Degaje - Make it work

Degaje is the Haitian Creole phrase meaning, "make it work." In a country that is so dependent on foreign assistance and without any substantial manufacturing, when a piece of higher technology breaks down, there are no replacement parts and either it is made to work or left to decay. When I was in Port-au-Prince last year I was impressed with the welder at the Calvary Christian Fellowship Orphanage.
From Haiti, Port-au-Prince

His personal protection for welding consisted of flip flops for his feet and dark sunglasses for his eyes. That was not out of ordinary for some people in the US, but his power source for this arc welder was an example of "degaje."
From Haiti, Port-au-Prince

It looks to me like a battery with lots of metal wire coated around it. In principle, perfect, but nothing I've seen stateside.

On this most recent trip, I had to live out "degaje" in small ways. After the earthquake, the American style toilets in the Leogane orphanage of Mission E4 were in the unstable and unsafe orphanage building. So mission director Scott Long began the construction of a new shower and bath house. When we arrived, the toilets needed to be removed from the damaged house and placed in the new facility. This is the bathroom stall, waiting for cement finish work, a wall, and, most importantly, a toilet.
From Haiti trip Feb 2010

The Haitians, hired for $10 a day, a very good wage, took care of the cement, but we Americans had to frame the wall and install the toilet. I got the toilet job because my brother is a plumber for Ceil Plumbing and Heating of Stonington, CT and I've watched him install one or two. This is a picture of the cracks in the walls over the bathroom.
From Haiti trip Feb 2010

I headed into the cracked building and began to wrestle with the rusted nuts and bolts of the toilet. Normally, my brother cuts the bolts, but toilet bolts aren't as easy to come by in Haiti, 25 miles from the capital, after a major earthquake, nor is WD-40. With much perseverance, I got one off, but the second one, closest to the dim corner and hardest to access, and on my weaker left hand, was not willing to separate. My rocking and wrestling with the bowl did liberate spiders and very large cockroaches. I couldn't believe the quantity of chicken tender size roaches could live under a bolted down toilet. It was like the clowns coming out of the circus car. By lunch, I only had one bolt off and the toilet needed to be installed by dinner.

Scott drove me into the Leogane city to a standing hardware store. They didn't have the bolts, so I needed to finish the job. One the other problems was the PVC pipe to the sewer was too high off the floor. I slid the toilet bowl attachment plate on it, but it did not slide down at all so I could cut off the excess. Nor could I pull it off to cut it down. In the country of abundant cement, I built a form and asked the Haitians to pour enough to raise the level up to the plate. I went back to the bolt, and got fed up and rocked the bowl back and forth until the bolt and bowl popped right off with no breaks!

When it came time to install the toilet in the new place, after the cement set and the wall was installed, the bolts proved to be of no use anyway. I set the wax ring down, dropped the toilet on, and tried very hard to align the bolts with the holes in the plate. The toilet set down correctly, no leaks, but only one bolt seemed to catch, but I was unable to tighten it back through the rust. I made it work, though not up to any code. My brother now tells me, caulking around it will help it stay in place as well as the bolts.
From Haiti trip Feb 2010

One thing that kept this job simpler was the fact that no water lines were running into it. This toilet would be a bucket flusher. A big barrel of water stood outside the door that the user would dip into to make sure everything flows to the septic system.

But this was the simple job. The harder job, came a couple days later.

Build a bridge.

Scott bought property across the street to build a campground for the homeless. He had three dump truck loads of crushed limestone delivered next to the property. The only difficulty was the eight foot deep, 24 foot wide drainage ditch. The Haitian work crew would prepare a concrete bridge over the week for dump trucks to use, but in the meanwhile, we had tents and stone and property ready for a few people, if a foot bridge could be made. So Scott assigned me and Jimn Kyles and Kenny Ortiz to the engineering task. We had no clue how to "degaje" this task, but one of the contractors on our team sketched us a truss bridge on a 2x4, which became our blueprint. This is Kenny holding up our skeleton of a bridge.
From Haiti trip Feb 2010

We did a little digging to widen the landing on the land side. None of our diagonal beams are of equal length because I wanted to avoid cutting. The Haitians and American contractors in the orphanage were using the power tools and the generator, which left me with a hand saw. I didn't have time for a hand saw, so I found scrap pieces of lumber left by the other guys and made them work for our purposes. I'm not a very good hammer and nail guy either. We were using 4 inch nails that needed several good hammer whacks. I missed the nail twice and hit my thumb with force instead. My hammering time ended. This is my thumb and the bridge I sacrificed it for.
From Haiti trip Feb 2010

By lunch time, Kenny and Jimn had cross pieces in and we were ready for decking.
From Haiti trip Feb 2010

We planned on cutting the plywood to fit around the pieces sticking up, but Scott saved us by bringing over the generator and a Sawsall. He cut off the non-flush parts, we laid the plywood down, nailed it in, and our contractor teammate Bradley took the circular saw to the overhang. We ended up with a beautiful foot bridge. We "made it work." That's Bradley on the left.
From Haiti trip Feb 2010

We then moved all this sand to the property. Six inches of sand will drain when the rain comes and keep the mud off the tents.
From Haiti trip Feb 2010

Jimn and Kenny pushed all the sand around to make a level base for the tents.
From Haiti trip Feb 2010

Here is Jimn in front of a few newly erected tents, which became homes that night along with 4 other tents for a few displaced, fatherless families. A day earlier, this was a property covered with banana trees, but cleared by a crew of Haitians with machetes. Now a campsite for multiple tents and a sewage pit dug by other Haitians. A few days later, while we were doing other things, the Haitian crew had expanded the campsite pad, so I helped Pastors George Small and Dick Stark set up a few more tents. Kenny the city boy from Philly also set up the first tents of his life as well. "Degaje"
From Haiti trip Feb 2010

When we left, the Haitians had made substantial progress on the real bridge. They "made it work" with pick axes and shovels, 2x4's and nails, large stones, rebar and cement, and a crew of a dozen guys who worked hard all day in the heat and high humidity on one meal a day. They know how to "degaje."
From Haiti trip Feb 2010


Haiti needs assistance to "degaje" through the rainy season, starting next week, and rebuild their homes and their lives. Their government couldn't get much worse than it was before the quake. They need charitable investment by individuals from wealthier places like the US. Even citizens of the Dominican Republic are raising funds for Haiti. We need to join them to make it work. Please donate. I can only speak of what I know. I saw Samaritan's Purse at work down there. I worked with Mission E4. And I know Calvary Chapel Port-au-Prince has made it's own displaced persons camp in PaP. Haiti needs help over the long term. Please invest.
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