On a beautiful, sunny, Wednesday afternoon, young Haitian students from the Flanbwayan Haitian Literacy Project gathered with their mentors on the second floor of the Flatbush Avenue Branch library. Their task was to identify, build, and present a project that would contribute to the sustainable development of Haiti.
The session was facilitated by ArchForKids, a firm that provides young people with engaging, hands-on learning experiences grounded in architecture, design, engineering and urban planning.
Ms. Janny Gedeon, co-founder of ArchForKids and facilitator of this design charrette, introduced the challenge: “Your team has been hired to design a sustainable structure or system that would benefit the country – for example, an eco-adventure park on the waterfront, a community center, houses, hospitals, schools, renewable energy systems, infrastructure, or anything else – it’s up to you, the young designers. Use your ideas andimagination to make a great contribution to the development of Haiti.
To drive home the idea of the task at hand, Ms. Gedeon, declared, “Today you are architects, urban planners, and engineers.” With these words, the room transformed into a design studio. The students were divided into groups of four with one or two mentors assigned to each group. As the brainstorming began, the room became abuzz with exchanges, discussions of what was most needed in Haiti. As I walk ed around the room, I heard questions like, “What is the most important thing that could help Haiti right now? Should the structure be located in the capital or another city? Who will benefit from it?” Hospitals, schools, childcare centers and a bridge to link two communities separated by a large river were among the concepts discussed, sketched, and designed.
After a short break for lunch, the students dove into the building stage. Using mostly recycled materials, each group built a model of their design. It was a delight to see some of the buildings and communities powered by solar panels. One building even included an entire roof as a rainwater cistern. How is that for rainwater harvesting?
The afternoon culminated with each group presenting their model, explaining the process they used to come up with their ideas as well as obstacles that they encountered during the design and building phases.
It was a fun afternoon for all. Paul Celicourt, a mentor currently pursuing a PhD in Environmental Engineering at The City College of New York said, “These types of activities are crucial for the children’s intellectual development. By challenging the children in their early age to design and conceive infrastructures that can sustain life in a community, they are growing up animated with problem solving skills, with the spirit or the willingness to serve the community where they live and elsewhere.”
For four hours, the second floor of the Flatbush Avenue branch library was transformed into a space where learning was nothing but fun; a place where discovery, camaraderie, collaboration and cooperation prevailed. Valery Angy Christina Delinois, a sophomore at Clara Barton High School who is currently interested in the medical field, puts it best: “Today was fun, I did not know what to expect when I came here but it was good. I got to work in a different field, but I used my talents to solve a problem in Haiti. We came up with a great idea that could help the children and we think that it is possible to build it. I also liked the fact that I got to work with people my own age that I didn’t know before.”
I could not have said it better!
By Nelly O. Gedeon