Union carpenters help with Haiti housing

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Group effort: Union carpenters from Local 1005 in Hobart, along with members of Grace Fellowship Church in DeMotte, volunteered to help residents of Pignon, Haiti, build a church and housing earlier this year in their village. | Supplied photo

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This is the second installment of an advertorial series on the United Brotherhood of Carpenters running this week in the Post-Tribune. Wednesday’s installment will detail what it takes to become an apprentice carpenter and what is taught during the program at the Hobart training facility.

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In a remote area of Haiti, sandwiched between two sugar cane fields, union carpenters Carey L. Foley and Bill Van Blaircom recently worked alongside fellow church members, using materials donated by their local chapter to build housing for orphans and a place of worship in a land where modern amenities are scarce and many still live in tents.

Foley, who is a retired member of Carpenters Union Local 1005 in Hobart, and Van Blaircom, an active member of the local, volunteered their time and talents in March to lead a crew of 19 others from Grace Fellowship Church in DeMotte during the mission. None of the others had carpentry skills, but were eager to learn, Foley said.

Foley said the carpenters union provided support money, tools and supplies for the trip. Van Blaircom, who like Foley lives in DeMotte, said he intended to ask the Local 1005 for $500 to help pay for his trip, but the Local ended up footing his full bill, which took him by surprise.

Foley said he was in charge of constructing two dormitories for girls, which are 16-foot by 20-foot buildings with metal roofs and built-in bunk beds, while Van Blaircom led the volunteers in building the church from the ground up.

Van Blaircom said the church is a 20-foot by 50-foot building similar to a pole barn. There is no steeple or other decorative touches that adorn many churches in the U.S. and other countries.

“We had to take our own tools on the airplane and all the building materials were shipped down. They had nothing there,” said Van Blaircom, who said his father, Bill Van Blaircom, and stepson, Ryan Arnett, 15, accompanied him.

Primitive conditions

He said few buildings are made of wood in Haiti because its residents cut down most of the trees to use the wood for cooking purposes. Most houses are made of masonry. The house in which they stayed had no electric power, but it was powered by solar during the day and by a generator at night, Van Blaircom said.

Van Blaircom described a grueling three-hour drive from their arrival in the city of Port-Au-Prince to their remote destination of Pignon, traveling over unpaved roads half of the way and an occasional river crossing with no bridge. He said along the way they passed some cities where people still live in tents.

Van Blaircom said Pignon was not affected by the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated much of the country in 2010, but it is poverty-stricken.

“Some of the children were borderline malnourished,” he said.

The 2 ½-mile trip to the work site each day took them over pothole-filled dirt roads that were turned to mud from the rains.

Finding satisfaction

The temperatures soared to the upper 90s as they worked eight-hour days. Van Blaircom said while most of the children could speak English, thanks to all the Americans visiting the country in relief efforts, language was a barrier with the adults, who speak French Creole.

Still, Foley called the trip an eye-opening and gratifying experience.

“I enjoyed it. The people were very, very much appreciative of the work we did,” said Foley, who along with Van Blaircom is considering going back to the country with the church next year. Foley said there was talk of building a couple more girls’ dorms and doing more work on the church.

Van Blaircom said his 13-year-old daughter wants to join him and his stepson on the next trip.

While this was Foley’s first trip to Haiti, it was not his or the union’s first goodwill measure. Foley said he did a lot of volunteer work as an active carpenter union member, including working on local needy and disabled peoples’ houses as part of Christmas in April and building new homes with Habitat for Humanity.

“The union asks and we volunteer,” Foley said of himself and other carpenter union workers.

“The carpenters union is very active in doing volunteer work and giving a lot of money and donations to various causes. It helps take care of people in need,” said Foley, an active union member for 32 years who has been retired for five years.

Provided by Custom Media Solutions, for the United Brotherhood of Carpenters