Sherm Balch saw first-hand the devastation and destruction of Haiti shortly after a 7.0 earthquake struck in 2010, killing an estimated 250,000 people. Sherm and a group of people from his church, Cornerstone Fellowship in Livermore, CA, traveled to Haiti to determine where they could be of help. Sherm resolved to use his gifts and resources and two years later, in 2012, Extollo International was formed.

Sherm felt a call to help in the rebuilding of Haiti and to do the reconstruction in a way that was going to rebuild a stronger Haiti. Key to this vision was Haitian men and women becoming involved and partnering with Extollo in the rebuilding of their communities.

I recently sat down with Keith Cobell, President of Extollo International. Keith started by saying, “Sherm’s expertise is in the area of construction, particularly in masonry and concrete. So when we saw the extensive damage, Sherm quickly realized the primary reason for all the devastation and so much death was because the infrastructure in Haiti was so weak, particularly the buildings. Very few of the structures were built to any kind of international building standards and the earthquake unfortunately caused structures to collapse crushing many, many people.”

Keith told me, “Sherm felt a call to help in the rebuilding of Haiti and to do the reconstruction in a way that was going to rebuild a stronger Haiti.” Key to this vision was Haitian men and women becoming involved and partnering with Extollo in the rebuilding of their communities.

 

We will probably always want to bring in outside talent from time to time to maintain a high level of instruction and expose our students to the latest construction best-practices

A ripple effect was created when the Haitian men and women rebuilding their communities began helping their friends and neighbors to rebuild their homes. That ripple effect became, “The genesis of Extollo starting a construction company and a trade school that have a synergistic relationship,” said Keith.

A few years later Extollo acquired property in Haiti to begin building the infrastructure for the trade school and construction company. Extollo is still in the early stages of developing the trade school, which now offers entry-level training courses in four trades most relevant for Haiti: (1) Concrete, (2) Masonry, (3) Welding and (4) Electrical.

Each day the trade school starts with a devotion, walking through Scripture with the students teaching them what it means to be a person of integrity and honesty, and teaching them, as Keith says, “We work for our Heavenly Father first and foremost.”

While there is still a need, experienced construction professionals travel from the States to Haiti to help in mentoring, training and quality control for the classes offered through the trade school.

This year, for the first time, a Welding course was offered and was led and taught by the Haitian staff, “…which is really what we want for the future of Extollo,” stated Keith. “We will probably always want to bring in outside talent from time to time to maintain a high level of instruction and expose our students to the latest construction best-practices.”

Currently the courses offered through the Extollo trade school run for two weeks. One week is classroom instruction and the second week is a hands-on practicum where the students are actually working on a project.

Our goal is that our graduates are so competitive in the job market because of their certification from Extollo that they are able to take jobs from expats [someone living in a foreign country] that are brought in to work on the more sophisticated construction projects being built in Haiti.

Students can currently take any of the four trades in level one while levels two, three and four are being developed. “Our goal is that our graduates are so competitive in the job market because of their certification from Extollo that they are able to take jobs from expats [someone living in a foreign country] that are brought in to work on the more sophisticated construction projects being built in Haiti,” Keith explained. “That part of Extollo’s vision is to establish the Extollo brand as a seal of quality that communicates to the prospective employer that the candidate is capable and competent at a high level of quality in building at international building standards.”

Extollo is in the process of determining where they will seek accreditation in order to provide their students with the most highly regarded graduation certificate. Keith said, “We will initially gain accreditation from the government of Haiti, then an international body.”

Hiring Alert! Keith wants our readers to know that Extollo is in the process of hiring a Foreman to live in Haiti for at least a couple of years to help their construction company get off the ground.

Keith explained, “Part of our mission as a social enterprise is to make a positive social impact in the country along with an economic one, providing jobs for our alums and others we can train. Any earned revenue we generate will be poured back into Extollo’s social mission of building up men and women of character and substance that will impact their neighborhoods, families and communities.”

Each day the trade school starts with a devotion, walking through Scripture with the students teaching them what it means to be a person of integrity and honesty, and teaching them, as Keith says, “We work for our Heavenly Father first and foremost.”

Thank you so much, you helped me start a business

Keith shared this story of one student’s ingenuity after taking the level one electrical course through Extollo. The student had gone home to wire his house and soon his neighbors were asking him to wire their homes. Keith told me, “Within a couple of months this former student came back to us to say thank you so much, you helped me start a business. I have more work than I can possibly do. I’ve even hired people to help me with my new electrical business.”

When the local government of Bercy reached out to Extollo for help in dealing with a road that floods during the rainy season and is used by Extollo frequently, Extollo provided some funding and expertise in how to best construct the canal to adequately drain the water. Extollo offered to help but the local city government needed to own, manage, and provide labor for the project.

On a recent visit Keith saw about 30 men working to build a portion of a 350 foot concrete canal to a culvert where the flood waters will be diverted. Extollo is partnering with the local community by asking what their greatest needs are and to what extent the community is willing to put “skin in the game” to support a project. Keith said, “A larger principle that drives us is to not do for others what they can do for themselves.”

One of Extollo’s goals is to help Haitians maintain their self-agency; own their decisions, unleash their ability to help themselves, and own their sense of commitment and accountability to their co-workers, to themselves, to God, and to their communities.

Once perfected, Extollo’s current social enterprise program in Haiti will have a core platform that can be implemented in other parts of the world that need help. However, there is still so much work left to be done in Haiti that Extollo will expand in Haiti before considering elsewhere. Keith said, “We’re not looking at importing a top-down fix for Haiti. We’re looking at it as a grassroots movement from the ground up – Haitian’s building a stronger Haiti, and we’re just giving them the skills and the capacity to be able to do that.”

We in the States have grown up with fantastic infrastructure and all that we know is that everything works. The roads work, the lights work, you can get your double latte frappacino just about anywhere, all these different things work because the infrastructure that was built generations ago we can benefit from now.

I asked Keith some final thoughts about what he wants our readers to know. He told me, “One of the most strategic ways to be involved in a country like Haiti is through strengthening and improving its infrastructure. We in the States have grown up with fantastic infrastructure and all that we know is that everything works. The roads work, the lights work, you can get your double latte frappacino just about anywhere, all these different things work because the infrastructure that was built generations ago we can benefit from now. In a place like Haiti and many places in the developing world, the infrastructure is so tenuous. And that becomes incredibly apparent when you have a natural disaster.”

To learn more about Extollo and how you can partner with them or information to apply for the foreman position please visit https://www.extollointernational.org/

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Terese Belme is the Editor of Norcal Christian Voice. Her passion is to come alongside others and encourage them in their identity, authority, and inheritance in Jesus as ambassadors to the kingdom of God. Terese is a contributing author to Inspire Christian Writers “Love” (2017) and “Kindness” (2018) Anthologies.