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Notre Dame E2E group develops novel housing solution for Haiti

| Tuesday, September 23, 2014

In response to the 2010 earthquake, members of the Notre Dame engineering department formed “Engineering2Empower,” or E2E, a housing initiative with the goal of designing safe and affordable houses that Haitian families can buy from Haitian businesses.

Following a investigatory mission to Haiti in March 2010, Notre Dame faculty members Tracy Kijewski-Correa and Alexandros Taflanidis, with graduate student Dustin Mix, created the group, which works with local families and builders to meet specific housing needs.

“It was possible to just write a [reconnaissance] report and let that be the end of it,” Mix, current in-country director of E2E, said. “Or we could try and go the long road and actually do something about what we saw.”

Kijewski-Correa, associate professor of engineering, said the group felt a stronger call to help the people of Haiti rather than simply analyze and evaluate the problems facing their community.

“Many other groups did the recon and left,” Kijewski-Correa said.  “We didn’t leave. We all became engineers to serve society in some way, and these were the populations that were really faceless and voiceless.

“We weren’t going to just study the problem. We were going to try and solve it.”

An estimated 1.3 million Haitian people were left homeless after the earthquake, primarily because of the poor quality of Haitian home construction, according to a University press release.

“Lasting solutions to infrastructure problems in the developing world can only be established through true and bold innovations that can build capacity and empower the local population,” E2E’s website states. “Failure to do so … can ultimately perpetuate the dependence on foreign aid.”

Taflanidis, associate professor of engineering, said foreign aid is a part of the solution for Haiti but not a full remedy.

“The aid is needed, but it doesn’t solve the problem,” Taflanidis said. “It just puts a patch over it. Now, four years later, we’re seeing Haitians starting to build their homes in exactly the same ways they were building before.”

At the end of last semester, Notre Dame graduate and undergraduate students constructed two prototypes of the Haitian home designs on campus. These prototypes are showcased at the E2E Expo Open Houses before home football games.

“The design we are promoting is a concrete frame with panels,” Taflanidis said. “At Notre Dame, we tried to replicate the conditions in Haiti by having our undergrads, untrained and unskilled laborers, make and install the panels.”

According to E2E’s website, an estimated 600 thousand Haitian homes still need to be reconstructed due to damage from the earthquake.

“As much as I would love to build 600 thousand homes, I am equally honored to build 10 homes that are built in a way that will still be used 10 years from now and will have long term sustainable impacts,” Kijewski-Correa said.

Mix said E2E worked with a Haitian family to build the first demonstration home in the city of Léogâne in 2014. E2E plans to construct five more demonstration homes with financially eligible Haitian families throughout 2015.

“This could be a 10- or 15-year process because we’re not just building houses,” Mix said. “We’re helping to create a housing market in Haiti with the ultimate goal of empowering and being able to step back and leave everything in the hands of the Haitians.”

Kijewski-Correa said Notre Dame and its community could play a vital role in continuing E2E’s work in Haiti.

“We’re taking things one house at a time,” she said.  “All we hope for now is that alumni and students will hear the story and join us in this opportunity for change, in what I feel like is Notre Dame’s unique responsibility in the world.”

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About Katie Galioto

Katie, The Observer's former Managing Editor, is a senior majoring in political science, with minors in Business Economics and Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She's an ex-Walsh Hall resident who now lives off campus and hails from Chanhassen, Minnesota. Follow her on Twitter @katiegalioto.

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