Harvey Lacey helps Haitians turn garbage into earthquake-proof building materials called Ubuntu-blox, directly addressing their country’s biggest issues: waste management, employment, and home building.
“Ubuntu-blox is a holistic concept. Holistic concepts are difficult to comprehend in a world where segmentation is how things are done.”
Using a very simple machine press that Harvey Lacey invented, anyone can compress garbage overflow into building blocks, or Ubuntu-blox. The blocks are then stacked and secured with metal wire, creating an impressive earthquake and hurricane-resistant structure able to withstand 7.0 tremors and winds up to 90 miles an hour. Additionally, “Every piece of foam and film plastic that ends up in a building block is a piece of plastic that will not end up in the ocean, landscape or landfill,” Harvey says. Indeed, the garbage diverted to building a single home is equal to one 40-foot shipping container’s worth of trash from the ocean.
But that’s only a part of it. In this idea also lives a way out of poverty for the women who are helping Harvey build the homes — provided Harvey can continue to fund the project. The 64-year-old retiree has devoted himself (and his wife, and their savings) to the development and promotion of Ubuntu-blox. They toil on, however, dedicated to their mission and to the women “who have embraced the idea and are excited about it.” As Harvey explains, “They see Ubuntu-blox as a stairway to a better life designed for the way they work and their circumstances."
Despite his economic situation, Harvey doesn’t want to hold onto Ubuntu-blox for his own profit — the idea is for anyone to use. Harvey explains. “Any welder anywhere can make the machinery required to make the blocks. Anyone can easily learn to make the blocks and build with them.”
For Harvey, the sum of recycling the trash, creating jobs, empowering women, and building homes still falls short of explaining the complete picture. “I have found acceptance of any one part of the Ubuntu-blox concept everywhere. But very few can grasp the totality of the vision. I believe that is because we are not encouraged to think big.” With this, it seems Harvey is referring to the interstitial spaces between the jobs and philosophies and people: the dialogue formed “between mainstream business and the poorest communities,” the pride felt in building one’s own home, and the sense of connection to something greater than one person, or even one country — that weave together to create the “holistic answers to holistic questions.”