago and has been dedicated to serving the children of Ranquitte since she moved to Haiti from Jamaica in 1950.


Scott, Micah, and I with mayor George before leaving Ranquitte


An aerial shot from our Cesna plane ride back to Port-au-Prince from Ranquitte.  Notice the lack of trees on the mountains.  The country of Haiti deforested their land a couple decades ago to make charcoal, and are now paying the price for that by having little vegetation. 


This is an aerial shot of all a large tent city in the middle of nowhere.  The government moved large groups of people like this out of the city so they would appear to be solving the problem.  However, it separates the people from the city and creates a dependency on aid instead of being able to take care of themselves.



Our group with Children of Promise Int'l (COPI), and our driver, Samuel, in front.

Before parting ways with Pastor Joel.  This picture was taken in the morning, and we are heart-broken to learn that he went through a heart-attack and died that same afternoon.  We didn't know until we got home.  In our debriefing time, before we learned of his death, we all talked about genuine and compassionate he was and how much he meant to the kids in the orphanage he ran.  He will certainly be missed by many.


Micah and I with a little guy who loved playing with "Rocket Balloons"


At the site of Grace International, where for whatever reason, all the kids wanted to hold my hand!  Grace Int'l has a plot of land (where we are in the picture) that's fenced in, and before the earthquake there were about 100 people living there.  After the earthquake, however, that number grew to 30,000.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Back to Haiti!

I want to thank you again for supporting me while I am serving with EMI.  Thanks to you, I have the necessary funds to not only complete my internship but to travel on another service trip as well!  Tomorrow (May 13) I will leave to go to Haiti as a part of 4 person structural assessment team.  Our team will include myself and another structural engineer from our office, as well as two structural engineers from the States.  We are planning to be in Haiti for 2 weeks.  I have felt a strong desire to go to Haiti since the January earthquake, and now I’m very excited to finally be able to go there and help out in a small way for a country and a people that lack so much.

I wanted to write this not only to thank you and keep you up-to-date, but also to ask for prayer support.  This project will be a lot different than typical EMI projects.  Our main purpose is to assess the structure of many of the buildings that were damaged by the earthquake, and then offer recommendations as to how the ministries can proceed with the damaged buildings.  Most of the buildings are hospitals and schools, which have had to practically shut down because people are still afraid to occupy the buildings.  Whereas prior EMI disaster response teams have focused their efforts in a few, central locations, we plan to travel to many remote locations throughout the country to serve a variety of ministries. 

We believe the trip will be intense with travelling and countless logistical concerns, so we are praying and ask for your prayer that God will work out all the details that are still unresolved.  There are many nights where we still do not know where we will stay or where/what we will eat.  We are bringing tents and lots of energy bars for that purpose!  Please pray for our energy, team chemistry, and positive attitudes.  As many of you know, Haiti is a country with significant oppression, physically, emotional, and spiritually.  Therefore, I ask you for prayer support of not only our physical needs, but also our emotional and spiritual states while we are there.  Please pray for the Haitian people as well.  In Haiti, you see the harsh injustice in the world, and it can be difficult emotionally.  The poverty and the hopelessness in Haiti at times can be overwhelming.  Also, there is still a strong presence of voodoo in Haiti, so please pray against all types of attacks that may bring.

Although it will be difficult, I am very excited and feel very blessed to be going back to Haiti with this team.  I am excited that we will be relying on God for so many things because I know, believe, and have seen that He comes through for us.  I expect this trip to be a “life-changing” time for me, and I can’t wait to see how God will use us and use this experience to shape my life.

I plan to update my blog upon my return from Haiti in a few weeks.  Until then, thank you so much for your support!


Ben


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Update!

Things are settling down now again with the EMI group in Atenas as everyone is back from project trips and such.  It's nice to have everyone back in office and back in town.  Now we're only missing one person, Josh, who is currently doing work in Chile.

This is an exciting time in the office from a "business" point of view as it seems like we are finishing so many projects.  We have three new projects this semester, of which two are pretty much completed.  We finished my specific project two weeks ago (the school expansion in Costa Rica), and it was exciting to send it all to the missionary.  Since then, he has sent us photos of the excavation already in progress, so hopefully we can go back to the site soon and see our design being built!  Another project we have, a school in Guatemala, we should finish any day now.  That project is different because the missionaries there have actually already started construction, which of course greatly limits the design on our end.  In other words, it's hard to tell them to change the location of the foundation... because it's already there!  The group there wants a building immediately, so even though that limits the scope of work on our end, our job is to serve them, so we are happy if they are happy.  Our third new project is a 7 story church building in downtown Lima, Peru, which because it's a bigger project, will take us at least the rest of the semester to complete.  However, because the other projects are complete (or almost complete), we can now put more people on this project.

What's exciting is that since we are finishing recent projects, we now have time to finish older projects.  If you remember we had two project trips in September to Haiti -- one being a YWAM youth center and another (my project) a church campus.  We're excited because as of this week we finished and sent out the YWAM project, and now we have more people working on the church campus project so we will be able to sent it out soon as well.  I feel lucky that I've been here for both this semester and the last because I've gotten to see these projects from beginning to end.  Now I just want to go to Haiti and see them built!

The project that I've been working on recently will be an orphanage in Haiti called Haitian Children's Home.  This is a project from last May, so we are hoping to finish it as soon as possible.  It's a really interesting project, especially from a structural engineer's point of view.  The photos that the project leader, Dan, has of the site are amazing. It's located on top of a large cliff overlooking the ocean on the southern border of Haiti -- absolutely beautiful!  And absolutely one of the worst places in the world for hurricanes!  The design has to take into account the high winds that will surely come, large earthquakes (which we all know can happen!), and poor construction methods by Haitians.  I'm really happy that I've had the opportunity to be apart of this project!

I want to tell you about one more small project, then I'll stop talking about projects!  Yesterday, we were given another excited job.  We are being asked by Compassion, Intl. to design a quick, temporary home that people can live in that were displaced from the Haiti earthquake.  They want something of course very basic, that can be copied again and again for so many people.  All the challenges make it interesting.  They want the cheapest, most resourceful option that can be built in 3-4 hours, will last for up to 5 years, and will withstand future hurricanes and earthquakes.  So we have to come up with a unique design to satisfy all this criteria -- can't pour concrete (too slow) so we have to use a lighter material like wood, which is difficult to hold in place in high winds and difficult to keep water out.  They also want the design by the end of the week so they can start building immediately.  Although I'm not the one of the people working on this project directly, it's still very interesting for me to see and watch the different solutions being thought out.

Well if you made it through those 4 work-related paragraphs without getting too bored, then I'm impressed.  I've been doing other stuff, too!  Two weekends ago, my host family took me camping in a national park surrounded by a volcano called Rincon de la Vieja.  It was a really special experience for me as not only were we in a beautiful place, but I spent the whole time with locals speaking Spanish.  What's neat is that it felt like family.  I loved doing something cool like that in another country and not feeling like a tourist!  Here are a few pictures.

Until next time,

Ben

A birthday cake my host family brought for me


My host sister, Ana Maria, came along, too.  She was a champion!

This is my host brother, Esteban.  He wanted stay behind me while we hiked so he could protect me.  Thanks to him, I made it okay!


We hiked to these natural hot springs.  Very tranquilo!

Here is my host brother, Andres, enjoying the hot springs.



The last day we drove to this awesome waterfall!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Project Trip all the way to Bethlehem... Costa Rica

I apologize for being a little late on updating you on my project trip!  It's been about 2 weeks now since we got back from our trip.  As some of you may know, EMI does a "project trip" for almost all projects we do, in which we stay on or near the project site with the missionaries in order to get a clearer idea of exactly what is desired and expected for the project.  This was my second trip with EMI, and our project is a local one in Belén, Costa Rica, which is translated to Bethlehem for those of you out there who habla inglés.

The project had an interesting start.  The project we had planned was in Pavas, Costa Rica where a local pastor wanted to build a church.  Dan, the project leader, put the team together based on those needs, which was mainly architectural and structural.  However, about a week before, the project fell through, but at that exact time a missionary living in Belén, Matt, wanted us to come and do a project there for his school.  We already had a team coming to Costa Rica from the States, so by pure chance it worked out to do this one instead.  The fact that he requested help and was ready for us within the week was pretty amazing.  The only issue was that we had architects and structural engineers to do a project that now was almost purely civil related.  We felt like because of the circumstances and way it all worked out, that the Lord wanted us there for some reason.  So we went!

Matt and his wife, Lisa, are missionaries from the states who started and run a bilingual Christian school in Belén that Matt's father had a vision for before he died.  The school is called La Palabra de Vida (the Word of life).  Now, they have enough buildings and staff that they can run a pre-school through high school program, with about 350 students in all.  The students take all the classes offered in the public school, plus extra classes in English, and plus classes on religion.  Thus, the students have a full workload, but the program offers them terrific building blocks for the future.

The main reason Matt wanted us to come there was to design a new roadway for the school because at the moment they have significant traffic problems.  He also has a desire for a new multi-purpose building in the location of an existing building that was built with pretty shady construction.  Although the multi-purpose building is a few years down the road, the school needs a building that can hold all students at one time, which is projected to be at about 500 students.  The new building will be used for chapel, graduations, and other large events.  Steve and I, the two structural engineers, worked on the roadway design, while Fred and Alexa, the two architects, worked on the new multipurpose building design.  Dan, the project leader, coordinated our efforts and helped out where needed.  For a team of only 5 people, it was amazing how much work we accomplished in one week!

Now that we're back in the office, I have been working on finishing up the drawings and some design.  Our goal is to complete everything and get it all to Matt and Lisa by March 12, which is soon but a very reasonable time frame.  After that, I will surely be busy helping with the other projects this term, which are a 6 story church building to be in downtown Lima, Peru, and another school to be in Guatemala.

Here's a few pictures from our trip.  I noticed that since I was still in Costa Rica for the project, I didn't take many pictures as it didn't seem much different from my home in Atenas.  Here's a few that I do have...



Some sketchy construction.  If you look closely, you might notice the "S" shape piece holding up the roof over the porch!  This building will be demolished and replaced with the building below...

A sketch of the new multi-purpose building by Fred, the architect




Our team and Matt and Lisa eating lunch in the school cafeteria




Steve and I presenting the new plan for the entry road to the school board and construction guys




Some of our group with Omar and Julio who are the construction gurus of the school.  Left to right: Dan, Matt, me, Omar and Julio, and Steve.

Our team eating lunch on Sunday at our friends Yeremy and Eveth's house.

This is the current Chapel room filled with students.  Not everyone is able to fit and the current room isn't ideal for large gatherings.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

back in Atenas!

I feel really blessed that I have the opportunity to return for another term with eMi in Costa Rica!  My return to the States for a few weeks was great in that I got to see all of my family in such a short time period.  I got to spend a lot of time with my parents, and I stayed a week at my brother's house, too, which although felt like a short time, was again a huge blessing.

Coming back home to Costa Rica has been a neat experience, as well, and it's been so fun to be back with my host family and friends here.  I say "home" because I was pleasantly surprised how much it felt like coming home when I arrived back here with my host family and friends from eMi.  At this point, the word "home" has a weird meaning to me -- I left my home in Georgia to come back home to Costa Rica, all the while I still feel like I'm from Colorado.  It's a little weird.  But the time I've spent so far with my host family here has been terrific.  I came back to Costa Rica a week before the other interns, so I spent the whole first week with just my host family.  Because of that week, I feel like I'm here not just to be a part of the eMi group, but also as a part of my Costa Rican family.  Although I'm leaving in a few months, my host family and their friends and family treat me as if this were my home.  I've heard several people say that in our culture we put up a shield when we spend time with someone who we'll say goodbye to, to avoid getting too attached.  They don't do that here, and I think that's why I feel like I'm "home."

At this point, I've been here 4 weeks since coming back.  I spent 3 weeks in language school and another week in an orientation for the new interns.  Now I'm very ready to start working and actually doing what I came here to do.  Like I said in the previous paragraph, I've really enjoyed my time in Costa Rica, but at times it has been difficult personally because I can't do as much as I'd like to (for example, go to Haiti!).

Since we went to Haiti in the fall, the earthquake has been especially hard to take.  I think I get depressed sometimes because I want so badly to actually do something about it, but I can't.  EMI is sending teams to Haiti, and I would love to be a part of one of the teams, but so far it hasn't been possible.  I understand why I haven't been a part of the teams so far, but it's still frustrating.  In fact, I don't even know what I could do there, but again I just want to go to do something.  It's difficult sometimes to accept the unfairness of the world, and to understand why we are on the better side of it.  It's difficult to think about our friends there suffering so much, when at the moment there's nothing I can really do about it.  There are lots and lots of relief groups travelling to Haiti now, and lots of money being donated, so we can hope that in this time, with all eyes in the world on Haiti, that the country can make a turn-around.

I know there are plenty of other ways I can't serve without going to Haiti.  This Saturday our team leaves for our project trip, which this project is in Belen, Costa Rica.  It's an existing Christian school that at the moment needs an expansion.  As of now, I don't know too much information about the project, but I'm excited to learn more about it soon!  And of course, I'll tell you more about it after our trip next week!

Here are some pictures I've taken from January and early February in Costa Rica.  My host dad's brother got married last weekend, so several are from the wedding.


Relaxin' at the house with my 5 year Tico sister, Ana Maria


Ana Maria's birthday party -- we had a piñata!



Eating lunch with my host siblings.



My language school classroom




Ana Maria ready for the wedding



Host brothers at the wedding, Esteban (left) and Andres (right)



Host parents and Ana Maria ready for the wedding



My host family and I at the wedding reception


My host dad's sister Jessica's family


My host dad's mother


They all tried to teach me to dance at the wedding.  This was a lesson I had with my host dad's brother-in-law "Poyo."  Needless to say, my hips are too "gringo"


My spin moves are also pretty "gringo"