U.Va. Student Starts Organization to Build Schools in Haiti

Listen to the UVA Today Radio Show report on this story by Marian Anderfuren:

June 10, 2010 — The devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12 destroyed 70 percent of the country's schools.

While people from around the world have contributed to disaster relief funds, University of Virginia rising second-year student Ania Turnier, a native of Haiti, hopes to make a long-term impact by starting a student organization to improve the education of Haitian children.

"We've been suffering in terms of development for a long time," Turnier said. "Now Haiti needs more help than ever."

Building Haiti, a new contracted independent organization at the University, will raise money to build single-room schoolhouses in Haiti.

Education efforts appeal to Turnier, who said a stronger education system will relieve Haiti's dependence on foreign aid.

"The education system has never been good," Turnier said. "It is a serious hindrance to our progression."

U.Va. architecture professor Anselmo Canfora and a group of architecture students will develop the schoolroom design this summer. The rooms will be built individually or can be aggregated to make a school of multiple classrooms.

"The concept is to develop a design that makes effective use of indigenous materials and local building customs while helping advance building technology and safety," Canfora said. The schoolrooms will be designed considering the seismic activity of the area and feature natural ventilation and light.

Each schoolroom will accommodate 25 to 30 students at a time and requires $10,000 in funds. The first school project will have 14 rooms, so the initial fundraising goal is $140,000.

Turnier and Canfora, who also directs Initiative reCOVER, will work with several organizations to design and build the schools. The engineering firm ARUP will provide in-kind engineering services, ATP2 will assist with logistics, and the Muci Foundation will construct many of the schools.

Turnier also wants to expand Building Haiti to other colleges to increase student involvement, particularly among Haitians attending U.S. and Canadian universities.

Building Haiti is responsible for raising funds to build the schools. Turnier hopes to raise $10,000 so construction can begin on the first school later this year. Maison Henri Deschamps, an education company in Haiti, will manage the schools.

Turnier has also established relationships with organizations to provide food for the students, supply trees for reforestation projects and manage finances.

Students attending Building Haiti schools will participate in reforestation community service projects, which Turnier participated in as a Haitian student. Clearcutting of Haitian forests has led to increased devastation when tropical storms strike the nation, with heavy rains causing severe flooding and mudslides.

Turnier was involved in community service and economic development projects long before the January earthquake. At age 15, she started a Leo Club – the youth organization of the Lions Clubs – called "Haiti Perle des Antilles."

Building Haiti will name its first classroom in honor of Stephanie Jean-Charles, a U.Va. graduate student killed in the earthquake and a friend of Turnier.

— By Laura Hoffman