Guest post by Annie DeGraff, Graphic Designer, Water.org
Four months ago, this community wrote a letter of request for improved drinking water to Water.org and our local partner, Haiti Outreach. The nearby urban area of Mirebalais was severely affected by the cholera outbreak ("Cholera HQ" according to some) in 2011, making safe water the #1 priority here. The letter and initial meetings demonstrated that the people here were acutely aware of the need for water, ready to work together, and willing to commit a large amount of time and energy into a long-term solution. The result of their efforts stands on the edge of the meeting area: a square concrete enclosure, blue and white, with a lace curtain over the door–the new wellhouse.
The emcee for the evening is Rogé, the charismatic director of Haiti Outreach. His opening speech gets people moving to a song with hand motions, and his rich humor: "If that's the way YOU gonna pick corn, get out of my field!"
Next to present was the water committee of Belanje. Three women and two men volunteered to represent the community and take a lead in the project back in April. Since then, they've received management and technical training, meeting 30 times in 15 weeks to determine all the details of how their well will be run. Not only are they writing the bylaws, but it will be their job to enforce the rules within the community, collect fees and handle the bank account. It's time consuming, and a lot of responsibility! Sonya, a member of the committee, leads the audience in a prayer of thankfulness. Next, the youngest committee member comes forward to read the bylaws, which she knows by heart. She twirls in a circle and recites with eyes closed, "Your bucket must be clean when you come to draw water. It must have a lid. Remove your shoes before entering the well house. The area around the well must be kept clean. Only three people inside the wellhouse at a time." The audience can almost recite them with her, they've all heard this so many times.
Rogé speaks next, reminding us of the danger of unsafe water. Earlier, Sonya took us to the current water source, a clear spring in the middle of a farmer's field. It's hard to believe this tiny spring is the water source for this whole community. Although the water looks clear at the source, you have to wade out to reach it, stirring up dirt even if the water was totally clean; which, Rogé assured me, it isn't.
Next, there is a small ceremony for the committee. They stand in a circle and Rogé hands each of them a candle. "This is your community," he says. "So far, Haiti Outreach has guided you through this project, and someone else has always brought the light to you." He lights each person's candle for them. After they've all been lit, he blows them all out. Then he hands the matchbook to one of the women, continuing: "At this point you have finished training and the well is complete. It's time for Haiti Outreach, Water.org, and the local authorities, to step back, because now you can bring the light for yourself." One by one, each member lights their own candle. Five lights now twinkle in the circle. It's a powerful moment, and the committee members seem to feel the scale of their new responsibility as they cup the flame and look over the heads of their family, friends and neighbors, to the new well beyond.
As a graphic designer at Water.org, I don’t make regular trips to the field, so an experience like this is exceptionally special and educational. Attending this event, I realized how much effort the community must invest into the project: both in the creation of the solution and in the long-term. Ultimately the well's future largely depends on the dedication of the people who use it. I can see the effect of Water.org's strong emphasis on training and education in our programs… that's what determines the success of the well, much more so than the technology or equipment we use.
Finally, the keys to the wellhouse are turned over to the committee, and the well is opened. Caribbean pop music suddenly blasts from the stage as the kids, who have been sitting dutifully through the entire presentation, swarm for a huge dance party. Most of the adults come for a closer look the well, and I can see the intense pride in so many faces, saying "We did this." There's also another idea spreading among the post-ceremony crowd: if our ability to work together can make a project like this happen, just think of what else we can do.
I have great confidence for the future of Belanje and the many other communities we're working with in Haiti, and I'm so glad for the opportunity to share their stories with you!
Graphic Designer, Water.org
P.S. To see the more photos from this trip and from our other projects visit our Flickr collection.