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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Third-World Housing Design

H.E.R.O. has spent an immense amount of time over the past two weeks researching the best possible design for the development of our residence for street children and orphans. There exist so many options out there now, including homes built from recycled trash, hay bale homes, homes built out of tires, aerated block homes, just to name a few. After taking a hard look at all of these designs we have found one in particular to be of great interest, and for H.E.R.O., the preferred method of building in Haiti. This is the new future of housing.

EcoShells are dome houses that can be built with building materials found locally in Haiti: cement and rebar. Instead of using concrete blocks, however, an EcoShell uses an airform, basically a large balloon that you blow up to fit the size of the home one wants to build. The rebar is then bent over the dome, and finished off with a thick layer of cement. The result is a dome shaped building with up to 30 times the strength of a traditional concrete block home, that is earthquake, hurricane, and infestation proof.

We have chosen a 40 foot diameter dome for each unit of our development, with the goal of building five 1,250 square foot domes. Once each dome is constructed the interior design of the building will be completed to fit our needs, depending on whether the EcoShell is for the dormitory, multipurpose room, guest house, or clinic. This will allow H.E.R.O. to build a development capable of housing, educating, and rehabilitating 40 orphans.

You can learn more about EcoShells and other types of dome houses at

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Relationships Matter

I wanted to tell you a short story about how important relationships are in Haiti. And no, I am not talking about personal intimate relationships; I am talking about relationships between organizations that are trying to uild a better Haiti.

When I first moved to Haiti in August of 2009 I had the opportunity to work with street children through an organization called SOPUDEP ( Thanks to the hard work of Rea Dol, Director of SOPUDEP, H.E.R.O. has formed a strong partnership with SOPUDEP. Together H.E.R.O. and SOPUDEP have worked to educate street children, distributed disaster relief supplies, and learned Kreyol (H.E.R.O). and English (SOPUDEP). This is a partnership that has worked most importantly to benefit the people of Haiti.

When I returned to Haiti on March 30th, 2010 I looked around and commented on my Blog that I did not see the presence of the American Red Cross. After my Aunt Carolyn e-mailed the media relations department, I toured their work in Haiti, I printed my retraction. To top it off, the American Red Cross has gone beyond this, upon my humble request, and donated 100 tarps to SOPUDEP. Wow!

SOPUDEP is in the process of building temporary classrooms for their students. The school was damaged during the earthquake, and they are currently holding classes outside in the hot sun. This project is utilizing locally harvested bamboo, tarps, and a small concrete block foundation to create classrooms.

The lesson to obtain from this is that relationships between organizations in Haiti are the most important factor that will result in a better Haiti. The American Red Cross (a very large organization), SOPUDEP (a medium sized local grassroots organization), and H.E.R.O. (a small organization) effectively partnered together to benefit the children of Haiti. This is what collaboration, disaster relief, and efficient programs look like. Together, we can do even more!


Steven Kirby

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Who We Serve

In August of 2009 I made a commitment to teach in Haiti for 2 years. As a result of the earthquake I had a choice to make. I could have returned to the United States, refocused on the plight of urban America, and devoted myself to the needs of students and children in the inner city. I chose, however, to remain in Haiti, not so much because I had made a commitment, but I found somewhere that inspired me, and showed me that so near to our borders there are countries in need of even more help than the poorest individuals in our country. The commitment H.E.R.O. has now made to Haiti is not one of 1-2 years, but for a lifetime. Our goal is to help the next generation of youth in Haiti, to become educated and participatory citizens in their democracy. Which youth, though, is an important question?

There are, in my opinion, four layers (one could argue 10) of wealth and poverty in Haiti. Don’t let anyone ever tell you there aren’t wealthy people in Haiti, because there are, plenty. And similarly to the United States there are those wealthy individuals who feel it is their responsibility to help those less fortunate than themselves, and there are the wealthy that choose not to help their own country, even thought the most degrading poverty in the Western Hemisphere is outside their front door. There exists a middle class in Haiti, and there also exists the poor, but the poor that find a meal everyday and even have daily jobs. But, this fourth level of stratification, the one we don’t see too often in first world countries like the United States is that of abject poverty. It is the orphans and street children of Haiti whose life conditions are a result of abject poverty that H.E.R.O. seeks to help. We want to serve the most disenfranchised youth in Haiti.

We are educators at H.E.R.O. We hold firmly to the belief that not only can all children learn, but that all children have the potential to become college and work ready educated individuals. Education is what we do best. There are many orphanages, foreign-built schools and programs, etc. that provide educational opportunities. Some work with the top students in all of Haiti, some work with anybody that shows up at their doorstep, some offer quality programs, some do not. Each of the founders of H.E.R.O. has worked with underserved populations in the United States and abroad and we are uniquely qualified to provide the best educational opportunities to the most disenfranchised youth in Haiti. We all feel a duty, a responsibility, because of our fortune to have lived and been educated in the United States, to provide the same opportunities to others. We hope that you will continue to follow us, encourage us, and support us during this experience. Together, we can make a difference one child at a time.

Steven Kirby


Friday, May 7, 2010

A Conversation About Poverty

How does one explain the dichotomy between wealth and poverty? Even the idea of poverty is difficult to explain, because the reality is that poverty in one place does not equal poverty in another. I started my career in education at the age of 16 while travelling in the Fiji Islands. After working for a week at a school where children went barefoot and had limited access to educational resources, my eyes were opened to the reality of the world: it is an unfair place.

I have worked in urban environments in the United States since the age of 18, beginning by running an after-school program for urban youth in South Miami, culminating in teaching 3 years in the inner-city of Miami and a year on Dickerson Road in Nashville, known for its drugs, violence, and prostitution. But, you know something, after living and working in Haiti, the poverty there does not compare to any other place I have ever been. Here in the United States every child is required to attend school until the age of 16, a privilege that many children in third world countries do not have. Despite this privilege, why is it that we still have a broken system of public education in the United States? Why do students in urban environments still have the lowest-performing teachers, inadequate schools and resources, and a “pretend to care” attitude from school districts and states?

In contrast, only 50% of children in Haiti even have the opportunity to attend school, specifically because 90% of the schools are private and require payment. And when the children do go to school, the resources of the schools are so limited, and the availability of quality teachers is low, that sometimes the only items in a classroom are chalk and a chalkboard. I just want to know, how do we reconcile these differences in life? How do we deal with the reality that our lives are often predetermined by where we are born, not the knowledge, skills, and ability that we are born with?

There are 2 conversations that must simultaneously take place. 1. United States Public Schools in urban environments are underperforming and we MUST provide the same opportunity to learn for all children in this country, no matter the circumstances. 2. Children in countries like Haiti continue to suffer from poor access to education, health care, and basic human rights. Continue these discussions with your friends, neighbors, colleagues, and coworkers. Together, through a unified effort, not only can we continue this discussion, but we can make an impact on the lives of children, both in the United States and abroad.

Steven Kirby
H.E.R.O., President

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Raining Cats and Dogs

I cannot believe that I have already been in 2 natural disasters this year! First the earthquake in Haiti, and now the worst flooding in Nashville, EVER! I was due to go to Minnesota at the request of my Cousin Mia to give presentations about Haiti to her FCCLA group and other classes at local schools. I arrived at the Nashville airport, Sunday, and I can tell you that the weather looked horrible. Southwest had us board the plane, and then sit and wait for a break in the weather for a chance to take off. Fortunately, such a break did occur, and we were off. It was one of the bumpiest rides I have ever been on. I was lucky to get out; Nashville closed the entire airport at 3:00 that afternoon.

After safely arriving in Apple Valley, Minnesota, Mia took me on a quick tour of the Mall of America (cross it off my bucket list) and then we spent the afternoon and evening with her two sons (Tyler and Corey) and her husband Paul, a pilot for Southwest. On Monday I went with Mia to the high school she works at, and watched as she taught a course on human relationships with her students. Her students had taken fake babies home for the weekend, and they all said they were absolutely exhausted from the babies crying all the time!

Today I had the pleasure of first visiting Tyler’s 4th grade classroom and presenting about Haiti. I was so impressed at how much the children knew about Haiti, and they had fantastic questions about my experiences during the earthquake, comparing it to the earthquake in Chile, and what can be done to help Haiti. I then went to Corey’s first grade class, and again, to see first graders get so emotional about Haiti was amazing. After I described the elementary schools in Haiti as most not having libraries, several of the first graders were adamant that they should donate books to Haiti so that the children could have libraries. It was really sweet.

Finally, this evening I presented to Mia’s FCCLA high school student group. I talked about Haiti, my experience during the earthquake, and that I hope they will continue the conversation about Haiti and help make it a better place. The students were so excited, that by the end of the presentation they all wanted to take a Christmas/New Years volunteer trip to Haiti to help build our orphanage! Again, I cannot express how awesome it is to see youth in America excited to help others less fortunate.

Thank you Mia, Paul, Tyler, and Corey for a wonderful time in Minnesota! I can’t wait to come back!

Steven Kirby