Water equals life. And clean water equals health. It’s a simple concept but it has powerful meaning. Waterborne bacteria cause infectious diarrhea and life threatening cholera and are a direct result of people forced to drink unclean water to survive. So much of the disease that we treat in Haiti would be prevented by the availability of clean water. Recognizing this need, Hands Up for Haiti has made clean water one of our priorities in the communities we serve. Building wells and making certain that the water wells we have built remain in good working condition is a priority and educating the community on cholera prevention and the importance of clean water for health is part of our mission.
As part of this mission, the HUFH “water team,” headed by Frantz Toussaint, our Haitian community liaison and translator, and US volunteers Patrick Schelle and Keanna Nelson, was on the ground shortly after Hurricane Matthew, working with community members on maintenance and repair issues, and providing water safety and cholera prevention education. While this team focused on areas to the east of Cap Haitian, clean water efforts have also been carried out in the west in our clinics in Bod me Limbe.
HUFH has an ongoing program to raise funds to build community wells throughout northern Haiti in villages identified by our partners in Haiti, Dr. Eugene Maklin and Dr. Ernest Jasmin, the Director of the Ministry of Health in the north. Each water well, which costs approximately $3500 to build and maintain and employs many Haitians in doing so, provides more than 4000 people with access to fresh, clean water for more than 35 years. This is a guarantee not just that lives are made easier and safer, but of healthier children and families.
To date, thanks to the generosity of our donors, we have built 6 wells in Haiti and two more are in process.
Before the water team arrived in Haiti, they communicated with Dr. Maklin about repair issues and with Frantz about the communities’ needs. Several needed repairs, in part because the community was unsure how to care for the wells.
Educating the community is a major component of what each HUFH team does. The need to teach about waterborne disease and water safety was made more urgent by the increased threat of cholera from Hurricane Matthew. Working with Frantz to determine the best way to approach the communities, the team arrived with visual learning materials including a video called ‘The Story of Cholera,” laminated cartoon-like images that displayed properly storing clean water, maintaining the environment in which the well is situated, when and how to wash hands, and how surface water trickles down through the soil to become clean naturally filtered ground water.
Keanna explained: “We believed if we give these communities all of the possible information they would need to take care of the well, and actually know how it functions, they would also get confidence and take ownership of maintaining the wells in good condition.” At the same time it was an opportunity to educate the community on the connection between clean water and good health.
One thing that sets Hands Up for Haiti apart from other organizations that install water wells is that we work together with communities right from the start, including choosing the sites for the wells. “We always try to give the community members the information they need to know, answering all questions, and most importantly establishing a line of communication between the community and HUFH”, said Patrick. Although these wells are built with donated funds as a gift to the communities they serve, they will only be a success if the community embraces that gift as their own and works together to take care of and cherish it.
The communities have taken that ownership: Heal – Teach – Support in action. Patrick, in discussing the work of the water well, shares: “One of the greatest moments of our trip was on the last day. As we ensured to get these wells repaired and running before we departed we discovered what impact we have already made in one week! The community informed us that they in fact were already saving money together to repair and extend the concrete platform of the well. This was it! They got it!! When I think about this it makes me want to cry tears of joy. This is empowering people.”
There are now six Hands up for Haiti wells throughout the rural communities outside of Cap Haitien, Haiti. Moving forward we plan to build more wells, with a goal of at least 10 wells running by summer of 2017, with Frantz together with community members ensuring that all of the wells are properly maintained.
Team member Dr. Marilyn asked after her first trip to Haiti in October 2014: “With this one week trip to Haiti, did we really make an impact or is it just a drop in the bucket?”
Patrick’s answer: “The answer Doc is both, YES to both!!! We make a huge impact every time we go and we make a drop in that bucket every time! The best we can do is keep on fillin’ up that bucket as long as we are physically and mentally able.”
To support Hands Up for Haiti’s water wells program and help us build more wells, please donate here.