Leslie and Kim are in charge of social media these days, so I rarely write any kind of update anymore. However, a few different people have called or written me in the past few months asking me if Clean Water for Haiti is still active. It turns out that it’s been a long time since the last blog update on our website, and work is a bit slow for me today, so I’m going to step outside my usual role and write to all y’all.
We are definitely still active, and we’re not going anywhere. For my part, Haiti has been my home since 2002. I’ve lived in Haiti longer than I have lived in any other country. In certain ways the United States and Canada feel foreign to me now. Leslie has been here almost as long as I have, and our kids only see the USA and Canada as places we go on vacation once a year. Kim is the newest addition to our Haiti office team, but she is working on almost two years with us and almost 4 years in Haiti so far.
It isn’t obvious on our website, but we don’t maintain an office in the USA or in Canada. We choose to focus on our work in Haiti and keep expenses as low as reasonably possible in the USA and Canada. We use a Skype number on our website that is set up to ring through to my cell phone here in Haiti, so I frequently end up talking to people who think I am stateside. Those calls can get expensive, so feel free to send me an email if you have questions – email@example.com.
The work is advancing by leaps and bounds. 2018 was our most productive year ever. We installed 3033 filters. We managed to buy a new delivery truck, hired some great new technicians (we’re up to 21 now) and increased our efficiency substantially. In addition to strong donations from our long-term supporters, some new groups have provided grants and some of them will turn into regular, annual support. Our biggest new donor, USLI, an insurance company, has made a large annual commitment for the next three years which has a huge implication: financial stability. Now that I know we will have at least a certain amount of funds available each year, I can hire the appropriate number of workers without worrying I will have to lay some of them off a year later.
For 2019, we looked at our financial and infrastructure situation and decided we could set an ambitious goal: 400 filters per month for a a total of 4800 filters. This would be more than a 50% increase over last year, our best year ever, but I think we can do it.
For the past 6-7 years, we were installing around 1000-1500 filters/year. Why are things moving so well after all those years of stagnation? Well, first off, those weren’t years of stagnation at all. From 2012-2015 we were working on relocating our facilities to a better (much, much better) location. We were also making major improvements to our education and follow up system. Our program developed a reputation for stability and sustainability, and we built into our staff. Funding was light, but we made the most of things, and when funding finally picked up last year we had all the pieces in place to make the most of it. Kim Snyder joined our office staff in late 2017 and she brought in skills that allowed us to focus more on grant writing and fundraising. The result is that as of early 2019, we are KILLING it! This is the level of productivity we have wanted to be doing for years now, and we’re finally doing it. We’ll reach the same amount of people in a single year that we used to reach in four years!
We had a very difficult February. The main cause was a terrible accident that happened on the way back from filter deliveries. As director, vehicle accidents are one of my greatest fears and the phone call I am always fearing finally came. Our driver lost control of the truck on the slippery, rainy highway and the truck hit a motorcycle before flipping over twice down into a ravine. A woman on the motorcycle was killed, and all 6 of our workers on the truck needed medical attention. One of them has a broken leg requiring a series of operations. Our drivers are all prudent, but accidents happen, and the roads here are very dangerous. In Haiti, unfortunately, much more is involved than simply handing over insurance cards and having the police make a report. Even before all the injured were hauled up from the ravine, people in the area were trying to find our driver so they could beat him. Some other workers put him on a moto-taxi so he could safely leave the area before that happened. After that, there was talk of setting fire to the wrecked truck. We ended up hiring security to guard the wreck but not before many items had been stolen from it.
The aftermath of the accident has been dealt with. Our workers are recovering, but the dead woman will never return to her family.
To add to the stress of this situation, Haiti was/has been going through a period of major political unrest. The day after the accident, I managed to go see the workers in the hospital in Port au Prince, but there were rocks and burning tires still in the road from the previous night’s protests against the government. I made it there and back in a narrow window before the highway was shut down again. For the next two weeks, it became nearly impossible to get into the capital, and supplies began to run out in the provinces. Fuel ran out, which didn’t matter because the roads were blocked anyway. Getting medical attention for our workers and dealing with the security and legal aspects of the accident became much more complicated. This isn’t something I could have dealt with myself. We have a good friend and retired policeman on retainer who dealt with all of the most difficult aspects. He has a legal education, so we managed to get through the whole thing without hiring a lawyer. He is even managing the repair of the wrecked truck, which won’t be nearly as expensive as we had feared.
Accidents happen, political unrest happens, and natural disasters happen, but whatever happens we will still be here, working. When families have safe water, people don’t get sick and lives are saved. Clean Water for Haiti is doing it’s part to make Haiti a happier and healthier place, and even with the kind of trouble we had in February, I’m glad that I’m here to be a part of it.