World Water Day – Water Is Work!

Today is World Water Day, the day the United Nations has set apart to focus on water needs around the globe. This years theme is “Water Is Work”. I’m excited about the theme because it ties in so beautifully with one of the major goals of our organization – to provide local employment wherever we can, increasing the impact of what we’re doing.

 

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When Clean Water for Haiti shifted focus to just doing a bio-sand filter project, one of the things that became incredibly important was that we did as much locally as possible. I’ve already talked a bit about the fact that one of the main reasons we like the concrete model of the bio-sand filter was because it meant being able to produce the filters in Haiti. When Chris and I talk to people about this, he often says, “I would rather pay a Haitian to produce the filters with stuff we can buy here in country over paying a guy $40 per hour in the US to push a button that fills a mold with plastic.”

Our hearts are focused on development. That’s why our motto is “Empowering. Improving. Sustaining.” We want what we do, every aspect of it, to make a difference. It’s not just about getting filters into homes so people can have clean water, it’s about doing it in a way that creates a bigger impact.

When I joined the mission staff back in 2005, we were really just starting to put legs on the filter project. It was a lot of trial and error in figuring out how to do the promotion and creating a program that worked. At the time we had 3 full time employees. That’s it. 3 guys that came to work after the sun came up and quit when the sun was going down. They would build filters as needed. At the time there were a couple of volunteers that would go out into the local community and just talk to people in an effort to educate about the filters, how they worked, and to hopefully sign people up to buy a filter. We had an instalment program in place that meant visiting the same people 4 times to get their full payment for the filters. It wasn’t efficient, especially because all the volunteers were foreigners. Not only were they not from the community, they weren’t even Haitian. There are all sorts of cultural things that come into play with that dynamic, and we faced them all.

About a month or so after I arrived, we hired a few more employees – Richard, Fritzner and Evens.

Do you know what’s amazing? Those three were hired in the fall of 2005. It’s now 2016 and they still work for us. They are some of our most trusted and capable employees.

 

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Fritzner is older, now in his early 50’s I believe, and the father of 5 children, one of whom just got married last year. He has always been looked to with respect by the other guys. He’s provided a sense of stability among our staff. He brings a desire to do things right, and to work with communities in a way that is effective. Over the years Fritzner has been given the responsibility of being our Head Filter Technician. It’s his job to find new promoters in the communities we want to go into, coach them through the process of selling filters and taking orders, and then schedule delivery days with them when enough orders have been received. He’s our main contact for all filter recipients. If their filter is giving them problems, they call Fritzner. Aside from all that he is sweet and humble and a hard worker. His work here has enabled him to provide for his wife and family consistently for over a decade.

 

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Richard and Evens joined our staff as high school students. They were both in their mid to late 20’s which is a very normal thing. Getting through secondary school is a challenge here. There are no government schools that provide free public education. That means that families have to pay for every child to get an education. In most cases it means students go inconsistently and many don’t finish secondary school at all. When Evens and Richard came to work for Clean Water for Haiti they worked part time. They would come to work for the morning, then go to school in the afternoons. The money they made from their jobs at CWH made it possible for them to finish secondary school.

Since then Evens has worked hard at saving so he could get more education. We didn’t find out until he was about halfway through, but he had been working during the week at the mission, and on weekends would go to Port au Prince and attend electrician and plumbing school. At the time we were working on a building project, so we put his new skills to work and found out he was fabulous. He also put himself through driving school and got his license, and is one of our best drivers. Now Evens is one of our most valuable workers, and Chris frequently jokes with him that we have to keep giving him raises because he just keeps getting better and better. Because of his full time work here he’s been able to get more trades education that he has used in his work for CWH, but also on weekends when he can contract out. He’s been able to build at least one house and is doing really well for himself. I asked him once how people treated him because of all this, because I know jealousy can be an issue, and he said, “That was a problem at first, but now people see that I’ve worked hard and that it’s creating a good life, and they respect me for it. It makes them think about their own lives and how they’re doing things.”

 

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A few years after Richard started working with us his father passed away. Richard is the oldest child in his family, which meant that much of the responsibility for making sure the family was taken care of fell on his shoulders. Over the years he’s become one of our best filter technicians. A few years ago he came to Chris and told him that he really wanted to learn to do mechanical work, and asked if Chris would let him work alongside him when he was working on the trucks. Until that point, Chris had to either find a mechanic, or do it himself. We were excited that someone on our staff had an interest because we have 5 vehicles and 5 motorcycles that all require a lot of maintenance. Eventually, because he had full time work here, he was able to take a mechanics course and put all of it to work. I still remember the first time he took apart one of the motorcycle motors to rebuild it. Our friend Andy came to work with him to take it all apart, and then we made Richard put it back together by himself. When it started up he had the hugest grin on his face and I just said, “We knew you could do it!” He was so proud of himself.

 

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Since then he’s become not only our mechanic, but also one of our main drivers. If Richard can’t fix something, he works with another mechanic that we’ve come to know to make sure things get fixed well. Last fall I got to spend a lot of time with Richard as we did trips to Port au Prince to run errands and buy supplies for the construction of our new facilities. During those trips we would talk about a lot of things, and I learned that he was building a house because he was getting married. It’s the grooms responsibility to rent or build a house, and to take care of all the big furnishings in it, while the bride is responsible for the smaller items like linens, dishes, etc. Because of his full time job he was able to provide a home for his new bride when they got married in December.

 

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While it would be easy to just look at the material provision that a full time job can provide, as employers we see so much more.

When we hire a new employee they come into things seeing it as an opportunity for a full time job. We start to notice a shift after about a year though. By that time they’ve been with us long enough to get a good grasp on what we’re doing as an organization, and they’ve started to understand just what kind of impact we’re making on the communities we’re working in. They go on delivery days and see how excited people get about the filters. They go on follow up visits and see the importance of the education they’re giving our filter recipients. They start to connect all the dots. A filter that’s constructed well will serve a family well. A filter thats installed well will provide clean water. When families grab on to the education it’s the start of generational change.

Our staff come to learn that hard work earns raises. They get trusted with small responsibilities and if they do well with that, they’re given more responsibilities. Pair that with an interest in a particular part of what we do and it can lead to more training. Training leads to skill development, and all of the things that we train our guys to do are marketable skills. Things like driving, welding, teaching.

We expect a lot from our staff, but we do it because we know they’re capable of reaching that bar. For us it’s not just about empowering people with access to clean water, it’s about empowering the people that help us make it all possible. Time and time again we’ve had employees tell us how much they like their work with Clean Water for Haiti, not just because it’s a full time job, but because it’s a job with a purpose. They’re doing something for their own people. They’re making a difference, Chris and I just manage things. They’re the ones doing the work. And they’re proud of it.

One of our Facebook followers asked me to talk about the impact of employment with Clean Water for Haiti, and if I had to sum it up to one thing I would say it’s this:

Dignity.

I know I’ve said this over and over, but I’ll say it again – it’s about more than just clean water.

When you support Clean Water for Haiti by donating towards our filter program, part of that gift is helping us to pay staff. The very people that make all of this happen every day. Thank you for investing in them, and for helping us make an impact in their lives.

If you want to celebrate World Water Day with us by making a donation that will have a huge impact, please visit our website.

~Leslie

Life & Death Responsibility

We’re going to veer away from some of the reader questions that we’ve been answering in the last few posts because there’s something that’s on my heart, and I think it’s important to talk about because it really does shape the way we do our work here in Haiti. What I want to talk with you about is the great responsibility that people like us have in the work that we do.

 

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I think the idea of development is appealing to a lot of people. I think the majority of the human race all have an inborn desire to help their fellow man. It’s the reason that we respond with compassion when we know someone is in need. It’s the reason people get involved, initially, in development work. It’s why we have non-profit organizations for every need out there. And, it’s a good thing. But something can be good, and it can be not enough at the same time.

In the 10 years that I’ve been living and working in Haiti I’ve had plenty of opportunity to see humanitarian, missions, and development projects started. Some of them are really effective, but sadly a lot aren’t. That’s really a whole other series of posts, and isn’t what I want to focus on today. What I want to talk to you about is the fact that intentions are not enough, especially when we’re working in a capacity that directly affects people’s health.

There are a lot of household water filtration methods and tools out there. We, as an organization, have chosen to just work with one of those. We have a lot of reasons why we’ve chosen to work with the Bio-sand filters.

  • They’re something we can build in country with local materials.
  • We can use local labor in the construction, distribution and follow up – more impact for our donor dollars and helping in a broader way.
  • The technology itself is great for Haiti because it takes a lot of factors into consideration, including education levels, resource availability, culture, maintenance and overall cost in relation to effectiveness.
  • We can make them available to the entire population.

There are a lot more reasons, but those are the basics.

Like I said, there are a lot of other household water treatment options out there, and there are a lot of people implementing them all over the world, and that’s a great thing.

The problem arises when people don’t look beyond the actual implementation part. Implementation is a fancy word that we use in the industry that just means “put into use”. When we “implement” a filter we’re putting it into use in a home.

What we see happen in most cases here in Haiti is that an organization or group will decide that they want to help with the water issues here, so they look at options and decide to help get people some kind of filter. They decide what kind of filter to get, make arrangements to get a whole bunch of them, and then go and install them or distribute them. In theory this is a great and noble thing. Seriously. Where I struggle is not in the intention, but in how the whole thing gets done. How it gets implemented, if you will.

In most cases this work is being done by a group of visitors who are in country for a week or two. Often no one in the group has had any formal training on the technology itself. Yes, they may have had a crash course on how to install the filter, but most couldn’t actually tell you how it works. They couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it if it wasn’t working correctly, and they wouldn’t know how to fix it if they did know what was wrong. They come in, and maybe they’re working with local people in some capacity, but typically this is from a logistical perspective. The people here on the ground make all the arrangements for the group, and walk through the process with them.

Case in point, one January we were flying back to Haiti after our Christmas break. In the Miami airport we made ourselves comfortable in the boarding lounge, and not long after about 15 people wearing matching shirts came and sat right next to us. Their shirts were advertising that Haiti didn’t have clean water, so they were bringing it to the people. As is usual, because our family typically gets noticed, a couple of the team members started to make conversation. Eventually we got around to What do you do? We told them we run an organization that does Bio-sand filters. They got very excited and said, “That’s what we’re going to do! It’s really great. We’re going to install Bio-sand filters in people’s homes this week.” We smiled politely. Then they asked me how long we’d been doing this. “I’ve been there for 7 years” I answered. 7 months? they asked. “No, 7 years.” And then everyone felt uncomfortable and they started playing with their phones. I hadn’t been rude in the least. I’d been very kind. They felt uncomfortable because in that split second they realized that we did this every day, and they were going to do it for a week, and then leave.

Once the filters are distributed or installed, what happens then? Normally the group goes home.

Who does the family call if their filter isn’t working? Anyone? There probably isn’t anyone for them to call.

Does anyone visit the filter regularly to make sure that it’s still working correctly? In most cases the answer to this question, with any filter program is no.

 

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Please hear me when I say this – I’m not digging at people’s intentions. It’s not about that. Good intentions start with something deeper – the desire to help people. That’s a good thing. No, it’s not about intentions. For me, for us, it’s about loving people fully and well.

Hear me out.

When we’re sick, we go to the doctor, we don’t go to the grocery store and talk to the produce guy. We don’t do that because the produce guy isn’t a doctor. He’s not trained to diagnose and help heal. Need to know how to pick out the best tomatoes? Yes. Diagnosing that nasty rash? No. It’s obvious, right? You trust someone that has training and experience to help with a specific need.

When you are sick, you recognize that the human body is fragile, in the sense that if you do the wrong thing, were diagnosed with the wrong malady or were prescribe the wrong medication it can do a lot of damage. Doctors are required to swear to and abide by the Hipocratic Oath – first do no harm. That’s why no produce guy.

When we’re working with water filtration we are firstly working with people’s health, and we should want to do the very best we can in a way that will do no harm.

That’s it. There is no way around it.

If we want to love people fully, we should do the very best we can for them, even if that means putting our own needs aside. If the very best is to give them access to a tool that can improve their health, we should do that in the very best way we can. We should not do it half way, or in a way that could potentially lead to harm. If we do something really well, sometimes that means we have to put our own needs and desires aside to make sure that happens. If the best thing is to do it ourselves, that’s great. But, if the best thing is to support an organization that is trained to do it better then we ever could, even if it means we’re a bit more removed from the process, then we should go that route. Again, if we really want to love people, it means doing what’s best for them.

When we’re asking a family to adopt a filter, to use it every day, we’re asking them to trust us with their health. It’s not just about the idea of clean water. It’s about getting them something that won’t kill them.

Yes, I just said that. I said it because it’s true. I said it because when a filter is installed poorly, incorrectly, or doesn’t have adequate education or follow up we can literally be killing people. When we ask them to put confidence in any kind of water filter, we have a huge responsibility to make sure that it’s going to do it’s job, and do it well.

We’re asking mothers to trust that a filter is going to provide clean water for their babies. We’re asking families to trust that the filter is going to provide clean water for their older family members, or those with depleted immune systems that can’t fight off disease.

 

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If we install a filter and the family doesn’t know how to use it properly, or it’s not installed and working properly, and they think it is, we can be causing a lot of damage.

That is a responsibility that is ever before us, and it’s one we take very seriously.

It’s the reason why every filter we install gets a form with all the needed information about the household and filter. It’s the reason those forms get entered into a data base so we can be tracking our technicians work and how we’re all doing our jobs. It’s the reason each filter gets three visits in the first year. It’s the reason each of those installations and follow up visits are done by a very well trained technician who works with the filters every. single. day. It’s the reason that we repair and replace broken filters for free. It’s the reason we welcome and get excited about research teams coming to check on our work, and listen to their results and use them to do it even better.

It’s also the reason why, when we get contacted by a well meaning group of people to ask if we can supply filters for them to install, we say no*.

We believe in our responsibility to do no harm. Water borne disease is a real thing. Illnesses, like Cholera, that can whip through a healthy persons body and kill them in 48 hours are a real thing.

If we do our job right, and well, people can trust that their filter is working properly and helping them to get healthy. If we don’t, and people are putting confidence in a filter that’s not actually properly removing all those disease causing microbes, they will get sick. And, they might die.

It’s a life and death responsibility. When people contribute to the work of Clean Water for Haiti, they can have confidence that we’re working from a place of deep love for the Haitian people that drives us to do what we do really well.

First, do no harm.

~Leslie

*We do like to tell them about our Vision Trips that will give them the opportunity to spend a week with us and work alongside our staff to learn about the whole process of building filters, and to go out on a delivery day to see how we install them and work with families. So, we’re not big meanies, we just work in a really specific way.

What the Numbers Mean

 

In my last post I answered a question sent to us by one of our Facebook followers. Today’s post is a continuation of that conversation, and it’s honestly one of the things that excites us the most about what we do. We’ve been here in Haiti for 15 years, serving families by giving them access to clean water. As you know, we choose to do that in a very focused way through building and installing water filters. But, we also have a part of our programs that involves a training school where we train other organizations to do what we do, with the hope that they’ll be able to reach parts of the country that we just physically can’t. I’ll share more about that later on on, but for now let’s jump in with todays question – what do the numbers mean?

 

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To start things off, we need to go back to the actual numbers themselves. In my last post I finished things off by sharing that since we opened our doors here in Haiti, Clean Water for Haiti has installed over 24,000 Bio-sand filters.

We don’t have exact numbers from our early days, probably the first 4-5 years. Because we started with a small business model, more of the focus was on training. There were filters that were installed in communities, but they were typically installed in common areas, and in batches of 2-3. The idea was to create public access to filtered water, which you would think would be a good thing, but over time we learned that this model didn’t work.

In almost every case of those community installations, when the filters were visited later on, sometimes a year down the road, and sometimes only a month or two, they were found abandoned and not being used. Sometimes they were knocked over, sometimes they had the sand pulled out… lots of things. The bottom line was that they weren’t being used for the purpose intended. As an organization we’re always trying to learn from our experiences, and use that knowledge to shape and grow what we’re doing, hopefully for the better.

Eventually Chris realized that the model wasn’t working. When you want to do development effectively you have to take into consideration all of the things that will affect how effective you are. In theory we would think that any community level focus would be welcomed, and it’s not that it wasn’t – it was that people weren’t ready for that type of community focus.

Haiti has some interesting and challenging cultural issues that hadn’t been considered initially, but greatly affected how people adopted the filters. One of the challenges here is the influence of Voodoo on culture. Voodoo is a very fear based religion. It involves cursing people and using that fear to manipulate how people interact. When you put that in a community context, it can cause a lot of distrust with neighbors. If you have an issue with someone, or they have an issue with you, they might go to the boko to put a curse on you. Poisoning sounds crazy to most of us, but it does happen here. When we were installing filters in a community space, people were afraid to use them because they didn’t know if people were tampering with things. When you factor in their culture, it makes sense. But, it’s amazing how often this isn’t considered in development projects. Recently we had a site visit with a group and as we sat talking their Haitian staff asked what some of the challenges were and why we didn’t focus things at a community level. When we told them this answer one of them kept nodding and said, “You know Haiti. I’ve never heard anyone mention this, but it’s so true!” Not gonna lie, that felt good. It meant we had figured out something that would allow us to change our programs to better reach the people.

The other major factor in why we no longer focus our efforts at a community level is that doing anything at a community level effectively means the community, as a collective, needs to be involved. In the case of the Bio-sand filters, who’s responsible for maintaining them? What if there’s a problem between that person and someone else in the community? What if they aren’t doing their job? The whole community suffers, and as we see time and time again here, whatever it was that was implemented typically falls into disrepair and stops being used.

So, with those major things in mind, Chris shifted gears with the program and decided to focus on a household level. If we only installed filters in individual homes, the filter owner had complete control over their filter. They no longer had to worry about anyone tampering with it because it would be inside their house. If they had issue with someone, or vice versa, they didn’t need to worry about their filter, and as a result their water, being used to harm them. With that, installing filters at a household level took the responsibility for maintaining the filter off a person chosen by the community or a group, and put that responsibility in the hands of the homeowner.

One more factor in this decision is that we believe in empowering people. We want to give them the opportunity to participate in the solution. By focusing on households we get to work directly with families. Parents can choose to better the health of their family by purchasing a filter. They aren’t reliant on a community system that may or may not be working. They could finally have access to clean water, and they could have control over it. It became something they did, we just provided access and education.

Once we switched to this model and started to put our focus on developing an active filter program things started falling into place. In all honesty, there were a lot of people that doubted our model way back when. It wasn’t typical for industry standards. But, we kept at it.

 

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One of our biggest challenges after we shifted to a subsidized filter program was actually doing the promotion. We would send our technicians out on motorcycles into communities to tell people about the filters, and at the time, were doing an instalment payment system. It was tough! The main reason? Our technicians were going into communities where no one knew them. And then asking people to give them money to pay for their filters. The instalment payments weren’t working because it meant revisiting people multiple times to see if they had the next instalment. It might take months for families to buy their filter, and then we had to track all of that. It was too complicated. Would you believe that it was a high school student that helped us solve this problem?

Back in early 2007 a missionary friend who runs a school said that one of his students, who we knew, asked if there would be a possibility of getting filters into his community. It was very rural, and quite a ways out, but Chris said that if he could sell 20 filters and collect the money from the families ahead of time, we would send the truck and do the delivery and installations. We thought it would take a really long time, but Kesme had 20 orders in two weeks, money and all. We had room on the truck for 25 filters, so that’s what the guys took out on that first load, and when the truck got there people were so excited that they started fighting over who got to buy the extra 5 filters. La Grange had received one of our original filters, and would you believe it was still there, and barely dripping water, but people would sit with a cup under it just to get a cup of clean water!

We told Kesme that if he wanted to keep taking orders, we would keep bringing filters. To our surprise, two weeks later he had another 70 orders. And again, people were buying the extras off the truck. Not long after those deliveries a delegation of people showed up at the mission to tell us that their community was just down the road from La Grange, and they wanted to know how to get filters too. We asked them to delegate a person to take orders, collect the money, and be responsible for contacting our staff. Soon they had their first orders of filters installed, and there was a ripple effect that started to move from one community to another, and our Community Promoter model was started. All because of one high school student who cared about his village.

We still use this Community Promoter model today. We’ve made minor tweaks over the years, but it’s still essentially the same, and is the way that we sell the majority of our filters. It’s an effective method because the promoter is from that area. People know them. Often they’re already some kind of leader that people respect. Because of that, people have confidence in giving them money to purchase their filter. If the promoter doesn’t follow through with what has been committed, then there’s recourse and accountability that can happen on a community level. We have had promoters that have abused the situation, and in every situation we work with the community in whatever way we can to solve the problem.

So, how does this translate into the original question about numbers and impact?

Through this model of Community Promoters we’ve been able to scale up our operations from installing 5-10 filters per month to over 100 filters per month. We now have the facilities to build and deliver 400 filters per month, and that’s our goal as we plan for growth over the coming years.

How many people does a filter serve each day?

Every Bio-sand filter we install typically serves 8-10 people per day. That’s the number we use to estimate impact. It’s the average size of a Haitian household. In that we recognize that some are smaller, but in many cases people are also allowing friends and family to come and filter water at their home. It’s a conservative estimate.

Lets do the math.

We know we’ve installed at least 24,000 filters since we started. Loose estimate, but probably pretty close. We started heavily tracking installations in 2010, and now have records for every single filter we install, as well as info for every follow up visit we do in the first year. This is another thing to talk about, but later…

So, if we multiply 24,000 by 10 people per filter, we get a whopping 240,000 people.

That’s exciting in and of itself, but lets look at a couple of other things.

First, that would be a single impact number. As in, at some point in the past 15 years we’ve provided clean water for a minimum of 240,000 people – one time.

But, the filters we install get used daily. We get blown away when we think about things on those terms. Daily, our program is impacting hundreds of thousands of people. We don’t typically talk those numbers simply because we know a lot of our early filters were abandoned because of holes in our program, but again, we’ve learned a lot from that and let it guide us in how we’ve developed our program.

Second, Haiti has an overall population of about 10 million people. When you look at the total number of filters that we’ve installed compared to the population, we’ve provided access to clean water for almost 2.5% of Haiti’s ENTIRE population.

It continually blows me away to think about that.

At the start of this post I mentioned that we do trainings for other organizations. When we consider all the groups that we’ve trained, some of them have gone on to produce several thousand filters each. Others are smaller and keep plugging away consistently. It’s safe to say that the other organizations that have been trained by Clean Water for Haiti have produced over 10,000 filters. More impact because of what we do.

 

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Now, there’s one very important thing that we haven’t talked about yet, and that’s long term effect.

Many organizations put a lot of emphasis on what we like to call “measurable outcomes” in the development world. These are things that are used to measure the “success” of a program. How many people were part of the program/trained/educated/direct recipients of a program item/service. While those numbers are good, often they’re used to give donors an idea of what’s been done with their funding, and thats all fine and good, but the question we want answered is how effective are we being over the long term?

Donors are investing their funding in our project because they want to see the health of Haitian families improve by having access to clean water. That’s not going to happen with a single use of our filters. It’s a development goal, so that means we need to look at impact over time.

How many people are still using their filters after a specific period of time?

I mentioned our tracking system for our filters, and it’s a key part of what we do. It provides us with that critical info that tells us how we’re doing over the long term. Every filter that we install has an installation form, and that initial information about the installation gets recorded on the form, then entered into a data base. Each filter we install gets visited at 1 month, 3 months, and 1 year after installation. All of the information about the filter at those visits is recorded on the sheet and in the data base. Sounds boring, but for us it’s not.

You see, after a few years of collecting data we had some really exciting information at our finger tips. We had a volunteer with us in 2012/2013, and Ryan was a smart guy, so one of the first projects we gave him was to set up our data base to pull all that info about the installed filters and their condition/state of use after the first year so we could know what our adoption rate was – the number of filters still being used after the first year. If people were still using the filter after a year, it meant they not only understood how to use it, but relied on it for meeting their daily water needs.

 

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Going into the project Chris said that if we were at an adoption rate of 60% he would be really happy. When Ryan finished pulling everything together he told us that he thought we would be really happy with the results. When we asked, partly cringing, he said, “You’re at over 95%!”

I’ve only seen Chris speechless a few times, and that was one of them. We came face to face with the reality that not only had we figured out how to do this well, we were doing it really well.

As time has gone by our numbers have stayed steady at over 95%, and in some years have been over 98%. So when we talk about impact, we can confidently say that most of our filters are still in use after the first year. That’s almost unheard of in the development world.

What we do works. The numbers don’t lie.

~Leslie

The Beginning Of Things

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.

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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.

~Leslie

The Day to Day

It’s been a really long time since I’ve posted anything here, and while I would love to give you all sorts of really amazing reasons why, the truth is life just kind of got away on me and writing here moved to the bottom of the priority list. That’s gotten me thinking though.

I often feel like people look at missionaries and expats, and what they do, as something exotic. When we go back to our passport countries for vacations and fundraising people sometimes interact with us like they might approach a celebrity. I’m not saying we’re like celebrities, quite the opposite. My point is that we’re very normal people, and I think what people imagine our day to day life is like here is much different from what the day to day grind looks like. I thought it might be interesting to look at some of that, and share with you what life at Clean Water for Haiti on an average day looks like.

Our days start early, before the sun ever makes an appearance. Our alarm goes off before 5 am so we can stumble down the hall and brush our teeth. Yes, we get morning breath too. There are about 10 minutes of quiet in our house where Chris goes outside to put the dogs back in their pen, feed and water them, and then unlock the gate. Some of our workers start showing up by 5:20, if you can believe that. During that time I start working on breakfast. As a family we’ve decided it’s really important to share as many meals as possible, so we wake the kids up early and we eat together. Sometimes they wake up well, and other times not so much, just like your kids.

After breakfast, we might have a few minutes for some quick snuggles on the couch, which is our sons favorite thing. At about ten to 6 Chris and I start gathering our things for the start of the work day. By this time our workers have started arriving, some on foot, some on motorcycles, and a few in a car that they purchased together to commute to work. As people arrive they head to their lockers and change into work clothes. Jimmy will get the keys and unlock the depot doors, the cement mixer and anything else that needs to be unlocked for work to happen.

At 6 am we circle up in the middle of the driveway and Fritzner leads us in prayer. This was something that the workers started on their own, and invited us to participate in which makes us so happy. It feels more communal and is something they initiated. We can encourage one another, which is what it feels like the Church should be. Prayer is a time where everyone prays on their own, but together as we hold hands. Many pray outloud, which is a cultural thing, and others pray in their hearts and heads. After prayer Chris reads a section of whatever chapter of the Bible we’re in, in Creole. Then things get handed over to Melix, our foreman. The day before he and Chris will go over the work for the next day and delegate tasks, and after prayer Melix goes over the sheet and tells everyone what they’re doing for the day. As everyone is given their jobs they break away from the circle to get going.

On any given day different members of our staff and our vehicles might literally be going in five different directions. Today is a great example of that. Richard had to take the van to St. Marc to get some repairs done. He’ll do other errands while in town to maximize the trip while the mechanic is working. Roberto caught public transit to Port au Prince to try to find some needed supplies for the roof that we’re putting on the work areas. Preval helped load up some filters into the blue truck, then he and Fritzner headed off on repairs and installations. Evens and Akins are using the red truck to carry the welder and themselves across the pad as they weld trusses in place. Chris had to take the white truck to drop our kids off at school, and after he got back the truck started getting loaded for a delivery in the mountains tomorrow, which means it’ll be gone for two days. Several times per week we would send a few guys out on motorcycles to do follow up visits on previously installed filters.

For those of us that stay at the mission during the work day, our jobs might be any variety of things. We typically have 3-4 guys just working on building filters. They’ll take the filters that were poured the day before and unmold them. Once those filters are unmolded they get lined up in our holding area and filled with water. The water helps the cement cure more slowly, hopefully reducing any cracking or leaks. That said, we do get leaks, and any filters that show cracking get put into a repair cue. Once a week one of the guys will take all those filters and chip away at the area, then refill it with new cement. 9 times out of 10 we can save a filter this way and it functions as normal. Once the filter molds are empty the guys will wipe them down and grease them with vegetable oil so the next filter will pull properly. They’ll bolt the molds together again and start preparing to do the days filter pour. Jimmy will mix up the cement in the mixer and they’ll fill the molds. They’ll dry overnight and the same process gets repeated the next day. We don’t pour filters on Fridays because no one works Saturdays, so the filters wouldn’t get unmolded. We can’t leave the filter in the mold for more than 24 hours or it will break the mold when we take it out.

Several times per week we have people washing sand and gravel to prepare for filter installations. This is all done in our sand washing area. At our new facilities we’ve been able to really streamline the process, which has been exciting. Overhead water pipes run water into the sandwashing machine. The hopper is loaded with sand, and the shaking from the fly wheel and the water work together to push it down over a screen. As it shakes the sand moves through three layers of screen in different sizes. From there it flows into different wheel barrows. It gets moved into drying bays where the water drains off into a trough, and then flows into a canal that flows into our garden to water bananas and fruit trees. It’s pretty slick.

We still have construction going on, so the bosses will be working on a variety of projects. This will be the case for the next year, depending on when we’re able to break ground on our new guest house/training center.

For Chris and I, our day will always be a varied smorgasboard of things. And frankly, most of the time what we set out to do in any given day will probably change as the hours tick by. We don’t have a lot of crisis moments, thank goodness, but there are always things that pop up that need our attention. For the most part though, you can find us in our office doing management and administration type stuff. This is actually a really exciting thing for us because until two months ago the mission didn’t have an actual office. Now we do, and it’s changed so many things about how we work.

Right now I’m trying to catch up on months of stuff that got back burnered while I focused on working with the guys on construction and finishing stuff before we moved. We’re finally at a place where the things that still need to be done in the new mission house aren’t pressing and I can balance both. I’ve also been working on a website rebuild for literally a year. Why does it take so long? Like I said, things pop up. And, we live in a place where we can only use the resources available to us. Last fall I was making really good progress, then needed to come work at the new site for about 6 weeks. After we moved we had to face the reality that our internet situation was less than ideal. And, I need internet to work on the site. I desperately want to get this thing done and launched because it’s beautiful and amazing, but it’s going to mean being creative. It’ll probably look like dropping the kids off at school and then spending 6 hours sitting at one of the local resorts and buying coffee and drinks so I can have a place where my phone will pick up a stronger data signal that I can hotspot off of. These are the daily, unglamorous challenges of working in places like Haiti.

There are things that break on a regular basis, and those are unexpected interruptions that you just have to deal with. Sometimes it’s a piece of needed equipment, a power issue, a water issue, an accident, or a person. The other day one of our guys was working on the trusses, and the steel beam slipped and fell on his back. That means making sure he gets the needed medical help. Again, not planned, and means something else gets bumped.

While I would love to tell you that our days are filled with moments of wandering around out in the community and chatting with our friends and neighbors, or days filled with filter installations, they just aren’t. Like you, we basically go to work for 8 hours a day. Chris and I lead administrative and managerial roles for the mission becuase that’s the best thing we can do with our time to help the mission the most. That’s what our skill set is, and that’s what God has put us here to do. Aside from general admin and managing things, we might have to go do errands like banking, buying supplies, meeting with people… you get the idea.

Did you know that we might only go out on a delivery day once, maybe twice a year? I can honestly say that I haven’t been on a delivery day in over two years! While that might sound crazy because we’re here to be doing filters and helping people, we see it as a VERY good thing. For us it means that we’ve trained our staff well and they don’t need us to be there. They do their jobs really well. So well that Clean Water for Haiti has one of the best Bio-sand filter programs globally. We recognize that our presence on a delivery day can be a huge hindrance to them. Having any foreigner along is cause for distraction, and while we could easily help with installations, the people in the communities we serve are more likely to gain the most from the education that our staff do if we’re not there. It removes the idea that more can be gained or recieved simply because a foreigner is present. It puts our staff in the position of being the experts, the teachers, the community health workers, and that’s exactly where we want to be as an organization. The only exception to this is if we have a Vision Trip in or some other special reason to have foreigners out on a delivery day to see how it all works. In those cases Chris or I will go and help translate and explain what’s going on for the day, but we try to let our staff lead.

Just before 2:30 pm hits you’ll see our guys starting to put the tools away and cleaning things up. We keep to an 8 hour work day because it’s good for everyone. It’s consistent, it allows us to set healthy boundaries. All of our staff have families of their own, and want and need to do other things with their days. We have a family and other relationships outside of ministry and work time that need our attention. It’s not healthy to not have a break from the ministry God calls you to. Not being able to do that is a quick path to burn out. There are days, like delivery and follow up days, where our guys will be out later, typically about 12 hours. Most of the areas we serve are about an hour to an hour and a half drive away, so just the driving sucks up a considerable part of the day.

When you live cross-culturally over the long term, what seems crazy at first becomes just part of the day to day. I remember some of my first days in Haiti, and how everything stood out. The goats hanging off the side of a tap tap while on their way to market. A group of people hoisting a double door fridge onto the top of a piblik, an old school bus used for transportation between major cities. The sheer number of people that can fit on a moto taxi, or in a tap tap.

I think one of the disservices of visiting a place on a missions trip or some other kind of short term visit is that, while it can give us a taste of that place, it’s often not a very good taste of reality. Our hosts, if we have them, want to show us the best parts of life. You don’t get to see what happens when no one else is around. Doing laundry, grocery shopping, insuring a vehicle, paying taxes, fighting with a spouse, taking care of documents, enrolling kids in school, trying to take care of staff issues, fixing a vehicle, balancing work and home demands, answering to their superiors or board of directors, disciplining children, fundraising, administration work… I could go on. The bottom line is that most often our days are filled with similar things that your days are filled with. Yes, the location is different, and the actual way that those things need to get done can be VERY different, but we still need to do all of them.

While there’s a lot that doesn’t really blip on my radar anymore because I am used to it, there are still things that stop me in my tracks.

When we add the last months installed filter totals to our running total and I realize that our organization has been responsible for providing over 24,000 households and institutions with access to clean water, I stop and feel so grateful. We get to do this.

When I look at our staff and see people that have been with us for over 5 years, or over 10 years, and I remember who they were when they started with us, and see how much they’ve grown and the skills they’ve gained I feel really humbled. We get to do this.

When I hear our workers tell me how much they like working here because they know they’re helping their people, and how satisfying that is for them, my heart goes all soft. I feel so thankful that we’re able to help facilitate that for them. We get to do this.

While I don’t necessarily feel like our life is exotic, because it IS every day for us, I get it and understand why people think that. If there was any one thing that I would really want people to know about what it’s like to live this life, it’s this: It’s an overwhelming, humbling, amazing priviledge.

Do you know that your role with Clean Water for Haiti is just as important? None of what we do here could be possible without our support network. Your donations help make it all physically possible, and your encouragement and prayers help us keep going on those days where things are thrown at us from all directions. I wish you could see our staff light up when we tell them people are praying for them. It means something. Thank you for helping us do this thing.

~Leslie

Simple Small Things

It is the little things…

The depth and width of the problems here in Haiti are, it seems, unsurmountable; unless you pay attention to the little things; the simplicity of the little things in life that makes the complicated manageable.  This is one of the reasons that gives my work here at Clean Water for Haiti meaning and a purpose.  This is not to say that a clean water resource isn’t a big thing because it is huge, tre gwo (very big); it is the rainbow at the end of the storm.  What it does say is even when complicated, unexpected, or problematic situations or events occur, I find that in paying attention to the small things the big things just don’t seem all that overwhelming; they are manageable.

Just this past week we experienced a refresher course in this thought process firsthand.  Things had been going rather well over the past months.  We have a full staff, all happy campers.  We started construction on our new facility, all on schedule and with minimal kinks in the chain.  We are the recipients of a much needed and generous Rotary grant which will ensure continual filter production through the end of the year, all good news for our staff and the communities in which we serve.  It seems we were even in the good favor of Mother Nature as we experienced an unusual extra month of continued pleasant weather; all temperatures under 85 are most certainly considered God’s blessings here in Haiti.  And then came the week of unrelenting complications, all roadblocks to our sense of peace and well-being.

On Monday of that week, Leslie and Chewie started out for Port au Prince in one of our work trucks, a long and arduous drive in the best of circumstances, and only made it a few miles down the road when a tire went flat.  Not usually a big problem, unless the spare is flat. By the time Leslie gets back home, she is really sick with fever and a sick stomach and goes straight to bed.  By that afternoon, I was sick with the same symptoms.  Never a good thing when the two admin people are sick at the same time.  Later that day the other work truck came down sick as well.  So we were then two vehicles and two staff down.  We can handle this, no problem.

The next morning our van presented symptoms of ill-repair, and by that afternoon it broke our hearts to witness the van being towed off to Port au Prince for a major repair job.   To add to the dilemma, our motorcycles were feeling a bit puny themselves; out of all of our vehicles, I believe we were down to a couple of the bikes, and of course there is always a tap tap.  Leslie and I missed all of this excitement because we were still sick in bed.  In a matter of just over 24 hours, our little piece of paradise became a paradigm for disaster …. A comedy of headaches and a choir of disgruntlements.  And the temperature hit over 90 that same day.

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In the midst of all the mess, it was the little things that kept us going; it was the little things that rose through the ruckus and shined their happy faces, as if God was sending a beacon of light to say, “Hey, I got this.”

One of the first things I noticed was the staff and their concern for my well-being.  I would get up in the morning and attempt to make it to our morning prayer time, but that didn’t last long.  They knew I felt bad and their smiles on the third morning, when I did make it through, reflected their concerns.  Kind words are free and compassion is long reaching …. Simple small things.

Our in-house mechanic jumped right in.  He worked long and hard hours, as if the whole functionality of our organization depended entirely on him.  The whole time he smiled as he shook his head.  Stepping up to the plate to get a job done is simple enough, commitment is a step further, and smiling about it all the while.  Smiles are easy, especially right slam in the middle of aggravation …. Simple small things.

The morning we had no vehicles, the overall aura of the group could have easily been one of stress and worry.  However, that was not the case here at Clean Water as ripples of laughter and comraderies drifted over from the work yard.  It is easy to let happiness slip away from us when things go awry.  Laughter brightens dark days and doesn’t take a whole lot of work …. Simple small things.

One afternoon I overheard Alex and Olivia attempting to play jump rope out in the yard.  Now, that is something that absolutely takes three people, but Alex was giving it a good go, while Olivia tried and tried again to get one good jump in.  I managed to go outside and help just for a bit, before I got weak again.  Helping others, even if it is just turning a rope, or offering a glass of water, or perhaps even a squeeze of a hand will put a song in a heart …. Simple small things.

One of the nights Leslie and I had a Bible Study/Birthday celebration for one of the ladies in our group.  The fellowship of friends and the sharing of a meal, also easy to do, will cheer a soul…. Simple small things.

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Lastly, as I sat out on my deck towards the end of this disastrous week, I watched in awe at the beauty around me.  A cool breeze, waves lapping at the shore, the smells of spring flowers attracting bumble bees and humming birds, and a brilliantly colorful Haitian sunset – all free, all gifts of God, that made me catch my breath and silently utter praises of gratitude …. Simple small things.

There is a Haitian proverb that speaks to appreciating the little things, “Anpil ti patat fe chay” (Many little sweet potatoes make a load); many small things amount to much.  In Luke 16:10 Jesus tells us that if we are faithful even in the little things, then we will be faithful in the bigger things. Yes, we had a rough week, and yes, it was costly, both in time, efforts, and finances.  The point is that the big things didn’t win but they did help us to appreciate the simple small things.

Teaching others ….

There is a saying about teaching that is a proven and unique function of our program.  The saying goes something like, “You can give a man fish and he will have a meal for the evening.  You can teach a man how to fish and he will have food for a life time.  Our teaching philosophy is quite similar. We hold our training classes on an as needed basis throughout the year and as the interest arises from other organizations.

The students will arrive on a Sunday evening, where we do a meet and greet, have a nice supper, and do simple personal introductions so that the students are comfortable with us and each other, as well as answer any questions they may have about our facilities.  The school is for five days, Monday through Friday, from early morning through the afternoon.  There is much to be learned in that short period of time, so the days are stretched thin and jam packed full of information.

We have class time in the mornings held by Chris and Leslie, the directors here at Clean Water for Haiti.  I have a small part to play in that I assemble the text books and prepare the learning posters and handouts.  The students will learn everything there is to know about bio-sand water filters.  We explain the history, the science and biology, the manufacturing, logistics, and marketing and educational aspects.   This way, when they start their own program they will not have to re-invent the wheel and will have the information readily available.

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The afternoon sessions are with our resident filter pro, Thony.  Thony is extremely gifted when it comes to teaching and he can instill desire in our students like no other.  This is the chance for the students to build their own filter from start to finish, from washing the sand, to preparing the molds for cement, mixing and pouring the cement, painting, and installation, all under the tender care and guidance of Thony.

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We do various exercises through the week to help them plan. The students are supplied with everything they need, including a manual, list of tools, equipment, and supplies necessary to begin production.

It is a joy to watch the students grow, not only in their knowledge but also in their hopes and visions for development of their own filter project.  When class first starts on Monday morning, there are expressions of reservations and uncertainty.  They are eager to learn and excited about the prospects.  As each day passes, their visions become more focused.  As they build a filter from start to finish, from intangible to tangible their vision becomes more than an image in their mind, it becomes a reality.

PicMonkey CollageThe students leave here with a diploma in their hand, a wealth of useful information and knowledge, and a set of skills that they will be able to hone and utilize in the production of their own bio-sand water infiltration filters.  More than that, they leave here with a glimpse of hope for what can be.  A vision that we, here at Clean Water for Haiti, also believe in, the provision of a resource for clean, palatable water for all of Haiti; water that is free of disease, bacteria bacteria are microbes. and microbes that destroy the health of their children.

The fish story holds true for us as well.  We can provide clean water to the poorest of the poor, enough for the day or even a week, or we can provide the ways and means to have clean water for a life time.