Barrels of Hope building shelter for Haiti

Posted by Trish Riley, September 15, 2010

By Dylan Klempner

During the September 1, 2010 Green Drinks meeting in Gainesville, Mike Amish of Indigo Green Building Solutions, the U.S. Green Building Council and Jacob Cravey of Earthbuilders described their project—Barrels of Hope —and offered community members an opportunity to help them build shelters for earthquake victims in Haiti using inexpensive earthbag construction.

Those interested in taking part in the program and learning more about earthbag building are invited to attend a workday and demonstration in Gainesville on Saturday, September 18. Amish, his colleagues, and members of the community will erect an earthbag house in preparation for their return trip to Haiti in October.

The Barrels of Hope initiative started last March, after Amish and several colleagues heard a presentation about earthbag building by Jeff Bousquet, who has been certified through the Cal Earth Institute.

The group traveled to Kenscoff, Haiti, last July and constructed their first earthbag house. Included among them were members of Indigo, The Sustainable Design Group, and The United States Green Building Chapter’s local chapter, Heart of Florida.

Together they raised $13,000 and overcame a variety of setbacks. First, each house was expected to cost $300, but that figure doubled. Then, after learning that shipping containers were being held in Haitian ports for up to nine months, they decided to use carry-on luggage to transport building materials, primarily bags.

Amish hopes the structures he builds will last 50 years or more and become part of the local culture. The 100 square foot houses are expected to fill both a temporary need for shelter and provide a permanent housing solution. “We would hope that they would use it to build on to,” he said.

Earthbag construction technology is based on the adobe buildings of America’s Southwest Indians, which has lasted thousands of years, said Amish. Builders typically use 50-pound polypropylene bags filled with earth, stacked on top of each other, and held in place by two strands of barbed wire.

Tools used in the construction are inexpensive or easy to make. Meanwhile, much of the materials can be salvaged. In Haiti, Amish is integrating rubble and salvaged rebar. “You can salvage the bags themselves,” he said. “There’s cases where people are using U.S. aid rice bags.”

Amish said his goal for the project is to continue to teach Haitians how to build earthbag structures and to create occupations that will help them rebuild their lives.

He also sees Barrels of Hope as a way to build relationships between Gainesville and Hatian cities like Jacmel, one of Gainesville’s sister cities.
Amish plans to continue collaborating with groups working in Haiti like Earthgivers, which teaches women how to farm sustainably, and David Ames’s From Gainesville With Love , now organizing students from Gainesville to work in Haiti during their spring breaks.