I’ll always remember the realization I had a few weeks into my first “real” job, standing at the iconic water cooler, filling my ‘Stuff White People Like‘-worthy, reusable, BPA-free water bottle with crisp, cold, ultra-filtered water. Right behind me was a sink & faucet, with perfectly good water, that I refused to drink from. There, in a 3-foot radius, I had not one, but two, sources of unlimited clean water, and I was being so picky as to only drink from the cooler because of a preference in temperature – when much of the world doesn’t have access to a single source of clean water.
For almost all of the developing world, lack of clean drinking water is one of the most pressing health and social issues people face. Women spend thousands of hours collecting water, waterborne diseases kill more than 1.4 million children each year and in some developing countries, 80 percent of illnesses are linked to poor water and sanitation. Zorangé, Haiti, where Hope for Haiti Foundation works, is no exception. The main water source for the community is the river that cuts through the mountainous region (remember the river we got stuck in?). This is the same river they bathe in, walk in, drive in, tend their livestock in. Though they try to find side springs to avoid collecting water directly from the fast-moving, muddy main current, this water still isn’t potable. The cost for this water? Miles of walking up steep hills with buckets of water and enormous health risks. The choice? There isn’t one.
The health implications are obvious; waterborne diseases like cholera and dysentary can plague communities where they would otherwise be avoidable. The social implications, less blatant, are equally devastating. In communities facing water scarcity, women’s time and resources are focused on obtaining water, sometimes walking hours each day to bring back small amounts of water for their families – water that will still make them sick. Sometimes children even drop out of school to help with gathering water. In communities where wells have been drilled, not only does public health immediately and immensely improve, but education, family structure and sometimes even economies strengthen, as women can focus on developing trades, skills and business. Providing clean water is one of the most effective ways to drastically change a community in an instant.
That’s why one of the most exciting and powerful moments on our trip to Haiti last week was when Brian and Lydia presented the community with a water filter system that would allow them to purify water before drinking it, with no fancy contraptions and in just a few minutes. The filter, created by Sawyer and provided in conjunction with ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization, where Brian interns), can purify up to 500 gallons of water a day, has a lifetime warranty and can be used just by attaching it to a bucket and running water through it before drinking. Several filters were donated to Zorangé through ECHO’s earthquake relief efforts, and Brian and Lydia trained community leaders on how to use the filter. The filters will be used for the school so the children have safe water to drink and in select homes in Zorangé.
The community reaction to the systems was incredible; they were so excited! “The idea of water for us is a mystery,” said Obed, the head of our host family. “It’s true that we have water, but it is far to get to, and when we do get it, no one thinks about how to get it clean. Most of the time, when our kids get sick, the doctor tells them the reason they’re sick is what they’re drinking.” Sonie Adam, another community leader who was trained on how to use the system, yelled that she was “saved” after seeing the system at work. We can’t imagine what it would be like to be forced to drink water that you knew was making you sick and the feeling of having that problem solved in an instant. Witnessing this moment impacted everyone on our team; the cool thing is that we know it impacted the community in Zorangé even more.
Ultimately, we hope to build a well in Zorangé as a wide-reaching, easily-accessible, long-term solution to the water crisis, but the weather, location and cost makes it quite the task. In the meantime, we are thrilled to have the answer in the Sawyer filters! We can’t imagine how many deaths, illnesses, missed days of school and economic setbacks these will prevent. Brian and Lydia are continuing to work with ECHO and Sawyer to try to secure filters for the whole community, and we’re really excited about the future of this project. It can pretty much all be summed up in what Sonie said when we talked to her after giving her a filter: “Because of this project, we will have a different life. When you come back, you will see our faces healthy.” It doesn’t get more beautiful than that!
Special thanks to ECHO and Sawyer for their generosity. You can learn more about the Sawyer product here: http://www.sawyerpointonefilters.com/