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No handouts for Haiti

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Donald Stevens is president of Shelter2Home Inc., a Winchester-based company that builds emergency and transitional shelters that convert to permanent homes for people in Haiti. The second anniversary of the devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake in that country is Thursday. Dennis Grundman/Daily

City firm provides young people with jobs instead

By Candace Sipos -- csipos@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- Donald Stevens' biggest fear when he's in Haiti is getting in a car crash.

He left for his 25th trip to the politically torn and earthquake-shaken country Monday, and he'll be there for the second anniversary of one of the most devastating natural disasters in history.

"People have been living in tents -- they've been camping for two years," he said with awe, explaining the turmoil still experienced by Haitians across their homeland.

The poverty and disorganization there is often unfathomable for Americans, he noted. In the event of a severe crash, he knows he wouldn't be able to make it to a hospital with the proper supplies in time.

He visited the county three weeks after the 7.0-magnitude left hundreds of thousands dead and even more homeless on Jan. 12, 2010.

"It was sort of like my computer crashing -- it just crashed," he said. "For almost six months, it was just chaos."

Stevens' company, Shelter2Home Inc., based in Winchester, had been setting up shop in the country for almost a year before the earthquake hit. He hired 65 Haitian workers to build houses for the working poor, who are often being financially supported by foreign aid organizations, and other projects for the commercial sector.

"Haiti needs jobs," he said. "They don't need any more handouts or Band-Aids. It's not about bringing Americans down and solving Haiti's problems."

The company received a $225,000 grant from Cross International, a Miami-based nonprofit, to train young people from the Pwoje Espwa Sud Orphanage. Stevens spoke highly of one young man, Jocelyn Nelson, who he calls, "ti-boss."

"Eventually, he has the ability to take a management position," Stevens said.

With an architectural degree and a background as a professional builder, Stevens said he eventually "got tired of building wooden houses." He designed a concept of a emergency/transitional steel shelter that could be converted into a permanent home.

The design includes a galvanized, panelized steel frame, easily transported in pieces in a truck bed and assembled in less than a day, that could serve as a tent during an emergency. Afterward, however, about 12 inches of concrete would permanently glue the frame in place and a stucco siding could finish it off.

Stevens said no one else has employed the concept.

"There's nothing wrong with the system, except that nobody knows about it," he said.

And once aid organizations and the Haitian people learned about its effectiveness, business took off.

The company has built orphan housing and 10 private homes and is currently building 40 more, as well as a 12-classroom school and another school and chapel.

Stevens hopes to eventually sell the Haitian branch of Shelter2Home Inc., Shelter2Home-Haiti S.A., to a Haitian partner. He remains hopeful for the county's future.
"I think Haiti is starting to turn the corner," he said. "However, it's a pretty large corner."

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