How to Rebuild Haiti Using Trash
A cranky, old Dallas inventor has come up with a way — if he can just get out of his own way.
The story pours out of Harvey Lacey quickly, an avalanche of fresh grievances crashing down the mountain of previous slights and avoidable mistakes that have accumulated during his time in Port-au-Prince.
The main one is this: Sam Bloch and the team at Haiti Communitere want to take it slow, and Lacey is damn well tired of taking it slow. He has already taken it slow enough.
When Lacey leaves in a few days, the house—built of blocks made from recycled plastic trash; his idea, he calls it Ubuntu-Blox—still won’t be finished. It will be close, but close is never good enough for him. He doesn’t half-ass any job; back in Texas, where he builds fences and staircases, ingenious in their design and craftsmanship, he is known for giving his high-end clients more than they expected for less than they were expecting to pay. And close is certainly not good enough here. This isn’t any job to him. It’s a mission. Lacey came here to train Haitian women to build these houses and, goddammit, he’s not done yet.
But the house is close enough to completion that it’s time to start talking about where Ubuntu-Blox goes next. Lacey and Bloch had one of those conversations a few hours ago, and that’s what he’s telling me about now.
It’s just after 9 pm on Thursday, March 29. I’ve been in Haiti for a couple of days. Lacey has been here for almost a month. The rest of the residents of Haiti Communitere have mostly retreated to their rooms or tents. We’re sitting at a picnic table on the front porch of the compound and, except for the church service down the street that never seems to stop, it’s quiet. Lacey is delivering his own kind of sermon. As always, he has the voice and cadence of a country preacher and the vocabulary of a stevedore. (And the fluffy white beard of both.) He calls himself a welder, but he is much more than that. An untrained engineer and self-taught inventor, the 64-year-old Lacey holds three patents on building systems. He hasn’t had a real job in three decades, and he hasn’t needed one. Someone always needs Lacey to build something, to come up with a creative solution to a peculiar problem.
Lacey says Bloch is worried that going too fast might lead to substandard houses; it takes only a few, maybe even just one, to discredit Ubuntu-Blox, to unravel the entire project. In that case, Lacey says, they need to start working on hiring a certified inspection team. Because soon enough, he believes, Haitians will be screaming for 200 machines to build the blocks, to build the houses, and he is beyond ready. He’s been ready for that since the idea for Ubuntu-Blox came to him in a dream.
He bristles at the idea of going slow, doesn’t understand it anymore than he understands the Creole everyone speaks here. He looks at the simplicity of the design—bags of shredded Styrofoam baled into blocks, then wired together tight, the blocks made with simple machines and sweat, the rest with more hard work and a set of diagonal pliers—and feels like the entire enterprise should be so simple. Teach them how to use the machines, how to build the house, give them access, and—boom. Instant revolution. If everyone would just get out of his way, they’d already be building real Ubuntu-Blox houses for people in Cité Soleil and Wharf Jeremy, not just bickering over how to finish building another model home at Haiti Communitere.
But Lacey is forgetting one very important detail: this is Haiti. Even when you’re on the same side, you might not actually be on the same side of the same side.
Haiti, and Port-au-Prince especially, is a third world/first world mash-up—modern clothes, primitive structures, old traditions, new technology. (Everyone has cell phones and Facebook pages.) There are parts that were broken by the earthquake in January 2010, but there are parts that were always broken.
It’s systemic—regime changes, political corruption, lack of funding—but it’s also very basic. Everything made of concrete, from roads to cinder blocks to the various structures that use those cinder blocks, is essentially built to fail. Not intentionally, of course, but there’s no way around it. With little to no fresh water available, they use seawater to make the concrete and the blocks. Salinity is concrete cancer; fresh water, like rain, leeches out the salt, and the concrete is compromised. And, since it’s in the Caribbean, it rains a lot in Haiti. So roads fail, buildings fall, and nothing ever really stands a chance.
It doesn’t take long to grow immune to it. One day at Haiti Communitere, a couple of the guys working on a public toilet project funded by the Gates Foundation are taking a break, sitting at a picnic table under the mango tree out back. There is a loud bang.
“That’s just something in Haiti falling down,” one says after a brief pause.
“Right. No worries.”
This is why rebuilding the country is like an ant trying to eat an apple. Who knows where to start or how long it will be before you can tell anything is happening? In the aid community, Sam Bloch says, “Haiti is known as where projects go to die.” On the flip side of that, he says, if you can make it work there, you can make it work anywhere. The challenge, and the necessity of attempting to overcome it, is what attracts people like Lacey and Bloch.
Bloch is one of the founders and the executive director of Haiti Communitere, a resource center in Port-au-Prince that acts as a middleman for various aid and relief organizations. It’s a gated compound born out of a former junkyard a few minutes from Toussaint Louverture International Airport. Bloch has been in relief work since the Thailand tsunami in 2004, and he’s been in Haiti since 12 days after the earthquake hit. In his spare time, what there is of it, he’s an avid rock climber and outdoorsman. He looks the part, with long dreadlocks and the easy manner of someone used to talking people into things, whether it’s donating money or jumping on a zip line. Bloch has been in the country long enough that he’s officially a Haitian citizen. “They gave me a permanent resident card and everything,” he says.
A couple of hours after his argument with Lacey about his plan for Ubuntu-Blox, Bloch invites me to go with him and some of his Haitian friends to see RAM, a mizik rasin band (a mix of traditional vodou music with rock and roll), at the Hotel Oloffson, an Anthony Bourdain-approved hotel in downtown Port-au-Prince. Located in a 19th-century gingerbread mansion, it served as the private residence of two Haitian presidents before being converted. It is a proper Haitian experience, he tells me, so I accept. Plus, it seems like he wants to talk.
“There’s something to be said for communism when it comes to disaster relief,” Bloch says, when we arrive at the hotel, after a 20-minute trip so rain soaked and circuitous that it feels like I’ve been flushed down a toilet in slow motion. He’s talking about how quickly Cuba was able to rebuild following a hurricane in 2008 versus most of the other places he’s been. It’s a conversation he could have with more than a few people here, since many of the tables around us are filled with NGO workers.
After buying us a couple of bottles of Prestige, a local beer, he changes the topic to Lacey and the house. Bloch is diplomatic, but honest, admitting to challenges working with Lacey. He laughs off some of it, like many do, as just Harvey being Harvey; Lacey’s default setting is “cantankerous.” Yet while Lacey is the driving force, Bloch is invested in the project, too. They’ve been building up to this point, all of them, for a long time. Lacey has already been over once before, last fall, and before he came for this trip, Roxanne Duigou and Tim Overton, the Canadian couple heading up Ubuntu-Blox on Haiti Communitere’s side, spent months in Cité Soleil finding the right women for the job, working with the various neighborhoods to come up with about two dozen volunteers. (They work for free but are given two meals a day.)
Bloch needs Lacey’s exuberance to keep it all moving forward. But Bloch needs Lacey to understand that Haiti Communitere’s prudence is necessary to keep it moving forward in the right direction. After all, they’ll still be here after Lacey goes back to Texas.
“I said to him, ‘We’re not here to pick up your pieces,’ ” Bloch says. “ ‘You can’t be writing checks that we have to cash.’ ”
Bloch lives in a converted shipping container, and it’s nice enough, as far as converted shipping containers go, like a pop-up college dorm room. At one point, GiveLove (the organization founded by actress Patricia Arquette) was interested in using these as homes for Haitians. But they ran into a problem: the Haitians didn’t want them. They would say, “This is not a house.” The same goes for many of the test houses on the compound. Though they are great ideas, use sustainable technology, and do the job just fine, they aren’t homes people want to live in.
The round Earthship, for instance, built by a team from New Mexico, is a fascinating blend of architecture and engineering, with adobe construction and light filtering in through windows made of glass soda bottles. But it is absolutely alien-looking here, a junk-drawer curio even though it is fairly simple and cheap to build and uses local resources.
Lacey points out all of this as he shows me around the construction site on my first morning. “One of the advantages of this thing when we’re done: it looks Haitian. But it doesn’t kill babies.”
Yesterday, the Ubuntu-Blox house finally started raising from the slab. The women put up three courses of blocks. Before they go much further, it’s time to plan where the windows and door will go. The women will be here soon. Lacey and Overton want a window in the south-facing wall; Duigou is worried about the heat gain. Lacey says the roof’s 3-foot overhang will take care of that and having a window to break up the wall will look better.
“If it’s up here, it’s fine,” Duigou says, giving in. “It’s curb appeal.”
“I haven’t heard that in a while,” Bloch says, “especially building houses in Haiti.”
Soon after, the women finish their breakfast and change into their work clothes. They aren’t exactly coveralls. The girls work in tight jeans and miniskirts, spangly tops and fashionable hats. They are dolled up.
They saunter into the house, greeting Lacey and Overton with soft bonjours (though Lacey, without much traction, is trying to teach them to say, “Hi, y’all!”). Lacey shows them where the windows will be and asks, through Jean-Louis, the master plasterer and one of the translators, if that’s what they want. They say there are too many windows. Not enough privacy. But after some back and forth, he does get them to agree to the south-facing window.
“Ask if they’re not just saying yes because I’m beautiful,” Lacey tells Jean-Louis. After a flurry of Creole, they all laugh, singsonging his name—“Har-vey.”
After all of that is settled, four of the women get on an old North Carolina school bus with Overton. They’re going to harvest Styrofoam and other plastic trash from the canals. The other women stay behind to build blocks, hopefully enough to get another three or four courses up before the end of the day.
I follow the bus on the back of a motorcycle driven by Ben Depp, a Haitian-based American photographer. Even with our helmets on, we stick out. A chorus of “Blanc! Blanc!” follows in our wake. It’s hard for me to pay it much mind, since it’s hard to think about anything other than the road. Driving in Port-au-Prince is a series of guesses and prayers, lanes serving as suggestions, goats and hogs just as likely to block the street (no one will touch them for fear of “getting the voodoo,” I’m told) as other cars and pedestrians or crater-size potholes. But drivers pay attention, so people get away with maneuvers that would be unthinkable in the United States. Luridly colored buses packed with people merge into spaces barely big enough for a compact car. Motorcycles make blind turns across three lanes of traffic. It somehow all works.
When we finally reach our destination, the canals on the outer edge of Cité Soleil, there is some good news: the bulldozers have finally come through, moving away some of the trash.
“It’s good for the canal but not so good for us,” Overton says.
We go up the road a bit, but there’s not much trash there either. “It’s a bit slimmer here,” Overton says, “but we were just here yesterday.” Unfortunately, we don’t have to drive too far before we find what we came for. The part of the canal we’re at is completely covered with clamshell Styrofoam containers, like an iced-over stream in winter. The women fish the containers out with long cane poles, spearing them, tossing the poles to Overton when they’re full. The women occasionally get distracted, but one of them, Phara, is a machine. Overton can barely keep up.
Before the women came aboard, Duigou and Overton went out to round up trash on their own, to gather enough to get started. Three men turned up.
“Hey, give me a stick,” one of them said. Overton told him they weren’t paying. “Well, you’re doing it; we’ll do it, too.”
“They gave us, like, 45 minutes,” Overton says. “It was cool.”
No one offers to help today, but a crowd does gather. Too many white faces on hand to avoid that. After an hour or so, Overton and the women head back to the compound, to disinfect the containers and shred them for use in the blocks. When we arrive, Lacey is teaching some of the women how to cut rebar.
“Yes, that’s good!” He goes from woman to woman, checking on their progress.
“This is hard work,” he says. “Someone said these Haitian women’s hearts aren’t in it. Well, when I built that house at SMU, I had the same thing. And that was my grandson.”
Less than two years ago, there was no house and there were no blocks. There was only a dream, a dream born out of having bad beans for dinner. That’s how Ubuntu-Blox came to be, according to Lacey: a dinner that didn’t agree with him and his tendency to see things fully formed, then figure out how to make them.
That night, back in November 2010, Lacey imagined a machine that could build blocks out of recyclable materials, basically a hand-cranked trash compactor. He went out to his shop and made it. Then he started making the blocks, little hay bales constructed from plastic shopping bags filled with Styrofoam or soda bottles or even more plastic shopping bags, and wired tight. They weighed only a pound or two, but he found that, when strung together, they were strong as steel.Six months later, with help from his wife and two grandsons, Lacey built the first Ubuntu-Blox house on SMU’s campus, as part of the Hunt Institute’s inaugural Engineering & Humanity Week. That first house was a little bit bigger than a garden shed, merely a way to prove the concept. But just like in Haiti, it was the only dwelling of the half dozen built on the grassy quad that actually looked like a house, more earth-bound than the various plastic igloos and so on.
(A quick aside: the bright orange t-shirt Lacey received at the event is the only thing I see him wear during my week in Haiti, apart from red work t-shirts. Near the end of our stay at the compound, I watched Lacey hang his laundry while I ate breakfast. Up on the line went five identical red t-shirts, all with a slight rip at the right hem; when he’s cutting or bending wire, he uses his right leg as a brace, and the shirt gets caught in the middle.)
After Engineering & Humanity Week, the house was shipped back to Lacey’s family’s farm, then to the University of Oklahoma, where it was poked and prodded by engineers, then back to the farm, then finally to a facility in Plano for earthquake and hurricane tests. It survived all of it, losing only a small amount of plaster. If Lacey is cocky about what he has come up with, he has earned it.
“Someone asks me about earthquake stuff, I don’t know,” he says. “It stands up to an 8.3 on the Richter scale. Unzip your pants.”
Lacey tends to speak in sound bites. Here is a small sample of the ones I heard while we were in Haiti together:
“Men work like spiders. Women work like fire ants.”
“You know what an expert is? Somebody from 250 miles away with a briefcase.”
“I like my coffee like I like my women: straight and strong.”
“If I’d been born rich instead of so goddamned wonderful, I wouldn’t have to do this shit.”
“It’d all be simple if they just let me take over and piss everybody off.”
“No rest for the wicked or willing, and I’m just an easy old son of a bitch.”
“When you go back to the land of rock-hard abs, tell ’em you were in a place where the black women loved touching a fat man’s belly.”
Oh, and one more:
“Hopefully, by tomorrow, we’ll be able to see who’s wearing a thong and who’s not, because their skirts will be up.”
Lacey says this at the morning meeting on Friday. Days at Haiti Communitere start with breakfast at 7:30—usually fruit and bread, maybe eggs if you’re lucky—and then a meeting in the workshop, led by Samuel Alcide, the genial Haitian base manager. He wears a Garland Welding cap, a gift from Lacey.
This morning, the meeting is mostly focused on a security update. There have been a couple of murders in Bois Neuf, says Jimmy Levi, co-founder and development director. The situation, as they understand it, is this: the main gang leader in Bois Neuf was recently arrested. The murders seem to be over control of the area. One was in the market, in the restroom, and it was gruesome. Levi says to avoid going to Bois Neuf for the next few days.
After that comes an update on where the current projects stand. The base is hosting a Sustainability Social tomorrow, a chance for the community to visit and see what they do here. That’s when Lacey wakes everyone up with the thong comment.
“I wasn’t paying attention to what you were saying until you said that,” Levi says, laughing.
One-liners aside, Lacey has real news: three women from the Boston neighborhood met with their opportunity council last night. The council agreed to fund an Ubuntu-Blox building for them, a community center, paying for the cement and rebar. Haiti Communitere will loan them a machine to build the blocks.
Lacey is beaming. This is his Platonic ideal. He would come to Haiti, train the women to make a building using his blocks, and then they would go and make a building. It’s the end of a long week, the end of a long month, the end of a long year, but his vision is finally being realized.
This was always about those women. It wasn’t just a way to build low-cost houses or help reduce the amount of plastic trash. It was a way for these women to do that. He designed the machine to build the blocks so that it wouldn’t take much strength, and the blocks themselves weigh only a couple of pounds. Though he wants the houses to be built, period, he’s also very clear on whom he wants to build them. And while he’s in Haiti, he can make sure that happens.
But he can’t control what other people want, and that’s where it gets tricky for him. Technically, this is Haiti Communitere’s project. Which is fine; that’s how he planned it. From the beginning, Lacey intended for Ubuntu-Blox to be open source, he says, that someone—hopefully many someones—would take it, make it better, make it different if necessary. He didn’t patent anything, not the house itself or the blocks and the machine to make them. It all belongs to no one and to everyone.
“It’s impossible to steal a gift,” Lacey says. “That’s true ownership, when you can give something away.”
That concept applies to more than just Ubuntu-Blox. It is the core of Lacey’s belief system. A free-spirited atheist, Lacey won’t be owned by anyone. Usually how he puts it, he won’t be managed. He can barely even stomach the word, spitting it out half-chewed, let alone abide by the concept. It has been that way for almost 30 years, since he quit his last real job, working for the telephone company. Really, though, it has been that way forever, more than 60 years and counting. Even during his stint in the Army, during the Vietnam War, he never gave up total control of himself.
Lacey is a do-it-yourself kind of guy. When he built an intricate outdoor staircase for a rich client in Highland Shores, he did it all by hand, hiring only a couple of laborers to help him move the 400-pound blocks of stone. But there are some things he can’t do. Speak Creole, for one, a serious liability in Haiti. Also, there is his personality, which Lacey bluntly describes as “abrasive.” “Some people like me,” he says, “and others think I’m the most detestable person on earth.” At the very least, he needs a filter, a layer between him and those who can make this go. He needs people, even if they have their own ideas. He wouldn’t—couldn’t—have gotten this far in Haiti on his own.
But it’s hard for him to take. He’s “locked horns” with Duigou and Overton plenty of times during his stay in Haiti—among other things, over the wire the two procured to build the blocks (“Got shit 10-gauge instead of 12- or 14-gauge,” which is easier to work with) and over his inability to remember the names of the women (“I told them my mind doesn’t work that way”).
“It’s made this thing a total nightmare,” Lacey says. “There’s been a couple of incidents where I said, ‘I can pay my own goddamned airfare out of here.’ ”
Lacey’s shoulder starts to bother him more as the house grows taller.
“The scare is I fuck it up and have to go through the surgery again,” he says.
He had surgery on his left shoulder just after Christmas, after a fall at his farm in early November. They went in arthroscopically, putting seven holes in him. His surgeon told him to wait another month before coming to Haiti. So did his physical therapist.
Lacey never really considered that, of course. Having the surgery in the first place was enough for him. Normally, he would have shrugged
off the injury, even if shrugging would be one of the many things he couldn’t do anymore with that busted shoulder. He’d merely add it to the list of body parts that are no longer up to factory specs after 60 years of being Harvey Lacey—fighting in a war, fighting in general, climbing telephone poles, racing motorcycles, working with unforgiving steel and stone and fire.
Just look at his hands: swollen until the skin is almost taut, fingers and knuckles pointed in odd directions, some of the nails holding on only by habit. At best, they look like beaten-up gloves his real hands are in. Lacey has trouble using his iPhone, because almost all of the pads of his fingers are gone, worn down, burned off, hidden under calluses.
But under all that, his hands are sensitive, capable of delicate tasks, and so, too, is Lacey. He needs a thick skin, because his emotions are often too close to the surface. And nothing gets to him, almost to a fault, like these women.
“These girls will make you cry,” he says to Lucia DiPoi, a former communications assistant from the Clinton Foundation paying the compound a visit. “We were looking at pictures on my phone, and I showed them a picture from my surgery. They saw that and they said, ‘Harvey, you work too hard for us.’ ” He suddenly focuses on showing DiPoi how he makes an eye in the wire, keeping his head down. He finally looks up. “You can’t work hard enough for these women.” Sure enough, he’s tearing up. “I’m sorry.”
One of the women calls Lacey over and starts bickering at him in Creole. Duigou explains she needs a different tool for making eyes in the wire. The eyes are crucial for creating the blocks, Lacey explained to me earlier. If they aren’t the same every time, then the wire won’t hold. The block will be useless.
“Well, chew my ass and tell me you love me,” Lacey says. He digs around in the grass and finds what he needs. It’s a T made of two lengths of welded pipe. He had to make this one because the earlier models were too short and gave the women no leverage.
“You don’t like this one?” He hands it over. Then, to Duigou: “Tell her I made that one special for her.”
Duigou translates and the woman starts laughing. She smiles sweetly at Lacey and gets back to it.
On Friday, the women are in full-on revolt mode. With the Sustainability Social the next day, tempers are short in every corner of the compound. There is too much to do and not enough time to do it. The women are angry with Overton for reasons my nonexistent Creole won’t help me understand, but this much I can piece together: they aren’t coming tomorrow.
Lacey isn’t sure why they’re angry either, and he doesn’t really care. He just wants them to come, to show their friends and families what they’ve been doing. He’s proud of them and wants everyone else to be proud of them, too. He calls over Simon Mackenson, one of the translators.
“You can get mad at Tim later,” he says. “Tomorrow is for us.”
It seems to soothe them, but Lacey is still nervous until just after 2 the next day, when the first few women start to trickle in. Eventually, they all show up.
The day is perfect. The women are beautiful in their church dresses and high heels. Their families are impressed by what they’ve accomplished here. Lacey, wearing his cleanest red t-shirt, hugs everyone within arm’s length and kisses all the babies. Any frustration he’s had is gone.
After they’ve all had a chance to look around, there is a show on the concrete slab in front of the Ubuntu-Blox house. Everyone crowds around, some sitting on ad hoc benches made from nailed-together 2-by-4s and cinder blocks and buckets. There is a female group that mixes traditional dance and a sort of melodrama (it’s like Haitian Tyler Perry, as far as I can tell). Then a singer-guitarist from Cité Soleil. Then a clown troupe—wearing footie pajamas, for some reason. Then, finally, the Cyborg break dance crew.
The North Carolina school bus takes the women back to Cité Soleil. The staff at Haiti Communitere hangs out until it’s too dark to see. I run into Jean-Louis the house builder on the way back to my room. He asks if I had a good time. I tell him I did. He smiles.
“Big day,” he says. We clink our Coke bottles together. “My heart is happy.”
Capvva is where it all makes sense, why Lacey wants to go faster, why Bloch wants to take his time, why they are both here in the first place.
Capvva is an IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camp, a tent city near Cité Soleil in the northeast corner of Port-au-Prince. The nearest water source is 20 minutes away. The tents are patched and frayed, near the limit of their use. More than two years after the earthquake, it is still home to about 500 families. It’s one of many.
Coming to Capvva was the point of today. Lacey and I have been traveling around Port-au-Prince since breakfast. For most of the month he has been in Haiti, aside from a few short trips, Lacey has been confined to the compound. But it’s Sunday and he’s leaving in a couple of days, so it’s the perfect day to get out. With some negotiating help from Overton, we hired a tap tap—one of the pickup trucks, brightly painted with religious slogans and imagery, used as share taxis—and a driver and set out.
After stopping at the presidential palace (still caved in) and the Clinton Foundation’s ill-fated housing expo outside of the city (never more than a ghost town), we pick up Clemson Saint-fleur in Cité Soleil. He works at Capvva as part of Join the Journey, a Christian-based outreach group. He is going to take us inside.
When we arrive, we’re introduced to the president of the camp, and he leads us on a tour. That’s not true. He leads Lacey on a tour. I am sidetracked as soon as I get off the truck. Before I can even meet the camp president, a little girl, probably no older than 2 years old, grabs my hand and won’t let go. And I don’t really want her to. Barefoot and wearing only an oversized t-shirt, she looks up at me and smiles, and I stop being a professional for half an hour.
I can’t be. That would require hands to take notes or the will to do so, and before I’ve gone 20 yards, my hands are full of children and my mind is elsewhere. The first girl shares my left hand with two others, including a naked toddler, and there are two more on my right, plus another tagging along on my shirttail. Lacey and the camp president are so far ahead that I can’t hear anything anyway. We wind our way around the camp in silence, a kid or two dropping off here and there, only to be replaced by more.
When we finally make it back to the truck, the other kids detach themselves, but the first little girl still won’t let go. I finally pry her fingers off mine and jump into the bed of the truck without looking back.
Every argument seems petty when this is at stake. But also, every argument makes sense. Everyone—Lacey, Bloch, Overton, Diogou, Clemson, Jean-Louis—is trying to do the right thing in a place where there are too many right things that need doing. If you don’t pay enough attention, you might pick the wrong right things.
A week after I left Port-au-Prince in early April, as the rainy season kicked into full gear, six people drowned. A few weeks after that, a fire burned down Haiti Communitere’s workshop, destroying two years’ worth of donated tools and causing $175,000 in damages. A few weeks after that, my photographer friend, Ben Depp, was detained by Port-au-Prince police for 24 hours, after trying to deliver insulin to an arrested American.
Haiti is still Haiti.
Harvey Lacey’s house was finally finished in June, covered in natural plaster and painted yellow, with a blue tin roof. It still looks Haitian and still won’t kill babies. Also in June, Haiti Communitere built an Ubuntu-Blox factory, to regulate the process of making the blocks. The community will be able to bring in the materials and build their own blocks, then take them away and build houses with them. The factory will also help Haiti Communitere with its new partnership with GiveLove, using the Ubuntu-Blox to build public toilets.
Lacey is planning another trip to Haiti and working on an idea he calls “community in a container”—a shipping container packed with all of the materials he needs to build 100 homes. He’s going to continue helping Haiti Communitere with the project, but he is determined not to let anyone own Ubuntu-Blox, in Haiti or anywhere else. No more gatekeepers. Haiti Communitere may take it slow. He never will.
“I’m going back,” he says, “and throwing keys to anyone that wants one.”
WRITE TO ZAC.CRAIN@DMAGAZINE.COM.