Shoulder to Shoulder in Haiti

There is no place like home.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Caribbean, yet when our plane touched down here several weeks ago, the passengers all broke out in loud applause. They were home.

It is quickly clear that Haiti is “dirt poor”. But it has rich soil, amazing people and the children just make my heart melt. I think that the following picture taken by Cal sums this all up better than words ever could

boy with dirt shirt

boy with dirt shirt on

We come here for a few weeks or months with many plans but so little time. As we work alongside the Lifewater d’Haiti workers it is tempting to gallop ahead, almost steamrolling over local workers who will be here drilling wells and fixing pumps long after we are back home. But it is important for us to slow down and remember that we are guests here, and partners.

Right now we are breaking ground on a compound where the team can store trucks, rigs and drilling supplies. Canadian architects have volunteered their time to draw up blueprints, specialists have given us detailed geotechnical designs for retaining walls to stabilize steel hillside slopes, and international engineers have shared their knowledge to help us design earthquake-resistant structures.

We have volunteers coming in over the next several months, earth-moving machines rented, and so many things to do: make bridges over ravines, grade in access roads, drill wells, build septic systems, flatten ground to place containers, etc. Actually, it’s all really interesting stuff and it is exciting to see things take shape.

And so there we were, full steam ahead, but things weren’t going quite the way we thought they should. To my surprise, the Lifewater workers were dragging their feet and long faces! After several days of this, I finally took a breath and asked them, “Why are we doing all this work on this property?” The answer took me by surprise. “It is to build a place for you to live when you retire!”

Talk about failure to communicate. Talk about failure to share vision. Talk about failure to even ask them to help develop the vision!

So we started over back at the beginning. We talked about why we first came to Haiti many years ago to drill wells and repair hand pumps. They shared why they had left other jobs to join Lifewater d’Haiti. Then we talked about being like orphans – a water group with no place of our own. But now we could build a place that we could all work from permanently—another kind of home. Now everyone was listening with interest and excitement.

The next morning we started with a meeting under a big Mango tree. Each local worker shared one idea that they had thought about in the night that they wanted to see in their compound. Great ideas came forward—ideas that were not in any of our pre-made drawings that we had brought with us to Haiti.

Things like a wash bay to clean drilling mud off trucks and equipment. Or a garden area where worker families could grow food to stretch their salary dollars. A small shop to sell hand pump parts and supplies.

Now, the plans have been updated and they are better than ever. Volunteers and local workers are all on the same page, and it is a fun, productive job site. Rebar is being bent, wood forms are going up, and cement is being poured. We came with a five-year plan to build this compound, but at this rate it could be done in two years. Faster than expected—and under budget—because we are partners: Haitian workers and Canadian volunteers standing shoulder to shoulder.

If we can build our Haitian operations compound in this cooperative, effective, positive way, just think what we can do to provide safe water wells and repair broken pumps. Perhaps the day will come when children no longer die from drinking contaminated water. And perhaps the day will come sooner than expected—and under budget!

Thanks so much to everyone who has supported the work of Lifewater in 2014, and may you drink lots of cool, fresh water in 2015 and for many more years to come.

Good night from Haiti,
Lynda Gehrels
Lifewater Volunteer

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