Project Haiti Report 2014

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This was our fourth trip to Haiti since December 2010; our general goals were:

1. Provide clean water resources and education in the Pays Pourri / Marozeau Mountains outside of Fond Parisien.

2. Continue building relationships based on trust with local leaders and community members in order to more effectively carry out our work into the future. 

3. Document our work in order to more effectively tell the story of what we do, so that we can expand future fundraising efforts

General Description

Pays Pourri and Marozeau are a collection of mountain villages with a total population of approx 20,000 people in a roughly 200 sq mile area with no legitimate road access.  Drinking water is scarce, threats of water borne illness run high (particularly for cholera), basic sanitation practices are lacking, education levels are extremely low, and villages currently lack the organization and capacity to collectively work for improvements in these areas.  While clean water access is our focus, the reality is that water issues are but one of an interconnected series of steps that need to be taken to strengthen the capacity for resilience in the area (see “Interconnected Need” in the “Discoveries” section below).  

Drinking water is accessed in one of two ways; it is either collected from streams, or from a combination of streams and community cisterns (when filled) that collect rainwater during the rainy season (Aug-Nov).  Women and children collect water from streams, often hiking 2-4 hours roundtrip, multiple times daily; streams are also used for bathing, washing clothes, and watering animals (mules and donkeys) in addition to collecting drinking water.  Because of this type of use, streams are (believed to be) heavily contaminated.  Rain catchment systems funneling rainwater into large cisterns have been built in most villages.  Unfortunately, while rain catchment holds much promise, existing systems have been built extremely inefficiently, are in poor condition, and do not come close to meeting their potential (see “Rain Catchment” in the “Discoveries” section below).  Testing of both streams and cisterns should be done as soon as possible (see below). 

*Note: drilling for wells in the area is currently a non-option.  Wells are exceedingly expensive, require roads to bring in equipment, and water tables are too deep, thus preventing access; however, further exploration of this option is important. 

Water can be practically decontaminated by one of only three ways:

1. Boiling it:

     a. All cooking in the area is done over an open flame

           i. Firewood is extremely scarce

          ii. Haiti is 97% deforested – a major negative environmental impact

         iii. Boiling water over an open flame is expensive, would increase deforestation, and is impractical given the low volume possible

2. Adding a cleaner or sterilizer – such as bleach:

     a. Options are not readily or consistently available

     b. This is an expensive option through time

     c. These products make the water taste terrible

           i. Locals have not embraced this option (we have collected numerous packets of sterilizer that locals have simply discarded onto the ground)

3. Water filtration

     a. Water access will influence filtration

We work hard to reinforce, and empower, our network of local partners, vendor options, and relief agents and agencies whenever possible.

Funding for our 2014 trip was provided by individual donations ranging from $5-$1000, and corporate donations ranging from $300-$1000. 

Besides our organization, there are no aid organizations or non-profit groups, doing any work on even a remotely consistent basis in the area.  Occasionally, a locally based US missionary group will make a visit into the area; these visits are few and far between, and the focus is mostly on distributing meals ready to eat.  While their efforts are positive, and we have a working relationship with them, we choose to focus on capacity building, education, and empowering self-reliance.

Summer 2014 Accomplishments

We visited 6 villages in Pays Pourri; in each village, we:

     · Gave a presentation on cholera, clean water, and basic sanitation practices

     · Donated a custom designed water filtration system for community use (7 systems in 6 villages)

     · Distributed soap, bleach, and toilet paper to promote the sanitation practices covered on our presentations

     · Identified community leaders who want to be part of a development council, initially focused on water

We have established solid relationships, and currently work, with the two most active and prominent school teachers in the area

We were able to document our trip with photos and video for a future crowd-source campaign, and a more effective web and social media presence


Follow Up Work

On our previous visit (2012) we deployed similar filtration systems in three separate villages.  This year, prior to our work distributing filtration systems / sanitation resources, and offering educational presentations, we made an assessment hike through each village to evaluate how the systems we left on our previous visit had been received and what their current status was. 

We first learned that everyone was extremely happy to have the filtration systems we had distributed, and were both surprised and excited that we had made a follow-up visit.  The second thing we learned is that none of the systems were operational, which is actually good news.  Each village had a different reason their system was not operational, illustrating three separate future improvements for us to make.

Robia: Would only use their filtration system when there is water in their cistern (see rain catchment below); this is a telling issue given that water is collected exclusively from streams 7-8 months per year.  We were able to initiate a dialogue with community members about the importance of filtering water that comes from streams (which is contaminated), and develop cooperative strategies to collect water in groups in order to make filtration easier and faster.  Nevertheless, this is an issue that needs much further exploration, and will place greater emphasis on rain catchment.

Chappelle: Left system out in a wind-storm; when the system was empty, it was blown away by a “violent” gust of wind, and an important piece broke off, rendering the system unusable.   We use PVC parts that are abundantly available in Port-au-Prince; these are obviously more fragile than metal parts, which are harder to find.  Clearly, we need to be using sturdier equipment; we have already begun to examine this process.  Also, villagers need to be more aware of leaving systems out in storms, which we made clear in this year’s presentations.

Trochet: We left a system in the care of the village’s church – it’s acknowledged village center.  The church leader we left the system with moved out of the area, so the person next in line at church took the system to his own home, and would not allow the rest of the community access.  We convened a meeting with the rest of the community to make sure they knew that the system was for the entire community, retrieved the old system, and left them a new one in the charge of the person the village has selected to be in charge of their water cistern.

These are valuable lessons, which we will continue to learn from.  We are committed to working in conjunction with each village, identifying appropriate strategies and approaches to the problems unique to each village.

Rain Catchment

One of the most interesting aspects of rainwater collection is that it is far more likely to be filtered than water collected from a stream. 

Rain catchment holds promising possibilities for accessing water, but will require a more detailed and extensive planning process; currently, there are at least three major problems with rain catchment systems in the area:

1.     Rain catchment systems are inefficiently built (poor design and construction, rampant leaks, broken materials, inadequate roof sq footage to fill cisterns)

2.     Cisterns do not hold enough water for villages / there are not enough cisterns in each villages

3.     Cisterns can be accessed by anyone, providing ample opportunities to contaminate the water

However, rain catchment holds much promise; improved systems are relatively cheap to build (approx $1200 … $650 for the cistern, and $550 for roof improvements), and a few locals have been trained to build them. 

Local Interest

Local interest in our project is incredibly high; we have also made four trips into the area, proving our commitment.  We ask questions, and heavily integrate locals into the planning and implementation process.  They ask us to return, and we commit to returning.  Members of neighboring villages attended most of the presentations we gave, pleading with us to visit their villages when we return.

The bottom line is that there is almost nothing being done in the area, and people see us as their only hope for assistance. 

Interconnected Need

We always ask locals what they see as their biggest problems, and what they feel needs to be done to address them.  While they do know what they see needs to be addressed, they readily admit that they do not know what resources are available, or options for moving forward.  The top needs they identify are: 

1.     Water

2.     Health Care

3.     Education / Schools

4.     Agriculture

We see water as the most effective way to gain traction in the area, eventually allowing us to help them address the other issues they have identified.  As we move forward, we will coordinate with other organizations to more effectively address the interconnected needs listed above (we have already established relationships with appropriate organizations).

What we could have done better

Two weeks is not enough time to fully plan for what needs to be done over both the long and short term.  Nor is it enough time to collect the kind of information and/or data to more effectively address water issues, and how we can coordinate the interrelated issues listed above.  We are currently working on how we can raise the resources necessary for us to stay in country for longer periods of time, and to come more frequently.  As more of the local villagers become integrated into the project, it will require less involvement from non-Haitians.