A few years ago, we were staying at our friend's beachside hotel/mission house in Carres, Haiti. We'd been staying there on and off, as we did not have a place in Montrouis we were renting yet and this mission was near and dear to our hearts. At the end of a long day, we'd all be ready to take a shower. I remember the first night we were without water. We actually ran out of it. I was mid-shower and had soap all over my hair. After laughing it off, I walked down to the ocean and rinsed the soap out of my hair. We laughed about it and moved on.
When we moved into our house down the street from this beachside hotel, we learned how difficult it was to get running water. Our daily chores consisted of pumping water up from our well or going to a friend's well and having him help us pump it into our big, blue container. Then, we have to pump it into our holding tank on the roof of our house.
None of these anecdotal stories even comes close to painting the picture of the type of situation people in Haiti deal with when thinking about water. What it does do, however, is show how time consuming securing water can be. I never knew, growing up in the USA, how much convenience running water provided. Because of running water, I could consistently do other things in my life. I could go to school. I could have fun after school with my friends. I could bathe when I was dirty and flush the toilet when I wanted to do that. Without consistent access to water, everything changes.
Children in our community go to school if they can. They then go to our canal outside of our house and collect water to do some of the things I have listed above. They put their murky water in jerry cans or old bleach containers and head up the hill to where they live. They must use this gallon of water for all the things they wish to do that day, or they have to make the trek back down to the canal.
Imagine sending your children to collect water. Imagine them walking to isolated and secluded streams and canals, scooping water up with their little cans. They miss school. They are, in many ways, doomed to repeat this life with their own children. How hopeless do you feel as a parent?
I have known people who have lost children who make the statistic about the 801,000 children who die every year due to diarrhea in developing countries pop off the page
I remember walking with some children to a collection site when we were building a catchment tank years ago. We passed several broken wells in the area and the kids said they had never used them. After some research of our own, we realized that many wells in Haiti break down and are never fixed because the community has never been trained in this type of thing. Additionally, Haiti's salty island water does not always provide clean drinking water from a well. There's just not enough water.
When we first started working with water, I thought it was just about water. Hearing the stories and seeing the collection sites of people has really changed my mind. Here's the truth: Water changes everything. Water can keep kids in school. Clean water can keep people out of the hospital. Water can unite communities. Water projects can bring people together to care for their most precious asset. Water is important if you care about healthcare issues, schooling issues, child trafficking prevention, hopelessness, and more. It's all wrapped up in water.
While I am thankful for the opportunities I have had to get to know the people who are in need of more access to water, I am also burdened by the stories I hear. In Haiti, nearly 50% of the deaths in country are due to some type of clean water issue. That's insane to me. I have known people who have lost children who make the statistic about the 801,000 children who die every year due to diarrhea in developing countries pop off the page (CDC.gov). I have sat with grieiving mommas as they wonder if what their child has is a normal stomach flu or something more intense. The statistics are no longer statistics, they are my friends and community.
When we, especially those of us living in the developed world, are presented with these types of facts, we have a few options. I know people who have literally asked me to stop sharing because they feel so helpless they don't know what to do. They want to live with the blinds shut and ignore the problems of the world. It's just too much for them. There are others who want to rush and "save" those in need. They spend thousands of dollars to paint buildings or drill wells. There is a third way, though. I am learning more about it all the time. It's using our skills and resources to empower nationals. I believe this is the way to lasting change, including with the water crisis. While wells can provide amazing pics, unless people in the community know how to fix it, it might just be a hopeless situation in a few years.
I have been consistently impressed by the innovation of the Haitian people. This includes their ability to problem solve and create when dealing with a lack of access to water. I have seen people create large solutions to difficult problems using far less money than a team of westerners uses to take a trip somewhere and drill a well. It has caused me to look my own philosophy and missiology (originally rooted in "wanting to save these people") and realize that to love these folks well, we have to be willing to set our own egos down and do what they know they need.
So then, when we were approached by a local about helping route the spring water from up the mountain down into the foothills, we were intrigued. It didn't happen overnight, but the idea became clear to us through conversation and understanding. These folks in the foothills had thought about the spring water up the mountain and had already set up pipes to have the water funneled down untouched. All they needed was a way to have a source set up for them to use.
We have been working with clean water in Haiti for nearly 7 years now. While I do not claim to be an expert, I can also share with you the hope that water brings. The projects that we do unite the community, bringing out people who bring what they can to the table. The lives of the people working are forever changed and it is an honor to be able to work with them.
I have been challenged by our "mission trip" culture. If you're willing to spend $1,500 to go to Haiti for a week to build a latrine, but are dismissive of giving $300 to a project done by locals, what does this reveal about us? I am challenged, deeply, to give to the poor and disadvantaged to help them create and cultivate their own answers. I am inspired by those I know who have done this before. And, I would like to extend the invitation for you to be a part of a large project we are doing. Check it out: https://www.generosity.com/fundraising/konbit-haiti-clean-water-for-montrouis-haiti
Most of all, do not be discouraged. There is no need to close the blinds because of the overwhelming issues in the world. Let's come together and join in the fight with our friends across the world in whatever way we can. My favorite Haitian saying is this:
Senye, nou kontan se pa nou k'ap kembe ou men se ou k'ap kembe nou.
Lord, how happy we are that it is not us that hold you, but you that hold us.
He is empowering people across the world and we have the unique opportunity to jump in and be a part of it!