SALEM - Local Habitat for Humanity volunteer Tim Baillie witnessed extreme poverty and endured extreme working and living conditions while building homes in Haiti last year during a weeklong work project.
He's returning this November, all too happy to sacrifice his time and talent for a cause he believes in, the "faith in action" that he said defines Habitat for Humanity.
"There's still just an incredible need in that country for aid of all types," the 61-year-old Salem resident said.
Baillie traveled to Leogane, Haiti last November as a member of the Habitat for Humanity Jimmy & Rosalyn Carter Work Project team. The area where they built 100 homes is located about 20 miles west of Port-au-Prince, the poor nation's capital, and 8 miles from the epicenter of the devastating earthquake in January 2010 which flattened the country.
The former president and first lady worked right alongside the volunteers, living in the same tents where they slept and eating the same food they ate.
Baillie worked as a manufacturer's representative selling plumbing and heating equipment, with his last 10 years working as a salesman and estimator for Tolson before retiring a year ago. He became involved as a construction volunteer with Habitat for Humanity of Northern Columbiana County 13 years ago, serving as head of the building committee for several years and serving on the board and as a board officer.
He retired Sept. 1 as interim ReStore manager, but still volunteers with construction projects and with the ReStore.
Last year he heard about the Carters' two-year work project in Haiti and decided to apply.
"I just thought it was a good opportunity to give a lot more to Habitat. I knew there was a great need down there, but I didn't realize how bad it was," he said.
With nearly half a million people still displaced, he said "there's oceans of tarps and tents that people have been living in. It's just horrendous."
The homes being built for the project are 200 square feet and hurricane and earthquake resistant. The interior is an open space with a small divider for a private area inside, but with no utilities or bathroom facilities. Each group of four homes shares an outside facility, like an outhouse. Roofs of the homes are made of tin and structured with a rain barrell near each home.
Volunteers are divided into teams of eight and each team builds two homes during their week of service. Foundations are already there and the crews finish the upper walls, roof, door and windows. By the time they finish after two years, he said they'll have about 250 homes completed.
Due to the extreme poverty and high unemployment, Haitians have no money for a mortgage, so partner families perform more sweat equity on the homes. Every volunteer has to raise $5,000 toward the cost of the homes. Habitat contracts with an Irish aid group which has a mobile camp facility, to feed and house the volunteers.
Baillie described the conditions as extremely difficult. Volunteers stay in tents and are bussed to the work site, but because of the road conditions, travel takes a lot longer, with the bus traveling 5 to 10 miles per hour. He said it took two hours to travel the 20 miles from the airport to the camp facility and about half an hour to travel from the camp to the work site just a few miles away.
The temperatures were in the 90's with high humidity, causing dehydration. He lost about eight or 10 pounds and had trouble sleeping. The bathroom facilities were outhouses and one night he recalled getting up to go and seeing a tarantula on the wall. He said they were all checking their shoes in the morning.
They worked all day and went back to camp to eat and try to sleep. Before leaving, he had to have several shots to protect against typhoid and hepatitis and had to take malaria pills. Cholera was a danger also. They used bottled water and the food was brought in from the Dominican Republic.
While there, they were told not to be asking the president for autographs or photos. He and Rosalyn were there to work and that's exactly what they did. During the trip home, he greeted the volunteers and Baillie met him, saying he was a "very genuine guy."
Baillie said when he was flying back home, he knew he wanted to do something again, but after what he went through, he wasn't sure about returning to Haiti.
"Once you get over the emotional beating, you think about what you did. It was pretty easy to convince myself to do it again," he said.
On the day after Thanksgiving, he'll fly to Atlanta for an organizational meeting and then fly with the group to Haiti for another week of building houses. He said his family was very encouraging, including his wife, Carol, a teacher at Salem High School, and their two children, Brad, who works at The Ohio State University, and Katie, a clothing designer, also of Columbus.
Baillie has about $3,500 raised towards his $5,000 and sent letters and emails out asking for donations, using the local Habitat's mailing list.
Donations are tax deductible and can be made by check to Habitat for Humanity NCC, with Carter Project-Haiti written in the memo line, mailed to Habitat for Humanity, 468 Prospect St., Salem, Ohio 44460.
To donate by credit card, call Tim Baillie at 330-332-5530 with an email address and a link will be forwarded where a donation can be made.
Mary Ann Greier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org