Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Shelter # 2 complete!

Last week we completed our second shelter with the help of three locals, Val, Jackson and Louie. Two tap-tap (bus) rides and a ten minute walk away from the busy city lies a plot of vacant land near the town of Croix-des-Bouquets. In this field frequented by goats, chickens, and small bands of children playing, Magdala's sister lives in a plywood shelter with her husband and two children. This area has witnessed a recent conversion in the last year from agricultural to residential land, where sugarcane and other crops have been converted to concrete houses protected by tall cinder-block walls. Here in this quiet neighborhood reminiscent of the countryside, Magdala and her daughter Ketura are now moving closer to family into their new Uber Shelter home away from the tent city they had been living in since the earthquake.

For more information on Uber Shelter please visit our site and to see pictures of our newest shelter design in Haiti click here.

Monday of last week we were able to ride with the delivery truck to the site and unload the shelter. Upon inspection we identified some damage that happened during shipping. We made note of how to prevent this in the future, and fixed the bent metal frame by reinforcing them with wooden 2x4's.

We returned on Wednesday and did a few more repairs to the shelter that needed attention. This prototype Uber Shelter is almost a year and a half old and this is the third time it has been relocated (from Indiana to Colorado and now to its new home in Haiti). Although it is a predecessor to our current design, we decided to ship it here and give it to a family who could make good use of it.  Wednesday night we stayed at Magdala's sister's house, and enjoyed the relaxing evening watching the sunset and chatting with Magdala and her family. We sat for dinner, held hands during the family prayer, and ate cornmeal porridge together under the glow of a kerosene lantern.

On Thursday we began the build early with a new idea for a leight-weight foundation to distribute the weight of the shelter more evenly on the soft soil. Think of snow shoes for the shelter. Once squared, in place and level, we drilled holes through the two pieces of lumber where earth anchors would be located. Next we pounded the earth anchors deep into the ground and tensioned them out using the tools that were provided for us by Platypus Earth Anchors. These anchors secure the shelter from any vertical uplift that could happen in strong winds. The foundation was ready, so we spent the rest of the day assembling the frame, and spent our second night with Magdala's family. In previous builds, the shelter has gone up in one day, but we thought it wise to take our time under the Haitian sun.
snow shoes for the the shelter made from 2x6s
Friday we finished installing the walls and roof. Magdala made us a delicious lunch of rice and beans with chicken and sauce, with a cold glass of sweet chad├Ęk (grapefruit) juice. I got to play with the kids in a near by field. I helped them to refine their home-made bows and arrows and fashioned mock feathers out of corners of plastic water bags to make their arrows fly straight. That night on our way home we got a ride back from a person who had room in their pickup truck and happened to be on his was to Port-au-Prince just as we finished packing up. The timing could not have been more perfect and had he not driven by we would have spent hours waiting for a tap tap empty enough to carry us, our bags, and tools. Pics from the build below:

Magdala's daughter Ketura helping us clean up before sun set.
Louie and Jackson installing walls and windows. Also notice the shelter resting on the "snow shoe" frame
Kencity, Magdala's neighbor, helping tighten bolts on the second floor
Ketura's version of the Uber Shelter. She might be on to something...
Roof supports in place prior to adding the canopy and a view of the sleeping loft

From left to right: Jackson, Kencity, Genesis, Val, and Finel.  Ketura and Louie in the background
its up!

This week we bought parts from the hardware store to improve Magdala's house. After assessing the design and how Magalas's family will be using it, we decided that the emergency/transitional nature of the shelter design did not fully meet Magdalas current housing needs. We decided to replace the canvas roof with one made from corrugated metal and also add plywood reinforcement to the walls for security. We will be cutting and installing these upgrades over the next few days. We also took a documentary filmmaker out to see Genesis' shelter, brainstormed on our next steps, and invited various aid organizations to come evaluate the shelter.


  1. Rafa,
    I think you've proven the portability with the original design, at least. This shelter has been set up several times now and has shown that it can be used and re-packed to be used again. I'm looking forward to seeing how well it holds up to an extended stay out in elements, especially a tropical rainstorm!
    Stay safe,

  2. It looks awesome! I wish I would have been able to put it up.

  3. Rafa,

    It is so great to read about all these subtle yet elegant changes you and the people you are working with are making to really refine and individualize Uber for these families. I love (and not gonna lie, kind of jealous...) that you're able to spend quality time with and really connect with these people who just seem awesome. Great photos, lovely words. I hope you are doing well and I miss you.


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