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Portage resident’s efforts allow Haiti’s people to help themselves

March 23, 2018 GMT

The desire to do good in a country like Haiti often can be complicated by matters of politics, economics and human nature.

Yet, a Portage woman has made it her mission to help the country’s people and her latest project is to build homes and community walls using recycled plastic bottles.

“I’ve worked there for 20 years and lived there for 11 and it is the most successful project we’ve ever had,” said 62-year-old Nancy Hibbard. “We’re already starting a couple similar projects.”

Hibbard, who works at Pflanz Mantey Mendrala Funeral Home when she is state-side, returned from an 11-day trip March 8. Her latest venture involves creating buildings from blight in the cities of Port Au Prince and Jeremie near the end of the western peninsula.

“It is a beautiful country, but the government doesn’t really work for the people and they don’t have any real garbage pickup or other things we take for granted,” Hibbard said. “They don’t have any knowledge — most people — of recycling. So they drink a soda bottle, they finish it and they throw it on the ground and it goes into the ocean.”

Seeking solutions

While researching a solution, Hibbard said she learned a friend from Madison had been using the plastic bottle technique for construction in Latin America. The bottles are packed with sand until they are solid and then stacked to build structures.

“They have really taken the project and run with it,” Hibbard said as she flipped through a binder of building instructions printed in English and Creole. The directions included site plans and pictures of projects in progress and through completion. The process provides work for about 15 people.

“Even though they didn’t make a lot of money, maybe $4 or $5 a day, that’s minimum wage and they fill these bottle with sand and then pack it in so it’s like a cement block,” said Hibbard.

More than half of Haitians, about 59 percent, live on less than $2.42 per day according to the United States Agency for International Development March 2017 Haiti country profile.

Extreme poverty

According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, as of 2015, Haiti ranked 158 out of 168 countries, which plays into the nation’s ranking as 181 out of 190 in the World Bank’s 2017 Ease of Doing Business Index.

“People donating is a wonderful thing after a natural disaster,” said Hibbard. “In this day of age, they don’t need handouts — they have a very good rice crop, and when we send rice, then we undercut them and their rice is too high versus free or almost free.”

Her ideal project is one in which a need is met by the work of Haitians paid for their efforts, and ends with her stepping away as the effort goes on without her.

“I’ve really learned from doing it wrong that helping people find work and feel good about themselves is really the way to go,” Hibbard said.