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B.C. ironworkers help rebuild quake-ravaged Haiti trade school

Union members team up with Builders Without Borders group
Paul Beacom, from Local 97 of the Ironworkers Union of B.C. and Caroline Hart, of Builders Without Borders, examine blueprints on the site of the rebuilt school.

A crew of B.C. ironworkers has raised spirits in Haiti after helping rebuild a trade school that crumbled during an earthquake six years ago.

On Jan. 12, 2010, Haiti was hit by a magnitude-7 quake that razed tens of thousands of commercial buildings and killed between 220,000 and 316,000 people, according to widely varying estimates from NGOs and the country’s government.

Corruption and theft drained humanitarian aid and the country still struggles to recover, but over the past two years a Canadian fundraising campaign raised $1.6 million to rebuild a severely damaged trade school.

The B.C. and Canadian construction associations, along with Builders Without Borders, are funding and managing construction of L’Ecole Lakay in Port-au-Prince.

Before the school was damaged, 80 boys from neighbouring poverty-stricken townships were given room and board there while learning trades such as woodworking, metalwork, electrical and plumbing.

The new 2,000-square-metre, earthquake-resistant Lakay Trade School will have space for 200 students when construction is completed this summer.

Paul Beacom, dispatcher for the Local 97 of the Ironworkers Union of B.C., assembled a team of six to travel to Haiti on Jan. 28.

Through Facebook’s messenger app, Beacom said the team completed the building’s erection, including its floor and roof decking.

The ironworkers also shared some tricks of the trade with local workers.

Beacom said the Haitians were friendly, but the country is still in turmoil: “Gunfire, people defecating in the streets, the constant smell of burning garbage and plastics ... all the young people with not much future or hope.”

But after seeing the children’s appreciation of the team’s work and the trade students’ willingness to help, Beacom would be happy to return, he said.

Beacom believes more volunteer work would have a great impact on the Haitians’ quality of life.

“Not everything needs to be monetary,” he said.

“Sharing knowledge and information, a sense of brotherhood and humanity, can really make a difference.”

Caroline Hart, spokeswoman for Builders Without Borders, joined the ironworkers for part of their two-week mission.

Hart said there was political unrest in Haiti because of its stalled elections. The compound where they built the school was surrounded by shantytowns and rivers filled with garbage. Still, the country is “beautiful,” she said.

“About five times the guys had to come down off the second floor of the building because there was AK-47 gunfire outside the compound,” Hart said.

But “every morning, out of those shantytowns, came these beautiful little children, all perfectly dressed for school.”