Skip to main content

KNOXVILLE — Faculty and students from the College of Architecture and Design and the College of Engineering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, will travel to Haiti over fall break to begin a months-long design-and-build project in Fond-des-Blancs, a town 70 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince.

This is the first UT Knoxville group to travel to Haiti since the January 2010 earthquake.

The thousands of Port-au-Prince residents displaced from the earthquake have fled to neighboring towns and cities looking for somewhere new to call home. One such community, Fond-des-Blancs, about two hours from the capital, has seen a steady increase in population due to those migrating from Port-au-Prince and needs to improve its civic infrastructure to better serve the larger population.

The UT group will work on a secondary boarding school to complement the existing elementary school and a paved road and bridge connecting the town with a major hospital.

This trip to Haiti will be the first of several trips for the group, which includes two architecture faculty, two engineering faculty and several undergraduate and graduate students in architecture, interior design, landscape architecture and engineering.

The group will depart at 10 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 6, from Staff Lot 9 next to the Art + Architecture Building on the UT Knoxville campus.

This initial trip will be used to survey the sites for the school and the road and gather information needed to start the project in January. Subsequent travel currently is planned for winter break, spring break and summer 2011 to finish the project.

“This project is an opportunity for our students to engage a real need, working on a project in one of the poorest nations in the world. We are all very grateful for this opportunity to offer assistance,” said John McRae, dean of the College of Architecture and Design. “Experience like this will clearly be of support to the people of the community, but it also will provide a cultural immersion and broadened experience that will be profound.”

The UT Knoxville group is working with Haiti Christian Development Fund (HCDF), which has been actively working in Fond-des-Blancs since 1982. Fond-des-Blancs is the business hub for five communities and hundreds of habitations. The estimated population of the area is 70,000.

The collaboration with HCDF is based on a longstanding friendship between McRae and the Rev. Jean Thomas of HCDF.

“I reached out to Rev. Thomas and told him that I wanted to be of any assistance possible,” McRae said. “He approached me later about the need for the road, the bridge and the school, and we immediately started working on getting the involvement from others at UT.” McRae said he has known Thomas and his wife, Joy, for 25 years and previously traveled to Fond-des-Blancs in 1986 for a similar two-week design-build and medical assistance program.

As part of the group’s preparation for the project, the students and faculty will be reading “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” a novel by Tracy Kidder themed around international travel and humanity. The book was chosen by UT Knoxville for the 2010-2011 Life of the Mind, a program that encourages first-year students to read a common book during the summer, submit a creative response and then participate in discussion groups led by faculty and staff during their first week on campus. Kidder’s novel is the story of physician and anthropologist Dr. Paul Farmer as he works to relieve the suffering of some of the poorest people in Haiti.

The group also is reading a book by Thomas called “At Home with the Poor,” which is about Haiti and the work of the HCDF in Fond-des-Blancs.

HCDF is a faith-based organization primarily involved in doing holistic Christian community development in rural Haiti. Its basic premise is to proclaim good news to the poor through reconciliation, relocation and redistribution.

For more information about HCDF, visit

C O N T A C T :

Kristi Hintz, Media Relations, (865-974-3993,