Setting up a basketball court - a story of negotiations, setbacks, joy and proper work
We’ve already told you a lot about the current situation in Haiti, the many moments that made us think about our privilege, and the great support we received from our partners in Ouanaminthe. But of course, our project’s success counts in the end: we wanted to build a basketball court and we managed to do so thanks to planning, perseverance, hard work and quite a significant portion of luck.
In September, we started off with all seven team members being enthusiastic about the idea and optimistic about the execution. We did not anticipate huge challenges (or at least none that would endanger the overall completion of the project) and were confident that the process of construction would be manageable. Our initial plan was to plan and build the court in December and January. This would be done by local workers, whereas during our on-site visit, we would focus on conducting a sports camp with the children to teach them different sports (basketball, soccer, tennis, baseball, etc.) as well as sensitizing children, teachers, and parents about the importance of sports and the responsible use of the equipment and the court.
Well – Haiti surprised us. As always in Latin America, we firstly had to negotiate. Negotiating, however, does not work in Haiti in the way one would expect in Switzerland. The perception of western wealth is very pronounced, which complicated the bargaining process significantly. Consequently, the court was not finished when we arrived in Ouanaminthe in February. More precisely, its construction had basically only started some days before.
This completely changed our tasks and responsibilities. From teaching and playing with the children, we shifted our focus on physical work as finishing the court was our primary goal. From the second day onwards, we worked several hours each day on the site, which resulted in many blisters due to the unfamiliar labor. Slowly, but steadily, the court progressed.
Next to the construction work, we still tried to interact with the children as much as possible. In coordination with the NGO Foi et Joie, we set up a day on the weekend during which we would work on site and simultaneously introduce the sports equipment we had brought. This included soccer balls, basketballs, volleyballs, beach tennis rackets and some baseball bats. We had hoped to get along well with the children, but the passion for sports which we experienced, went far beyond our imagination. More than 60 pupils came to school on that Saturday, helped us working and tried all different kinds of sports. They were so welcoming and inspiring that we tried even more to finish their court, as letting down their hope to play on a proper court might impact them in a way we all didn’t want to imagine.
Nevertheless, another setback was waiting for us. After five days on site, we went through the financial calculations with our partners and realized that the court was becoming more expensive due to a bigger size and probably some inevitable corruption from material suppliers who randomly increased the prices on sand or cement. From that point on, we took over a stricter financial control and worked even harder to finish the court on time. Communicating clear directives towards the workers, we were put into a new situation, actively leading the construction and overseeing purchasing, negotiating and controlling every single production step.
Finally, everybody seemed to be aligned on our objective to finish the court by Friday night (we would leave Haiti the next morning at 7am) and the level of advancement accelerated. The iron scaffold was put on the plain surface within 1.5 days and everything seemed prepared for the final push on Friday to pour the concrete.
What happened that day though, still puzzles us and was an incredible experience for us. Despite having brought more than 30 workers for the last day, and despite working the whole day and night (until 2 am), the court could not be finished as approximately 10 sqm (out of more than 700) could not be covered by concrete.
Our hopes were crushed as we weren’t certain whether the court would be finished anytime soon after our departure. But finally, the court construction took another turn for the better! 10 days after our departure pictures of a finished court with nice stairs and beautiful basketball hoops were sent by our partners.
The finished court was already used for Carnival celebrations, so we are glad it can be used for various activities.
Looking at the final pictures, with paintings on the court and even a salute to our student group (although it is not spelled correctly, we were all touched by the effort to honour our work), we can’t believe that the court has really been built despite so many challenges.
We have learnt that doing business in Haiti is complicated, but in the end, it worked out. A good sign for the future SIMagination generations!