Inauguration in Haiti

Communities who work toward a water project establish rules for the use of a well. An early test of sustainability will be if they'll get enforced.

There is a great deal of attention of the foreign aid that has working in Haiti both before and since the earthquake. While rightly focused on the largest population centers, there is growing success with development work in the rural areas of the country as well.

Working with local partners, has been quietly helping scores of smaller communities get water projects. In early December 2011, we visited several of projects and had the opportunity to participate in an inauguration ceremony for a well. It was much of one would expect: reflections by the local pastor, speeches by local government officials, dances and songs performed by the community, and finally the "handing over of the keys" from the partner, to the government, to the water committee, and finally over the guard of the well.

Many of the women from the community snuck out of the ceremony a little early to grab their buckets, used antifreeze containers, bowls, and much of whatever else they might find so as to be the first in line to get water from the well. But wait. One of the rules established by the elected water committee was that ALL containers taken into the well house MUST be completely clean. Clearly not all of them met this standard.

Drama quickly ensued. The committee and the guard started kicking people out of line and clearly folks weren't very happy about it. Of the first ten in line, half got water from the well the first day it opened. "Your bucket isn't clean, come back tomorrow."

Building things that last - what most of us call sustainability, doesn't normally happen by accident and must be planned from the beginning. For over 20 years we have been empowering people to affect change in their lives through safe water and sanitation. But sometimes more importantly what a community actually gets through the process is new found self-sufficiency and a transformational perspective on foreign aid, development, and governance.