By Andrew Johnston
Mirebalais, Haiti – On a team of hard workers, Iguenson Joseph, 27, is a standout performer. Although Iguenson had no construction experience when he joined the project in early 2011, he has become a very important member of the team.
Iguenson brings energy to Mirebalais Hospital construction team in two senses of the word. From the start, he has had a strong and resonant sense of team spirit. Iguensen joined the project as a laborer and security guard. During his first weeks on the project, some of the workers called him “Ti Chèn” or “little chain” because he opened and closed the chain at the main gate.
Enthusiastic and personable, he soon got to know many members of the team. Through a casual conversation, John Chew, a PIH staffer, learned that Iguensen spoke English and had some electrical training. Iguensen was then reassigned to the electrical team. Through hard work, eagerness to learn, and enthusiasm, Iguensen soon distinguished himself on the challenging task of building the electrical system for the Mirebalais hospital.
“You never know who you have around you,” says John Chew. “If you never take time to ask people how they are and what they do, you can miss out on big opportunities.”
Over the past months, Iguenson has worked closely with a series of experienced electricians from the U.S. who donate their time to the project. He has installed switches, breakers, lights, and fans. In the process, Iguenson and others learn skills that are crucial for the reconstruction of Haiti.
Sound construction skills and experience are particularly important for this generation of Haitians, because construction skills are in demand now and improper construction was a main cause of injury and death during the January 12, 2010 earthquake.
It’s an exciting time for the electrical team as lights and fans have just been installed and are now running in much of the hospital. It’s difficult to pull Iguenson away from wiring the Women’s Outpatient Ward, but I sit him down for a short break on 4:30 on a Friday evening. Brucely Joseph, a Haitian American engineer assigned to a PIH agriculture and livelihoods project provides Creole translation.
Although Iguenson has been working hard since 6:00 AM, he has an easy smile and the relaxed, upbeat demeanor of someone who likes what he does and is good at it. In a few minutes, he will be back to his work amid wires, switches, and conduits. He will finish after dusk and start again with the rest of the Mirebalais team early Saturday morning.
Andrew: Thank you for taking a break to speak with me. How long have you worked on this project?
Iguenson: For about eight months.
Andrew: Why did you choose to work here?
Iguenson: For me, it’s important, there are not many hospitals [in Haiti]. For me, this work is a pleasure. I give all my wishes for this work to be a success.
Andrew: What do you do here?
Iguenson: I do all but especially electricity – electrical technician. I also help out by translating between Creole and English for workers on the site.
I do this to help my country. I do this to help my family too. I have two kids. My daughter, Truerlie, is two years old and my son, Tomson, is two and a half months.
Andrew: What does your family think?
Iguenson: My family likes it very much that I am doing this work. Before this project, I worked as a teacher and I did not earn as much. As a teacher, I could not provide much for my family.
Andrew: What do you want for your children?
Iguenson: I want them to go to school and take the hard subjects, and to continue on to university. I was studying physics but had to stop before graduation. I want them to be able to finish.
When I was two, my father died. We did not know if I would ever go to school. My cousin paid my tuition to school on condition that I do well. I did, I never repeated a single class. I have five sisters and one brother. One is married, the rest are in school in Mirebalais.
I want to give my children what I don’t have – even a laptop. That’s development.
Andrew: What are your future plans?
Iguenson: Even after construction is finished, I would want to keep working here. I have gained a lot of experience, great project work with the volunteers who have come down from the states. I have installed large safety switches and panel breakers; this is rare in Haiti. I want to keep working and study electricity.
Andrew: What about working on such a large, diverse team?
Iguenson: We work very well together, the Haitians and the American volunteers. Tom, a volunteer, was very important to me. He encouraged me. He often said that he liked my work. He supported me. He trusted me. We still talk on the phone every weekend. I do not like it when foreigners give only money. I also want respect and opportunities to work and learn. When my son was born, I named him Tomson, to remember my friend in the U.S. I met people who I would never have expected or hoped to meet.
Andrew: How has Mirebalais changed since the earthquake?
Iguenson: People are moving here from Port-au-Prince. More foreigners have come.
The Hospital will be a big change in Mirebalais. Lots of people die when there is not a hospital.
I wish a change for Haiti and the world. More honesty, less insecurity. Much less economic stress. The way the economy is now here, you can’t afford health care. More economic opportunities are necessary. Many other towns in Haiti need hospitals. We must work to develop our country.
“We must work together and collaborate to make this project a success for us and because of all of the support,” Iguenson proudly declares. “We work harder and harder every day to make it a success.”
And with that, Iguensen gets up and heads back to Women’s Health to return to his work with wires, switches, and electrical conduits.
Andrew Johnston works on the Mirebalais Hospital project in Haiti.