Darrin Badon had just returned to Baton Rouge from his fifth mission trip to Haiti last winter when he had what he calls a “come to Jesus” moment.
As an award-winning architect and partner at Tipton Associates, Badon said he was inspired to utilize his professional skills to help the countless number of orphans and Haitian families still homeless following the massive 2010 earthquake.
“I heard God say, ‘Are you going to do something or are you not going to do something?’ ” Badon, 41, recalled. “I realized I needed to stop talking about it and start doing it.
“As an architect, seeing the level of destruction, I just had a very deep desire to do something related to housing — something affordable, earthquake resistant, hurricane and tropical storm resistant,” Badon said.
“Nearly a million people are still homeless two years after the earthquake and another million live with just terrible accommodations,” he said. “The need for meeting just primal needs is hard for us to even comprehend. I’m not even talking about electricity or running water, just shelter.”
Each time he flew in and out of Haiti he saw thousands of shipping containers stacked up near the port and a sea of tarps, tents and shanties where neighborhoods used to be. He also saw crowds of unemployed people trying to survive in the worst Third World economy on Earth and got an idea.
“What if we set up a little micro-business to purchase containers at the port, hire Haitians to modify them, using local resources — people and materials — help the economy and help employ people and start building little communities of five or 10 at a time centered around a little church?” he said.
First, he needed a container, so he purchased an 8-foot by 8-foot by 20-foot steel shipping container in New Orleans last spring for $2,300, and had it trucked to Istrouma Baptist Church where he attends with his wife and three children. They parked it in a back parking lot, and he and his father, the Rev. Larry Badon, and a few other men began transforming it into a prototype, hurricane-proof “Haiti House.”
Using shipping containers for housing is not a unique idea, he said. They are already being used for eco-friendly apartments in big cities and U.S. Marines live in them in rural Afghanistan because they are more shrapnel-proof than a tent.
Over the summer, the Badons and others cut three large windows in one side and three small windows in the other, welded on hinges and shutters, installed a door inside the larger container door, framed up the interior, insulated it with foam, paneled the walls with particle board and wired it for lights to be powered by solar panels.
After two coats of bright yellow-orange “Caribbean Mango” paint, the dingy, red 5,000-pound steel box is now a bright house. An extra roof, that resembles a carport, bolts to the container’s corners to create a shady porch for outdoor cooking and to collect rainwater into cisterns.
The container house soon will be displayed near the ball fields at Istrouma Baptist Church and Darrin Badon plans to camp in it for at least a few days before shipping it to Haiti.
Efforts are being coordinated with Global Orphan Project, which is established in Haiti and tied into Istrouma’s missions program, Badon said. He said he’s praying for the right connections to successfully maneuver through the notoriously corrupt Haitian bureaucracy.
Without including the value of their own ‘sweat-equity,’ Badon said, the final cost, including shipping to Haiti, will be about $5,000.
This project is a larger mission than just providing shelter, Badon said.
“We’re trying to make it completely, 100 percent about Jesus Christ,” Badon said. “It is like a 5,000-pound tract to share the Gospel. I don’t want it to be about producing a bunch of houses — we’re trying to meet spiritual needs.”
Istrouma Baptist’s senior pastor, the Rev. Jeff Ginn, said he is excited about the project’s potential and the church is supporting it.
“With the thousands of people who are still displaced and living in tents, it’s right that we attempt to do something to mitigate their suffering, and so I’m excited about the potential this project has,” Ginn said. “We want to do it in such a way that it is a self-sustaining endeavor — not a handout but a hand-up that they themselves are partners in it.”
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