This blog post was written by Zanna Hittner, a graduate student at UW-Madison and a Haiti Outreach ambassador. Zanna traveled to Haiti to learn about the work we’re doing and begin collaborating with us. Her time spent in Haiti was so inspirational that she has decided to create a thesis project that supports the work Haiti Outreach does. This is Zanna’s story about her experience in Haiti.
When I stepped off the airplane—onto the grass runway—95 degrees of hot and humid air welcomed me to Haiti. It was a pleasant relief from the cool temperatures I was used to back home in Wisconsin. The warmth that welcomed me on my first day in Haiti carried on throughout my weeklong stay. But more than just the atmospheric temperature; the people I met surpassed my expectations as they showed me kindness and hospitality unlike any I had experienced before.
I stayed at the Haiti Outreach guesthouse, which is conveniently located near the airport and adjacent to the Haiti Outreach offices. Anne-Marie is the head cook at the guesthouse; she took care of me by preparing delicious food. Every morning a fresh breakfast of local fruit and homemade spicy-peanut butter or oatmeal and eggs awaited me and provided the fuel I needed to start the day’s adventures.
With only a week to spend in Haiti, my days were filled to the brim with touring, meeting people, taking photographs, and learning about Haiti Outreach. My Haitian Creole is far from sufficient, so thankfully, Raynold (a Haiti Outreach employee, and my new friend) traveled with me to help bridge communication gaps. One of my favorite things to do was attend Well Committee Meetings. [I learned that each community that wants to have a Haiti Outreach well built must request one and create a Well Committee. When they do, a Haiti Outreach employee will meet with the committee to begin the process.] We would leave the Haiti Outreach offices right after breakfast and sit in on a couple of Well Committee Meetings. Observing the dynamics at Well Committee meetings was really interesting and intriguing to me. A Haiti Outreach employee, whose job title is “Animator”, would help coach a village committee through decisions and provide feedback that enabled the committee to come to a consensus; over the course of the week I went to close to ten Well Committee meetings and each one was different.
Some committees had trouble deciding which rules to enact, others adamantly took a stance (The committees made decisions about rules such as: Do we want to pay a guard to watch the well? How much will we charge community members to use the well? Who will manage the banking?). Throughout the interactions I watched as the Haiti Outreach Animators moderated and carefully coached the committee to think about the potential problems and solutions that they may face. The Animators had the ability to empower the committee to establish a plan and strategy to approach impending issues. I was pleasantly surprised to observe that the Animators never forced the committee to choose a specific rule; instead the Animators facilitated the development of new thinking and skill building, which enabled the committee members to make the best decision for their community.
Later in the day, after attending a couple of Well Committee meetings, we would visit local water sources—either contaminated rivers and stagnant streams, or functioning wells funded by Haiti Outreach. At both of these types of locations I had the opportunity to talk with locals and get a glimpse into their life. During our conversations I really began to understand how important safe, clean water is. I also realized how often I take for granted the clean water I have access to back home. I thought about the long leisurely showers I take back home, compared to the hours many Haitians walk to acquire water.
The women I talked to at contaminated water sources explained how difficult it is to gain access to clean water; walking hours and/or subscribing to a community well is not a physically or financially viable option for their families. Instead, they settled for what is nearby and easy, despite the potential contamination. The conversations I had with women at local streams reminded me of the luxuries I have back home, and how easy it is for me to take a fearless sip from a drinking fountain. I felt equally blessed and unworthy. Why me? Why was I lucky enough to live in a country that had the built-in infrastructure to provide me with clean water at the push of a button? I fervently wished that all people could have safe, clean water.
I also talked to women near wells funded by Haiti Outreach, many of whom would walk 2-3 hours each day to gain access to safe water for their family. The women told me how thankful they were to have clean water for their families. They smiled and told me that their families were no longer sick, and having a healthy family took a tremendous amount of worry off of their shoulders. I couldn’t help but return their smile and be thankful for the opportunity to meet these women and work with Haiti Outreach on such a meaningful endeavor.
When the sun began to set, we would climb into the truck and make our way back to the Haiti Outreach guesthouse. Sometimes I would ride home in the back of the truck, where the wind would whip through my hair and my mind was free to reflect on the day. I felt grateful for the resources I had back home, but somehow, nothing could compare to the overwhelming happiness I experienced in the presence of the people I met in Haiti. Their warmth and generosity radiated brighter than the setting sun.