An uphill race to save Haiti's gingerbread homes

Rising out of the rubble of the 2010 earthquake, Haiti's quant gingerbread-style homes, hidden across the capital of Port-au-Prince, gained new attention, being some of the only buildings still standing amidst other, newer buildings that tumbled down. Today, the urgency is on preserving these treasures, which have been neglected and unrenovated for many years. Many have already succumbed to the crush of the bulldozer, making room for lesser structures, but their ability to stand upright when hundreds of other buildings around them crumbled to dust proves they are well worth the saving.

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The gingerbread homes are so called for their old world architecture, including wood frames, spires, turrets and whimsical latticework. They are often hidden behind high walls like erstwhile castles, preserving time while Port-au-Prince expands around them. Taking part in the preservation of these precious buildings is a nonprofit called FOKAL, or Knowledge & Freedom Foundation. Within the program, local craftsmen are learning how to restore the homes, as the arts of carpentry and masonry, as they were in the days the homes were built, aren't being passed down in the same way today.

About twelve craftsmen, usually used to working with modern materials such as cement and concrete blocks, are being trained to work with lime and mortar, ochre bricks and imported wood. There is a sense of pride in the group around restoring the approximately 200 gingerbread homes in Port-au-Prince. The structures are seen as three dimensional objects of Haitian art, part of the heritage and culture. This is why, though the job is very expensive and in no way easy, FOKAL continues to restore them, one house at a time.

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