As we’ve been watching events unfold in the US over the past two weeks our hearts have been heavy. While it would be natural to want to speak out immediately, we’ve also been watching our friends in the black community asking that we first listen and learn, then be active in standing with them in the fight against injustice towards people of color. And by standing with them they are asking for more than words, they need us to be DOING.
I’ve been thinking and praying a lot about what our role as an organization is in the fight against injustice and standing with people of color. As I’ve been rolling all of this over in my mind and heart, and Chris and I have been talking together, I keep coming back to the place of knowing that this is the very reason that Clean Water for Haiti exists. It IS the root of why we do what we do. The organization was started to fight injustice that deeply affects people of color.
Haiti, as a nation, fought for, and then claimed its independence from slavery in 1804 – over two hundred years ago. It was the first black republic to be founded on a slave revolt. While that is amazing, we still, over 200 years later, see the scars and effects of slavery on this nation. People of color have been trying to rise out from under the oppression of slavery for centuries all around the globe, but here in Haiti the struggle has been so difficult for so many reasons.
The core of why we exist is, yes, to help provide access to clean water, but we do this because we know that the reason people in Haiti do not have access to this very basic thing is because of centuries of broken systems that continue to keep them in a state of poverty and oppression. We do it because we believe that every person has value, and yes, we want to physically work towards connecting people with a means to improve their health and situation, but more so because we believe they matter. The black lives we see around us every day, and interact with every day, they matter.
Chris and I are also Christians, and while we don’t talk about that on this platform a lot, it is the thing that drives us in everything we do and in how we lead. We believe that God has called us to love people first, no matter what. For us that means we are always coming back to that as we lead, as we develop programs, as we employ local people, as we work with our board and donors, and in how we communicate on behalf of the organization. It affects how we raise our children and how we interact with our community. We are also broken people who often make mistakes, but we try to be aware and have soft hearts so we can change and grow through those things, and ask for forgiveness when needed.
As I’ve been thinking through these things, I realized that my first thoughts about writing this were to go and list off all the things that we do as an organization to work towards justice and equality, but that’s not what’s needed right now. Right now we need to continue to listen and learn how to be a support to our brothers and sisters.
If you’re looking for resources that can help you learn and understand this Google document is a great place to start. For the month of June the movie Just Mercy is free to stream on all platforms. I had already had it in my mental list of things I wanted to watch so we’ll definitely be checking it out this month. I also just started reading White Awake, which isn’t on the list but I believe should be required reading for anyone who identifies themselves as a Christian. Another book that Chris and I both read several years ago is The Book of Negroes, which is fiction but based on a historical document by the same name.
And, while CWH is registered in both the US and Canada, we know that our greatest area of impact is here in Haiti, working to support the black lives on our staff, in our community where we live, and in the communities that we serve. It’s our commitment to do that not only in how we shape our programs, but in our employment practices, at the board level as we work on governance, in how we welcome visitors here in Haiti, in communicating with our support base, and on platforms where we share about the work that we’re doing. If you have questions about any of those things I hope you’ll reach out, and we hope you’ll join us as we continue to learn how we can fight injustice and racism.
Chris reads the Economist religiously. Every Thursday night he downloads the latest copy and then hunkers down and pours over it for the next few days, taking it all in. He has this amazing mind for details and facts, all the overwhelming and important things that most of us don’t feel like we have the time or headspace for on an average day.
Back in January, after reading the latest release, he started talking about Coronavirus, this thing that was spreading through China, and how the world needed to pay attention, because it could become something. Something big. I smiled and nodded and we left it at that.
A week or so later news started breaking more widely that it was spreading around the globe. We had some hard conversations that involved me trying to remind him of the stats and him realizing it was stressing him out. During payroll around the end of February we talked with our staff about this spreading illness, and that we all needed to be aware of it and the fact that it may come to Haiti. We talked about things we could be doing to help prevent it – hand washing, coughing into our arms, etc. One of the guys said, “It won’t come here if you believe in Jesus.” We had to inform him that a virus doesn’t care what you believe in, and that Jesus would still be with us in sickness.
We kept going as usual and watched COVID-19 spread through Europe. Then cases started in the US. Haiti put measures in place to be screening people as they arrived, starting back in mid-February. I applaud the government for that because it was ahead of most nations on that front.
A couple of weeks ago we had another meeting with our staff to talk about the fact that it was definitely going to come to Haiti and we needed to be prepared. We all kept doing life as usual but started making slight changes, like not holding hands when we did morning prayer. Haitians are very social, so this felt strange, but we adjusted.
Cases started to spread in the US and Canada. We had a visitor here at the time, and we made the decision together that she should probably head back to the US before borders closed. She flew out the afternoon that Haiti’s President announced that the borders would be closed at midnight and that flights would no longer be able to land in either of Haiti’s airports.
We talked with family back home to check in on them and see how they were doing with the now imposed “shelter in place” advisories. We kept talking with staff about government mandates here in Haiti, and how that could affect our work. We talked about potential issues with foreign organizations just because people won’t have enough knowledge to know how this is affecting the whole world, and will want someone to blame. Foreigners are the natural place to point fingers, even though recent months have seen few flying in, and many have left, because of the unrest for the past year. The bulk of people traveling in and out of Haiti are Haitians.
Last week, we collectively made the decision to continue working with safety measures in place. Our prayer circle got a lot bigger in the mornings as everyone worked to keep 6 feet between them and the next person. Some of the guys started arriving wearing their own masks, and I went to work making masks for everyone else. We stopped sending the delivery truck out after the government said no transport truck can have more than 2 people on it. Staff wanted to continue doing filter follow up visits, but had to wear masks and gloves while out. During their visits they distributed flyers with infographics about Coronavirus that showed preventative steps, and what symptoms to watch for. People were very grateful to get this info, many saying that they thought it was a joke or rumor.
We watched Haiti’s cases go from 1, to 2, to 5, to 8. This weekend cases were confirmed at 15. The Dominican Republic, which shares this little island with us, has almost 900 confirmed cases. We can’t help but wonder how accurate Haiti’s numbers are. We suspect there are many more cases here, but because of lack of testing facilities and resources people either aren’t getting tested, or won’t get tested. We’ve heard that some places are reporting threats to those that test positive for COVID-19, so it would be a major deterrent for anyone getting tested. Haitians are also constantly dealing with respiratory illnesses at this time of the year from various colds, flues and dust, as well as a long list of maladies that are fever based. It wouldn’t be a surprise to find out that many have COVID-19, but wouldn’t even know it or know the symptoms to be different from other things they’re used to seeing. And, there’s a different acceptance of death here, sadly.
Last year was hard and discouraging. In the midst of rising political unrest we had the accident with the truck that left 6 of our guys injured, and a woman lost her life. We were down a vehicle and have been for the past year. One of the guys is still recovering after needing long-term care.
Last fall we spent about 4 months at home, only leaving a handful of times because of the political unrest. During the first few weeks we kept thinking that something would shift, because it wasn’t sustainable for the country to keep going that way. No fuel, roads closed, schools closed, people not able to move around, etc. When we reached 6 weeks we realized that we didn’t know what to expect, and shifted into a mindset where we couldn’t plan anything with any amount of certainty. We had plan A, B, C, and sometimes D. Our staff were amazing and kept pushing, but we could see that everyone was weary and struggling for so many reasons.
One thing that I can honestly appreciate about what we went through last year is that we got used to being home and isolated. Many of our expat friends left the country, and we couldn’t go places, so we got used to being at home. One day when supplies were getting through I made a trip into St. Marc to go grocery shopping and bumped into friends at the store. It had been about a month and a half since I’d seen other people outside of our staff and community. I almost cried, and felt ridiculous for it. But, it felt so good to see people.
We got used to having to think about all possible sides, to buy supplies when the opportunity was there, and to lay low when needed. We valued each day that we could be working. We valued each day that was safe enough for anyone to be out doing work in a normal way, or to travel to do things that had been put off, whether that was getting fuel, or being able to get to Port au Prince to run errands.
By the time Christmas rolled around, and things were open enough for us to leave for a few weeks of vacation in the US with family, we were tired. It wasn’t that we were physically drained, it was weariness and being drained emotionally. You see, that waiting and watching takes its toll.
And here we are again. And I already feel weary. This life has brought so much in the years that we’ve been here, and I just feel weary right now.
We’re watching things happening around the world, and have been watching for weeks. We’re worrying about family and friends back home as we see cases daily increase. And we’re waiting and watching to see what will happen here in Haiti.
In a place like Haiti social distancing isn’t an option. People live day to day, whether it’s working to earn enough money to feed their families, or going to the market to buy that day’s allotment of food. People don’t have electricity to have refrigeration, so they can’t stock up and stay home. Kids have literally lost an entire year of school between the political unrest and now COVID-19. The government is trying to educate the population, to enforce things like putting space between people on tap taps and other public transit, but we know that’s futile because as soon as the machine is out of sight from the police they’ll be loading up again.
It feels futile, but we’re trying to set an example by putting measures in place at work to keep everyone safe, but we all know that they’re coming in contact with any number of people through their day and time at home. They’re traveling on public transit, and their family members are out doing life as well. Most of our staff are taking things seriously, but there’s an element of knowing that we can all only do so much.
I feel weary in the waiting and watching. We have no idea what to expect when COVID-19 really starts moving here. Actually, I think we DO know what to expect, but we’re praying that there will be some sort of miracle that will happen here. The truth is, people live in very close quarters, and there aren’t enough resources to go around. Haiti has over 11 million people living here, and I’ve heard there are only about 50-70 ventilators in the whole country. Families are used to knowing they won’t get the care they might need, and seeing a government that is always looking to see what kind of advantage can be found in a situation versus trying to do the right thing. I think most people will resign themselves to the fact that people will die, and there won’t be a thing they can do about it.
It’s so hard to sit in that place of waiting and watching. It’s emotionally exhausting. But, I can find things to be grateful for in this season.
Our years here in Haiti have taught us to dig in for the long-term, and I’m grateful for that knowing what is to come over the next weeks and months. Here in Haiti we’re used to working on a different time table. Things always take more time than you think they will. We don’t always like it (ha!), but it is what it is. I never would have thought we could stay home for weeks, let alone months, but last fall showed us that we could. And that we didn’t suffer. As we look at the progressing pandemic, we’re not thinking weeks for this thing to move through Haiti, we’re thinking months. We’re planning with that mindset. It’s hard, but we know that’s the way we need to go now.
I know too, that it’s much easier to plan for the harder way, than it is to expect it to be easier. If we plan and think long-term, willing to dig in and hunker down for months if need be, then we’re prepared and wrapping our hearts and minds around that. If we expect it to be anything less, we will struggle and fight more, and deal with more disappointment and be more distracted, than if we take a long-term view.
We know how to be flexible, and when we need to release things too. It doesn’t mean it’s easy, we just know that it needs to be done. We normally plan our annual vacation for the summer. We’ve already been talking to our kids about the reality that it might not happen on that time line either because borders will still be closed, or it might not be safe to travel at that point. If that’s the case, we’ll just bump it back to a point where it is a good time to take it. We started homeschooling it the first part of last year, and it’s been a huge blessing for us because it meant we could continue with the kids school all last fall when all other schools were closed down. Again, this is a think of stability for us, and thankfully I listened to my gut and ordered the last bits of our school books to a friend’s airmail address rather than planning to bring them back during our vacation. They arrived at our house on the weekend and I let out a sigh of relief. If we can’t leave, we can continue on with school and our kids don’t lose anything, and it helps us have some routine and stability when everything else feels uncertain. Our kids actually ask if we’re doing school every day because they rely on that routine, and we’re so thankful for that.
Most of all I think our years here have taught us that we’re much more resilient than we think we are. We can get through more than we think we can. We can feel deeper, process more, grieve deeply and still come out the other side. It may be hard, but we know we’ll be okay. Yes, we worry about our staff, about our mental and emotional health, and about our kids and their hearts, but we try to leave those things in God’s hands and trust that he’s walking with us, carrying us when needed.
So yes, I feel weary right now. But, I am not without hope and peace. This season is going to be a hard one, there is no doubt. There will be loss and pain, grief, anger… all the things. I pray that through it we’ll still be able to keep hope and find joy in things too. To appreciate the small things in our days, to remember how fortunate we are to have each other. I pray that we’ll learn through this and choose to do some things differently when all is said and done. All in all I hope it makes us better people.
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 – firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
When I was dreaming of moving to Haiti, I always thought after each day my feet would be dirty, my hair would be messy and my eyes would be sparkling. This is a quote I read by Shanti that depicted the perfect life for me in Haiti. And it’s been true so far, yet those adjectives of messy and dirty take on a new meaning in Camp Marie. My eyes are always sparkling.
I have my own work space in the office, yet couldn’t imagine what I would possibly be doing to keep me there all day. I want to be covered in paint or installing filters and meeting recipients out on deliveries. Until Chris said hey… I have a project for you.
And now I am, well simply all in. GRANTS. My first one was tough, and admittedly a mountain to climb. The day we submitted the final was filled with thoughts of pending rejection and failure. None of which is true of course. It was my first grant after all and I allowed those feelings in for a moment. Until we received the notice we’d been advanced to the next phase in preparation for a final decision.
And there you have it! Beginners luck? Maybe.
There are four other grants in the works, and another one in second phase which includes a meeting in Port-au-Prince. I won’t say anymore.
My time at the desk is not exactly what I planned, but surprisingly rewarding. It’s not entirely the same as seeing first-hand the sparkling eyes of our filter recipients, yet I will trade not going on deliveries all the time to do the work that creates the sparkle.
It’s been four months since my adventure in water and sand began. Seems just yesterday and then maybe forever that I have been here in Camp Marie. We provide sustainable, safe water drinking solutions. But there is much more to it than that.
We recently shared that four new employees joined us, so I am not the newbie anymore! Gustav, a long time worker with Clean Water for Haiti was in an accident a couple years ago, and his leg was amputated a few months back. He came to work again in January. I am in awe of Gustav. Each day, his strength grows. He gets around really well on his crutches, almost the same as if he had two legs. I enjoy seeing him take on new tasks, like caring for the garden and watering the trees. This is in addition to preparing the trucks for deliveries by painting filters and filling sand bags. He joyfully works, he is steady and thorough. Sometimes, I hear him singing in the yard, but don’t tell him I know otherwise he may stop. Hearing Gustav sing while he works confirms that this is good; it’s really good here.
Because of water, three more men from Camp Marie have a job this month. There is a bounce in these guys’ step as they come to work each morning. We begin at the crack of dawn, it’s still dark outside and they arrive early. Eager to learn, proud to work and committed to providing clean water in their community and beyond.
I had the thrill of preparing their first paycheck. Each had only worked a day or two and the cash was little, but the pride and sense of dignity I shared with them in handing out those envelopes with their name on it was what we aim to do every day. Empowerment.
Because of water, men are rising up to take care of their families, plan for their future and provide a lesson to their children that poverty is not permanent. That poor is only in the wallet. We are sharing and learning and growing to be the best we can be together. Holding each other accountable to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly. I keep seeing this verse from Micah 6:8, that has such deep meaning and direction for everyone. Keep your sense of right and wrong. Love completely. Remain humble.
As a result of clean water, we are making Haiti stronger.