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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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:
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.