PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – When most people today think of the Caribbean nation of Haiti, the first thing that often comes to mind is the devastating earthquake that rocked the island of Hispaniola in January 2010, killing hundreds of thousands and leaving many more in desperate need of medical care and basic necessities, especially clean water. With their dense populations and severe structural damage, urban centers like the capital Port-au-Prince have received and continue to receive most of the attention of relief organizations. As a result, relief efforts have often overlooked less accessible rural settlements. Here is some information on how drinking water has revitalized the rural community of Grande Saline.
A neglected community
Grande Saline, about an hour and forty-five minutes’ drive from the town of Saint-Marc in Haiti’s Artibonite agricultural region, is one example. The region was an area in dire need of relief following a sudden outbreak of cholera in Haiti in the months following the earthquake, devastating communities along the contaminated Artibonite River. While the 2010 cholera epidemic tragically claimed more than 8,000 lives during its duration, it also underscored the importance of sanitation practices and infrastructure in these rural communities. In 2014, this awareness led to a humanitarian and educational partnership between two communities located thousands of kilometers apart and brought clean, purified water to thousands of people.
Health for Haiti
In 2014, Dr Maureen Hankin and Dr Jen Musa, two health and science teachers at SUNY Broome Community College in southern New York, created the Health for Haiti program. The program was designed to specifically address health conditions in the community of Grande Saline while providing college students with the opportunity to earn credits through experience in humanitarian engagement. “Taking students to a developing country is not a trivial matter,” Musa explained in an interview with The Borgen Project, “… I have been contacted by many other colleges wishing to take a similar program and they arrive there says ‘no question’. With the support of the SUNY Broome administration, she and Dr Hankin led the first group of students to Haiti in January 2014, where they visited Grande Saline for the first time.
The poverty of the community became immediately evident. Grande Saline is a small village with a single one-room building that serves as both a church and a school, the only building built by the community to withstand periodic flooding during the rainy season. Musa described this first trip as “completely overwhelming” as the team of Haitian teachers, students and contacts tried to assess the needs of the community. After engaging with residents, the immediate need for a source of access to clean drinking water emerged as the top priority.
Bring clean water to Grande Saline
As a program funded entirely by volunteers and charitable donations, the dilemma of providing safe drinking water to Grande Saline may have taken years to be resolved without the chance connection between a member of the team at students and the Pall Corporation, a water purification company in Cortland, New York. After meeting with program officials after the Haiti team returned in 2014, the company donated a municipal-grade water filtration system for the community of Grande Saline. The system, capable of handling up to 22 gallons of water per minute, arrived and was successfully installed in 2015 after nearly a year of transportation delays.
Since then, it has remained the only source of drinking water for more than 1,000 people in the region, greatly reducing the threat of epidemics and enabling the creation of new community development and education initiatives.
Although gasoline-powered generators are currently powering the water filtration system, the Health for Haiti team has revealed plans to convert the system to run on renewable solar power, as many small devices and community tools.
Build a development partnership
Although access to clean water was at the heart of the success of the Health for Haiti program, it was only the first step in reducing poverty and strengthening the community of Grande Saline. “I also really wanted to build relationships, ”Musa says,“ I didn’t want to show up and build a school and disappear or show up and have a clinic and disappear. Instead, she explained that the goal of the program has always been to promote engagement and interaction among visiting students and residents of Grande Saline. This spirit of relationship and partnership has guided the program’s initiatives over the past six years, from a community garden project to volunteer-led science and music classes at school and professional development workshops. for adults.
Additionally, team members run medical clinics to diagnose and treat sick and ill residents. “I think we are unique in that we have such a holistic curriculum,” Musa continues, “from dental to medical to (sewing school) computer classes … to support teachers in school … we have a lot of projects going on. ”Almost all of the original program projects are ongoing, with residents of Grand Saline starting and continually supporting new ones with the support of program funding and guidance.
Obstacles and COVID-19
Since the creation of the Health for Haiti program, the rural community of Grande Saline has seen many improvements in health, sanitation and community development. However, recent events have presented new challenges in keeping the program operational and open to new student volunteers. While Hankin and Musa had returned to Haiti regularly with new students every January since 2014, escalating civil unrest in early 2020 made conditions unsafe for doing so. The unprecedented advent of COVID-19 towards the end of 2019 and the sustained effects of the pandemic continue to roll back the program and its many projects.
Despite these obstacles, program leaders in the United States and their Haitian counterparts remain committed to continuing the partnership, encouraged by the lives that Health for Haiti has changed over the past six years. “Obviously, I am extremely proud of the drinking water,” Musa said of the achievements of the program, “[…] but i’m just as proud to teach about handwashing and germs, especially now … it literally saves lives.
Dr Musa revealed that in the turmoil of recent events, community leaders in the rural community of Grande Saline have come up with a plan that directs program funds to essential projects such as operating the water filtration system. while putting others on hold until donations become more frequent. Regardless, the community of Grande Saline plans to continue running a school for primary school students, with the intention of providing education to older children in the near future. In the end, the Health for Haiti program represents exactly what Musa envisioned in 2014: not just a temporary project, but rather a resilient, long-term partnership built on trust, respect and an unwavering faith in a bright future for a community that others may have overlooked. but still full of life.
– Matthieu Otey
Photo: Health for Haiti