Bloomington Man Builds Schools In Haiti Amid Disasters, Unrest
A Bloomington man who created a charity to help Haiti is trying to build schools that are more resistant to earthquakes and hurricanes.
Steve Johnson of Bloomington is a retired video producer in Bloomington. He founded an organization called the PEACE Project in Haiti that built and operates three free schools in Haiti. PEACE stands for Promoting Education and Community Empowerment. Those schools provide an education to about 550 students.
Johnson said he got involved in Haiti shortly before a devastating earthquake in 2010. His charity is building a new school to replace an existing school that operates out of an old house in Carrefour, a coastal city just outside Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s largest city.
Johnson said the steel structure was premade in Arkansas and shipped to the Caribbean country.
“The earthquake taught me that Haiti’s concrete and building methods were terrible,” Johnson said. “Part of the reason so many buildings fell down and 250,000 people died in 2010 is because the construction methods have been so poor, they cut corners when making concrete and don’t put as much rebar in things.”
Johnson said he's been disappointed to see so little investment in education in Haiti. It's the poorest country in the western Hemisphere. Johnson said the PEACE Project offers a mostly free education, while even public schools in Haiti require families pay for their children to attend.
“Our heart goes out to them. It’s a wretched, incredibly difficult place to live,” he said, adding that NGOs (non-government organizations) such as the PEACE Project are responsible for most of the development in Haiti.
Johnson added the recent political turmoil in Haiti had made the country less safe and has made transporting materials more difficult. That unrest includes violence following the recent assassination of Haiti’s president and the deportation of Haitian refugees from the U.S., a move which promoted the U.S. Special Envoy for Haiti to resign.
Johnson said police are largely ineffective in Haiti and security is nonexistent.
“The gangs are taking over,” he said, adding the crews have to take backroads through Port-au-Prince to avoid the risk of violence when delivering materials to the new school site.
Johnson said the charity has spent $650,000 on the three schools over the last decade. Johnson said the charity is funded through private donors and relies on an all-volunteer staff and board of directors, so it had little overhead.
Johnson said he would like to grow the group’s donor base to help cover costs and help the organization do more. Johnson said he understands the desire to help people within U.S borders first, but he said organizations like his offer the only hope many Haitian people have.
“Here in the U.S., there is a support system,” Johnson replied in response to the recent destruction Hurricane Ida caused in Louisiana. “At some point, here in the U.S. (electricity) will be restored. For many years now, essentially the people we are working with do not have electricity.”
More information on the charity’s efforts can be found at peaceprojecthaiti.org.