The David Livingstone of “Dr. Livingstone, I presume,” fame — H.M. Stanley’s reported salutation on the banks of Lake Tanganyika on Nov. 10, 1871 — held a mythic status during the Victorian era as being simultaneously a missionary and an advocate of Britain‘s commercial empire, an extraordinarily adventurous explorer and an anti-slavery crusader.
Yet for the late Richard John Livingstone Martin, he was just “Uncle Dave,” although he was more realistically “Great, Grand Uncle Dave.”
Mr. Martin, who taught building construction and design at the Georgia Institute of Technology’s College of Architecture for 25 years before his retirement in 1999, of course, had never met him.
But as a descendant, he had some of the same adventurous genes preferring not just to stand talking in front of a class, but to get out and work on what he called “sustainable projects.”
While still teaching at Georgia Tech, he and a few students converted railroad cars into shelters for the homeless. That effort caught the interest of CNN, which in turn caught the interest of a businessman on the West Coast, who called Mr. Martin suggesting that he do something with a dock full of old shipping containers that he didn’t know what to do with.
At first, Mr. Martin didn’t really know what to do with containers either. He later recounted that it was on a trip to South Africa with his wife Barbara Rose, retracing the footsteps of his famous relative, when he experienced his container revelation.
As long as he thought of containers as mobile homes, he couldn’t think of them as anything other than that — mobile homes. But he came to realize that his lack of imagination was due to a “cultural bias.”
While in South Africa, they visited a culinary school that a local resident from one of the impoverished townships made out of the same sort of containers he had tried to transform into mobile homes.
Their success in housing a school opened his eyes as did the 48-room hotel they had made out of more than 50 of the abandoned containers. His revelation was that the cast-off containers could be transformed into villages and huts, a superior concept he thought than into fake mobile homes.
Back in Atlanta, he formed Global Peace Containers Inc. and soon found himself in Cross Keys, Jamaica, overseeing the construction of an elementary school composed of four containers placed corner to corner with a center courtyard, which was covered with a roof to inexpensively create more classrooms. Cut-out apertures created the windows and doors providing access to and light into courtyard.
Consequently, 150 children had a school to attend for a cost of about $10,000.
That project idea led others to construct medical facilities, community centers, emergency housing, even an orphanage.
Then on Jan. 12, 2010, Mr. Martin saw the photos of containers thrown into the sea by the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti.
As thousands of Haitians were left homeless and sequestered into impromptu tent camps, Mr. Martin considered the containers as an immediate answer to the country’s sudden housing shortage as well as a means to employment.
With the support of Atlanta-based Goodworks International LLC and other organizations such as the Wings Over Haiti Foundation, the concept of building a school in Haiti out of containers grew into reality. In March 2013 a ribbon cutting at the school was held during which Mr. Martin was honored by the 53 elementary students at the school who sang the Haitian national anthem in French and the American anthem in English. Mr. Martin died from an apparent heart attack in Atlanta four months later.
His wife, Ms. Rose, told Global Atlanta that — without overlooking the work of her husband and the other supporters — the person who was essential to the development of the school is Shad St. Louis, a native of Haiti who had moved to the U.S. with his family at age 12 only to have his father killed in an auto accident six months after their arrival.
Despite this setback, Mr. St. Louis persevered eventually earning a degree in education and planning to settle into a teaching career. The earthquake in Haiti, however, propelled him to return and help rebuild the country out of its widespread desolation.
As if predestined, Mr. St. Louis met Jonathan Nash Glynn, an artist with a single-engine Cessna who was flying to Miami when the earthquake hit. Instead of stopping in Miami, he got enough fuel to continue and with a primitive global positioning system landed in Jacmel on the Caribbean coast south of Port-au-Prince, the capital.
In an amazing response to the devastation he saw, Mr. Glynn became one of the first Americans with private planes to transport critical medical supplies and personnel in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. His efforts eventually led to the creation of the WingsOverHaiti Fund and Foundation.
Through Fanny Martinez, a Los Angeles-based documentary film maker originally from the Dominican Republic who had been taken with the idea of using containers to build schools, Mr. Glynn and Mr. St. Louis met and joined the momentum to build the Ecole Mixte de Sibert in the Croix-des-Bouquets district eight miles north of Port-au-Prince.
Mr. Glynn bought the two acres on which the school has been built and Mr. St. Louis became its headmaster.
“If you had the opportunity of choosing the perfect head of any school,” Ms. Rose told Global Atlanta. “Someone who is smart, caring, educated and diplomatic, Shad would be that person.”
These sentiments were echoed by Martha Henson, the executive director of the ArtReach Foundation, the nonprofit that first earned its stripes working with traumatized children from the Bosnian war to help them lead productive lives through art therapy.
The foundation has worked on providing programs both abroad including the Middle East and at home including the U.S. Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina for not only children but entire communities.
Currently, ArtReach is working at the Ecole Mixte de Sibert with a group of diverse professional volunteers who have experience in a wide variety of fields ranging from psychology to art therapy to photography.
Ms. Henson told Global Atlanta that Mr. St. Louis’ ability to involve entire communities from the Croix-des-Bouquets district in the ArtReach classes have led to the program’s initial success at the school.
There’s no question that Mr. Martin would be pleased that Georgia Tech remains involved and carries on the inspiration of Dr. David Livingstone
And Dr. Livingstone without doubt would be encouraged by the role being played by Shean Phelps, a medical doctor at the Georgia Tech Research Institute.
A former “Green Beret” and Special Forces senior weapons specialist, he is on the foundation’s board to provide a professional evaluation of the success of the ArtReach programs in providing positive outcomes in the lives of the students and their communities.