At Haiti Outreach we often brag about, the long-term success of our work. We love regaling people with the intricate data that we collect, which boasts that over the course of 10 years of our work, nearly 90% of our wells continue to function.
However, we would be remiss to exclude the most important factor in this equation: the Haitian people themselves. Through trial and error, we have learned that the best way to ensure our efforts are sustained is to change the conversation from what we can be responsible for, to helping communities discover how they can be responsible.
How does our team accomplish this objective? Let’s take an example from the community in Savane Longue, a village located in the commune of Ouanaminthe. This community has a council comprised of 12 members who serve as the leadership committee for their well. The committee, elected by the community themselves, follows our policy that at least half of the committee members be women. Since women and girls are most often the water bearers for their family, we believe it’s crucial that they have a voice in these conversations. They participate in a 3-month training facilitated by our animators and commit to meeting twice a month. Together they brainstorm ideas, share their views on what is working and what is not, and discuss solutions to move forward.
The true key to ensuring a lasting impact is not what is discussed necessarily, but the way our animators present these topics to the people. Rather than simply doling out lists of “how to’s” with extensive data for “why our way is best,” our field animators engage them in conversations about these matters. Through this process, the animators pose questions about their vision for the future of their community and families. They flip the conversation and let the people discern their own direction. This method allows the animators to guide them to a deeper understanding of the importance of hygiene and sanitation to ensure their health and well-being. Additionally, it allows them to write their own business plan to manage the well long-term. For example, the committees often discern that they need to hire a guard to open the well at certain times in a day. This realization then leads them to think about how to compensate the guard, which leads to a conversation about how to manage the well financially, and how to ensure enough reserves are readily accessible for future break-downs.
Madame Cajuste St Pierre a committee leader expressed her view of this approach by stating, “We considered it important to be able to take ownership of our new asset. We all must be involved in this transformation from the start. Everyone’s participation should evolve organically over time. With the support of our animator, our committee has created a management process to ensure all aspects of having clean water, such as regular community meetings, defining a work agenda, and protocol to manage any challenges that may arise.”
Mrs. Calomie, also on the leadership committee, affirmed that this approach has indeed proven to set them up for success in fielding issues and resolving problems as they arise. She expressed, “We had small problems early on, especially over the question of how to collect monetary contributions from each family and how to build our own latrines. Fortunately, our field animator helped to guide us through these situations and find solutions that work for us.”
The African proverb is true: if one wishes to go fast, he should go alone. However, going together will ensure that everyone can travel farther. Indeed, it is the responsibility of our animators to mentor the community leaders and to educate them on the importance of proper hygiene and sanitation practices, but the end result should be that our staff can give the reins to the people to guide themselves without further help. This is what makes Haiti Outreach unique and ensures that our efforts will be sustained for generations to come.