Louis Marie R. Nelson
The earthquake that destroyed his country echoed a persistent call for help. He answered.
Louis Marie R. Nelson was a graduate student when the 2010 earthquake devastated his home country of Haiti. In 2011, eager to help and following completion of his degree, Louis found that his chosen field of study, construction management, provided the exact skills that his country needed most to rebuild. His dream of starting his own business turned into a calling to create new, earthquake-resistant structures in Haiti, and this project recently opened to provide housing units to hundreds of people in need. An optimist and a negotiator by choice, Louis believes that such challenges bring out the best in people.
Hometown: Cap-Haitien, Haiti
FIU degree: M.S. in Construction Management
Q: What attracted you to construction management at FIU?
A: I always dreamed of becoming a civil engineer, to follow the footsteps of older friends who pursued this field. When I decided to go back to school, however, I quickly realized through research that construction management was an evolving and very attractive option. In fact, you are provided with the opportunity to have overall control of a construction project, from design, planning, coordination and supervision of a project from beginning to end. I had the option of choosing between FAU and FIU. As construction management at FIU is an accredited program, and also because some friends were already enrolled in the program, I chose FIU.
Q: Since graduating from FIU, what has been your focus?
A: After graduating in 2011, I obtained my Certified General Contractor (CGC) license. My primary focus was to develop my own company. I have been very involved in the Haitian community, solving issues including notices of violation that people would receive as a result of unlawful construction activities. I am proud to say that over the years, I acquired the necessary knowledge and experience in the field, which allowed me to open my construction firm, Louminel General Contractor, LLC.
Because of the earthquake, my focus shifted. Like many other Haitian-born citizens, I felt the need to put aside my personal motivations to help contribute to the reconstruction of my country. When you know that your fellow citizens are suffering, when a place you call home has given you so much and experienced such disaster, there is something inside that calls on you to give or bring what you can to help your people. So I wondered what I could do while awaiting an opportunity to return and give back to my country.
Q: What housing project in Haiti caught your attention?
A: The Caracol EKAM Housing Project is one among the many U.S. Government-initiated projects to support the 2010 post-earthquake reconstruction efforts in Haiti. It will provide a total of 750 units of permanent lodgings aiming at relocating displaced families who lost their houses during the earthquake. These units are earthquake-resistant and meet International Building Code requirements. Each unit contains a 125-gallon reservoir that supplies water for the daily uses of the shower, toilet, and kitchen.
Q: What is the project's impact on the Haitian community?
A: On an economic level, the construction of this housing project provided direct and continuous employment to more than 850 people over a two-year period. It also indirectly provided new business opportunities to an additional 400 to 500 people. For instance, new restaurants opened in the area, beverage vendors multiplied, etc. Professionally, people learned new skills and received training in different fields that they mastered over time. Many specialty contractors and crafts people became familiar with techniques to build structures that meet international standards.
As a component of this project, we introduced the use of vapor barrier and termite treatment for the foundation before pouring the slab. It structurally brings new techniques to the Haitian market and uses tie beams so that the roof can be hurricane resistant. It is now a badge of honor for most of the workers to use this project as reference in their resume. This project is now considered a village, a dream come true for many people who didn't believe it possible. In addition to the houses, EKAM has a fully equipped, new elementary and middle school that was donated and is being run by SEA International, a Korean textile company located in the nearby Caracol Industrial Park.
Q: What has been the most rewarding part?
A: Working at the Caracol EKAM Housing Project is a priceless experience, a dream come true. The past 14 months have been very challenging. Being able to meet these challenges and move the project forward gives me an invaluable sense of accomplishment, especially knowing that I have been part of a project that means a lot to my fellow citizens in need of a secure lodging for their families. Being a father of two, I can't imagine what it is like to live under a tent with your children with just the minimum— sometimes with nothing at all. We will have the ultimate pleasure of seeing families entering and enjoying their new living quarters.
Q: In the years since the earthquake in Haiti, how has the country changed? How involved have you been?
A: Since the earthquake, there has been a great deal of coordinated efforts to help the country rise from this terrible disaster. Years later, there is still a lot to be done, but we feel that there is a positive momentum. Personally, it comforts me to see that many of the camps for the internally displaced in Port-au-Prince have been removed.
We must be optimistic. With continued determination, Haiti should move forward. After spending seven years out of the country, I returned to Haiti, bringing my touch to the reconstruction process. I have been constantly working with local code enforcement and building officials to find creative ways to implement and reinforce the new building regulations for greater and safer construction. I am anticipating new opportunities where I can once again contribute in changing people's life.
Q: How would you say the housing project impacted you, personally and professionally?
A: This project was a very rewarding experience for me. It was not easy leaving my entire family behind to embark on this difficult journey. Thankfully, I met a few great friends who really supported me throughout the difficult times. Without them, I would not be where I am today. Moreover, I met and worked with many experts in the field of construction, as well as with the local communities to manage crises. This type of project requires negotiating skills – we had to deal with land ownership tenure issues, pressure to hire unskilled local labors, etc. Challenges compel us to give the best of ourselves. I believe I gave the best I could, and I am now ready for bigger projects ahead.
Q: You are helping your community immensely with your profession. What advice would you offer other graduate students who want to take action for something specific to their communities?
A: Take action. It is worth it. Our communities develop only if we get involved in helping them move forward. We all have a role to play for the common good. Being involved in your community gives you responsibilities, and helps you progress in life. Community involvement is a call of duty. It is about dedication and motivation. People might always question your purposes; you might face many challenges; but work until you fulfill your motivation. What is most important to keep in mind is that we are all different; we do not have to agree on everything. Take time to listen to people, share ideas; do not assume that you know it all. Be humble and success will be at your door. Take action today.
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