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Student Creating Shelter in Haiti With Recyclables

Luke Schoenfelder (C

Luke Schoenfelder (C'12) is helping create solar-powered structures in Haiti. Photo by Yovcho Yovchev

June 8, 2011 – A Georgetown student will return over the summer to earthquake-ravaged Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to continue work on the solar-powered structures he oversaw using recycled materials over spring break.

Luke Schoenfelder’s (C’12) project this past April involved the plastic bags used by aid organizations shipping rations to disaster areas.

While the bags are usually thrown away after a single use, the government major realized that once the bags were empty, they could be filled with earth or rubble and formed into bricks to create livable, permanent structures.

International Applications

With the help of the New Leaf Initiative, a nonprofit that supports “immersive” and environmentally conscience projects, Schoenfelder was able to gain local contacts in Haiti to begin work on his project.

“We ended up going [to Haiti] for spring break, which was incredible because it enabled us to get this project completed and have something concrete to go with when looking at larger projects for the summer,” he explained.

The building in Port-au-Prince was constructed in an international compound, so that both the local crew and aid workers from across the world could learn how to make the 12-foot-high, nine-foot-wide insulated and bulletproof structure.

Community Integrated

Micro-solar technology was used in the building as well as an environmentally conscious septic system.

“We want to be really responsive [to] what the needs are in a community,” Schoenfelder explained. “For [Haitians] right now, it’s sanitation. So we ended up building this incredible septic system that uses gray water recycling from a shower that they have set up, which goes to flush toilets, which then composts the waste into a garden.”

Schoenfelder notes that all the materials (besides the plastic bags) for the building were purchased in Port-au-Prince and the project used local labor, “so we were very much community integrated.”

Another student, Sam Apgar (C’13), will travel to Haiti over the summer to oversee new projects with Jessica Robbins (SFS’12), who will conduct research for her senior thesis on human waste recycling.

Expanding Impact

Schoenfelder will return to Port-au-Prince at the end of the summer and also visit Mexico and Venezuela to research “how we can integrate these designs in an urban context and also multi-level structures.”

He hopes that the technology will have far-reaching applications, so that it may be offered international NGOs.

“We feel like we can have a bigger impact if we harness the power of larger organizations,” he explained.

Schoenfelder also works with Georgetown Energy —a student-run nonprofit that focuses on accessible solar energy, retrofitting neighborhood row houses with macro-solar panels.

“Our generation is going to be willing to and is going to hold the companies they do business with accountable for their environmental practices,” he said.

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