Self Sufficiency — The Best “Return on Donation”

Haitian children in one of the Caring House Project Foundation villages now have safe homes to live in. Photo: Courtesy Caring House Project Foundation

“We are one global community,” says builder, author, entrepreneur, and humanitarian Frank McKinney. “There are so many places around the world that do not have the social service net to protect the indigent like we have here [in the U.S.]. So we took our ministry, if you will, to Haiti.”

This is Part 2 of a three-part interview with McKinney, author of the book, The Tap. He’s a complex individual living a dichotomous life, as described in Part 1. Using the sale of the mansions he builds, he funds the charity he founded, the Caring House Project Foundation (CHPF), which constructs villages for some of the world’s poorest people. — Julia Wasson, Publisher

“We realized the dollars would go so much further by creating self-sufficient villages in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere,” Frank McKinney explains. “Commencing in 2003, and by the end of 2010, we will have built 15 self-sufficient villages in Haiti. We were there seven years before the earthquake took place. And we’ll be there many years after.

“We realized we could touch a life with shelter for about $500 internationally. So we sold two of the domestic houses [described in Part 1], kept one, and took whatever proceeds we had and stretched those dollars further internationally.”

Simple Design for Sturdy Construction

Asked about the strength of the Caring House Project homes to withstand Haiti’s devastating earthquakes, McKinney says, “By default, when we built our villages to withstand the hurricanes, we had no idea we were building to withstand an earthquake, too. But fortunately, the simpler the design, the better.

Caring House Project Foundation buils schools, hospitals, orphanages, and community centers as well as homes. Photo: Courtesy Caring House Project Foundation

“The standard structure we build is a one-story house, one-story community center, one-story church, one-story school, or one-story orphanage with a concrete foundation, concrete walls with steel rebar in them, and a light metal or zinc roof.

“But when I went over there on a search-and-rescue mission 40 hours after the earthquake hit, what I witnessed was a tremendous number of buildings that had collapsed under the weight of an ill-supported, heavy, concrete roof. If there was rebar, it was insufficient.

“And if it was there, besides insufficient, it was very old and very corroded. When a Haitian family builds a house, they leave rebar exposed for a generation, until they have enough money to put a second story on their house. And so then, when you put the weight of a heavy-duty concrete roof over the top, it’s a recipe for disaster.

“We had 11 villages — 8 finished, 3 under construction — when the earthquake hit. Only one had minor, minor cosmetic damage and no injuries. Even if the buildings that we had built had collapsed, which they didn’t, what would have collapsed would have been a corrugated zinc roof. They’re very light. Nobody would have gotten injured from the weight of something like that.”

McKinney tells me that Caring House Project Foundation has built 850 homes housing up to 6,800 family members in Haiti alone. When I ask about the capacity of the homes he builds, McKinney replies, “A typical Haitian family has six to eight residents. And that could be of the same family or an extended family. The houses that we build are quite small; 500 square feet is about the average size of a home. There’s a front porch, two interior rooms, a kitchen-type room, and then typically a latrine or a bathroom attached to the back of the house.

“In the bathroom there’s always a toilet, or an area in the event that running water is ever brought to the villages. There’s a well, or there’s a ditch that the residents use for clean drinking water. And then, obviously, there’s a latrine for them to use the restroom.”

I ask McKinney how Caring House Project Foundation chooses the communities that receive the homes. He replies, “Typically, we will partner with an organization that has the human resources on the ground. They will tell us where a new village would be needed.

“We never have to buy the land. It’s usually donated by private individuals or by the government. So, we go over, and we perform a site inspection, just to make sure.

“I’ll never forget, four or five years ago, we had a choice of two plots of land. And I chose one that just by sight was maybe two or three feet higher elevation than the alternative site. And wouldn’t you know, that was the year, 2004 – 2005, when all the heavy rains and the hurricanes came through. A lot of the Haitians had drowned in the low-lying areas. Just because we chose that one area that was a little bit higher, our village was unscathed.”

Partnering with Local Organizations

Choosing a site is something that a builder like McKinney would be particularly good at. “But how could you know, among the millions of Haitians, who would be deserving of a CHP home?” I ask.

Residents gather outside their new home. Photo: Courtesy Caring House Project Foundation

“We get proposals from partners over there who know a lot more than I would know as far as the need is concerned. What we’re really good at is master planning a community. We combine the orphanage with the school, with the clinic, with the community center, with the clean drinking water, with the renewable food, and with the new houses, all in a campus-like setting. And they’re very small, close-knit, almost like a college campus.

“Then we partner with other entities — relief organizations like Operation Rescue the Children, the Haitian Health Foundation, and Food for the Poor. One thing we don’t have is overhead — or a lot of overhead. I have one executive director, and that’s really it. I don’t pay anybody on the ground. I don’t take volunteers over there, either. If I did, I would be taking a job away from a country that has an 80 percent unemployment rate.

McKinney’s organization generally “funnels the money” through their partner organizations. “I want to make sure that the entity we’re working with is trusted, because of the corruption factor, especially in Haiti. “

One such partner is the Haitian Health Foundation, a grassroots organization that has worked in Haiti for 30 years.

“I really like them,” he says. “They were just building hospitals, and we got them to think in terms of the whole self-sufficient village concept, and encouraged them to embrace it. They’re so well respected. They know the terrain. They know the culture. So they would be the ones that would be kind of our eyes and ears on the ground.”

“Who owns the homes when they’re finished?” I want to know.

“The people selected to live in them receive the homes without obligation,” McKinney says. “We are not involved in the selection process. Typically a local church knows the needs of the families — who is most deserving, who has gone through hardships. We would have no idea.

“Our only caveat is that they are not able to sell the homes. They can’t rent them. They have to keep them within the family. And our partners obviously can’t sell them to anybody. They have to be deeded. They have to be given.

“One of the most enduring characteristics of an entrepreneur is survival. And when you take away the need to survive for somebody or some group of citizens that have been forced to survive, they flourish! Just imagine, a man now has a place he can call home. He can go out and get a job. Once that need for shelter has been taken care of, we go back, three, four, five years later, and it’s amazing how well these villages are flourishing.”

Yielding to the Statistics

There are many considerations involved in designing a village for people in another nation. McKinney says, “I yield to the statistics. And what I mean by that is if the average age that someone’s going to attain in Haiti is 47.1 years, then I know that there’s going to be a lot of orphans. So we build an orphanage. If the infant mortality rate says that there’s a 22 percent chance that a child will not see his fifth birthday, then we need to be building clinics. The same thing holds true for the daily wage rate of the average Haitian being less than two dollars. If I import concrete, I’m not helping that statistic. We’re buying mixed concrete, concrete block, steel, the metal roof, the wood framing. And all of that is bought locally.”

McKinney stands with a family who has just moved into their new home. Photo: Courtesy Caring House Project Foundation

Doing such an ambitious project as building a village requires on-the-ground support. And that, says McKinney, starts with a competent project manager that the local people look up to.

“In most cases,” he says, “those people are clergymen or priests of some kind. Some of the best project managers we’ve had were priests. They were knowledgeable about building. They knew the ins and outs of what the residents needed. And those are the ones who tend to decide, along with our partner organization there, who is worthy of the homes.”

Caring House Project Foundation focuses its efforts primarily in Haiti, but has also completed building projects in Honduras, Nicaragua, and Indonesia. In the Haitian villages they build, CHPF includes an agricultural element as well.

McKinney says, “We tend to introduce the most basic agricultural products like pregnant goats and chickens and pigs. Right now, in our new villages that we’re building, each person will get a goat and two fruit trees — a mango and an avocado tree — because those are the two trees that the Haitians won’t cut down for their firewood. The caloric and nutritious content of those trees far outweigh the benefit of cutting them down and using them for charcoal.

“And then each village gets a mule. The mule is the ‘workhorse,’ so to speak. So a village that has 50 houses will get 50 latrines and 50 goats, 100 trees total, and one mule for this one small village.

“One project we built is a fishing cooperative. We provided boats and motors and fuel. The Haitian waters, if you get away from shore a little bit, are teeming with sea life. We provided a building where they grind the fish, clean the fish, freeze the fish or refrigerate it. Then, after everybody else’s little three-inch shiner fish has gone rotten in the sun by 11 a.m., our people bring out their nice, clean fish at noon. They can charge a little bit more money for it, and they can be self-sufficient that way.”

No Annual Funding

But self-sufficiency has to be learned. As many charitable organizations find out, simply giving “things” — even new homes — to people and expecting them to know what to do to take care of them is a recipe for failure. So, I ask Frank McKinney how CHPF helps the recipients transition to life in the villages it builds.

“Typically, groups of women provide training,” he says, “with the most basic of hygiene and just teaching the way to live a clean life. They teach the children, and teach the villagers how to manage their money.

“We don’t get into annual funding of our villages. That’s not our deal. You sink or swim on your own. We’re in the self-sufficiency business, not the charity business. We’ve provided everything for that village to succeed, and it’s up to these women, in many cases, to train the villagers not to blow the chance they’ve been given.”

End of Part 2

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

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Related Posts

Part 1: Frank McKinney – “Tapped” to Live a Dichotomous Life

Part 2: Self-Sufficiency – The Best “Return on Donation” (Top of Page)

Part 3: From Rich to Enriched – Responding to The Tap