Sustainable Engineering

Our involvement in the work going on in Haiti began in January of 2005. A group of medical professionals (of whom a good deal come from Charlottesville) had a medical mission in the rural parts of Northern Haiti near Cap Haitian. One of the doctors also started an orphanage and school near one of the medical clinics. I had the opportunity to go with them and help out on the “construction” team that supported the orphanage and medical clinic. The construction team did lots of odd jobs such as putting in lights and fans at the medical clinic, wiring up generators, building walls (or moving existing walls) to create or modify new exam spaces. Basically we just did “handy-man” work for the medical staff.
At the orphanage we did more “transformational” work. When we began working at the orphanage, they had a hand pump for water, and no electricity. The orphanage had 45 full-time kids and close to 400 kids who just came for school. As part of the school program they children received a lunchtime meal. This lead to the cooks having to hand-pump many dozens of gallons of water to cook and clean for 450 children. All the cooking was done on charcoal on the ground. Additionally, the latrines were placed on high ground so when it flooded (which it does after every rain) the run-off went through the latrines, then through the cooking area, over the top of the well, and then finally off the property. The children were healthy, but the situation was less than ideal. The first thing we did was to put in a solar pump and some solar panels. The pump replaced the hand pump and filled cisterns on the roof. We then plumped the cisterns so that kids could shower, the cooks had a spigot in the kitchen, and we even gave the older kids a flush toilet. In subsequent trips, we installed batteries with an inverter so the rooms had electricity, a water management system so that the run-off stayed out of the kitchen and away from the well, showers, propane ovens and many other improvements. We also started planted trees. Given that Haiti has 3.5 growing seasons, then trees are already providing fruit and shade in only 3 years. The school now has 5 computers and is expanding a vocation school that will teach the older children skills necessary for them to obtain employment when the graduate.
Next Phase
While we continue to provide any assistance that the medical team needs, we have expanded our mission work from the original school. The next project was a sustainable water project. The average Haitian walks 6 miles a day for water. (The average American walks 6 miles a MONTH cite: World Vision). Given that the vast majority of Haitian cook with charcoal, the predominate activity of the women and children is just getting water and then boiling it for cooking or drinking. One of the suburbs of Cap Haitian had a well at the top of the mountain behind where everyone lived. It dates to the French Occupation (The original well could well have been built in 1700s if not before). The well is about 1000 foot elevation gain from the community and about a one and quarter miles away. It takes our engineering team 1.5 hours to walk it, but the locals can do it in about 45 mins. The kids would walk to the well with half gallon jugs, fill them up, walk back home and repeat until they had the day’s supply of water. The community had a plan of laying PVC pipe from the well down the hill to the community. They had no way of procuring the capital to buy the pipe. (a 20 foot section of pipe costs about $40US). Over the next couple of trips, we worked side by side with the Haitians to lay 6000 feet of pipe and build 3 cisterns to store the water. The community now self sustains the project. They charge a Haitian dollar (~1/8 of a $1US) a 5 gallon bucket worth of water. The give the water away on Sunday, as that is traditionally the day people wash clothes and the need for water is greatest that day. They use the money they collect maintain the pipe, create a “community savings account” and to buy more pipe to reach more communities. Without any further “investment” from our team, they have extended the reach of the pip another half mile further down the hill to another community and they have reached an agreement with a local hotel to buy water.
The “community savings account” is used to help parents send their kids to school (there is no true public school). Money also goes to help families where a parent has recently died and far too often, money goes to parents to help them pay for a funeral of a child.