We put a call out on Facebook to find out what you want to know about Clean Water for Haiti. Let’s face it, the longer we’re here and doing what we do, the more normal and day to day it becomes to us. After over a decade, it’s easy to look at the things that would be shocking, or just plain strange to most people and not even notice. With that in mind, we wanted to know what was interesting to you, what you don’t already know about Clean Water for Haiti and what we do. We’re going to take those questions and suggestions and use them as a springboard for sharing more about who we are.
To get things started, one Facebook friend suggested that we share a bit about our history. How long have we been doing this? Why did it all get started? What have we accomplished since we opened our doors? All great questions, and things we’re pretty darn proud of.
Where It All Started
Our founders, Tal & Adele Woolsey, are from Canada, and had backgrounds in water treatment and helping people. Way back in 2001 they started to feel that God was calling them to help people with clean water. One of them, during a time of prayer and mediation, had a very clear vision of helping people in what they thought was Africa, and the name Vander Flier kept running through their head. They didn’t know any Vander Fliers, so it was a bit strange. A couple weeks later they were sitting in church and the pastor announced that a missionary family, the Vander Fliers from Haiti, were visiting. You can imagine all the things that would have been running through their minds at that moment. They connected with the Vander Fliers following the service and eventually made plans to come to Haiti to spend a couple weeks with them.
Tal & Adele made that trip in September of 2001. While here they realized that Haiti had a major water crisis, and the pieces came together for them. They returned to Canada and started making plans to return to Haiti full time. During their preparations they attended a Bio-sand filter training course that taught people how to build and install filters. With that Clean Water for Haiti was born.
In December of that same year the Woolsey’s moved to Haiti full time. The initial scope of the organization was to be a training center for small business entrepreneurs. The idea was that they would train people up to build filters, and those people would start a business in their local communities. This was the model that was being promoted with Bio-sand filter implementers around the globe at the time.
The Woolsey’s had also decided to start a well drilling program to complement the filter program. Between drilling wells and doing training classes the first year in Haiti was a busy one for them.
In early 2003 Chris joined their staff as a volunteer. They had met each other the year before at the YWAM base in St. Marc where they were all living. The Woolsey’s were renting an apartment, and Chris was on staff. Eventually the Woolsey’s found their own property, the place that would be home to Clean Water for Haiti for 13 years. Later in 2003, as things were starting to get dicey in Haiti because of political unrest, and because of some traumatic events that had taken place, the Woolsey’s decided to move back to Canada full time and asked Chris if he would take over as full time Director.
When they moved back to Canada they went to work registering the organization there so it was a stand alone charity. During that time Chris worked with friends in the US to register Clean Water for Haiti as a 501(c)3 organization in Washington state.
Chris has now been the full time in-country Executive Director for 13 years. I joined the first Board of Directors in Canada in 2004, and in 2005 moved to Haiti to join the volunteer staff full time. The mission needed an administrator, and I was it.
Over the years Chris and I have worked to develop a lot of things here. One of the most important was moving from a model of small business training to a full on subsidized filter project model. The small business model was proven to not work in Haiti because it neglected one major factor, which was the need to make the filters available to the poorest of the poor. Most families couldn’t afford to pay the full cost of the filter, which at the time was about $50 US, which was needed in order for the small business owner to reinvest in their business and keep it going. We got to participate in a survey of the 5 largest filter implementers at one point, and all five of us had come to the same conclusion – Bio-sand filters were better implemented in a subsidized program.
Another big push for us to move in this direction was hurricane Jeanne that hit Haiti back in 2004. Clean Water for Haiti was approached by a couple of large NGO’s that had trained people, but who weren’t in a place to run their own project, to see if we could go into Gonaives and provide filters for families in the flood plain. All of the water sources had been wiped out and this was one of the fastest options for getting long term access to clean water. They would provide the funding, Chris would provide the staff and oversight. He agreed, and over the next year realized that we should be doing filters if we were teaching people how to do them. How could we speak from a position of authority if we didn’t know what was involved in the day to day with running a project.
The well drilling project was shut down and Clean Water for Haiti shifted it’s full focus to doing Bio-sand filters. Yes, there were issues with a lack of water sources, but people were getting water. But, the water they were finding was contaminated. We coudl treat the water and let other people worry about creating more sources.
Our record tracking for the first 4-5 years was pretty sad, but based on what we know of what was accomplished during the big push in Gonaives, and records following, we know that Clean Water for Haiti has installed at least 24,000 filters since we opened our doors. That’s an accomplishment we’re proud of!
In my next post I’ll let you know what 24,000 filters translates to in the day to day scheme of things. It’s pretty exciting, and if we do say so ourselves, it’s kind of impressive. We feel very privileged to be part of what Clean Water for Haiti is doing.