We spoke the international language of people building something together

We spoke the international language of people building something together

Hope in the Aftermath of Haiti’s Earthquake

By Kevin Fussell

World Water Relief Board President 

 Pulmonary/Critical Care Physician, Southeast Georgia Health System


In January 2010, World Water Relief made the quick decision to participate in the relief effort after the Haiti earthquake.  We are not a relief organization, instead one that focuses on long term, sustainable projects, but the news and images coming from Haiti created a call that could not be ignored.  The “real” relief organizations, such as the Red Cross, Oxfam, UNICEF, these are all large organizations and their response takes time.  We felt in this regard that our small size was our best asset.  We couldn’t help everyone, but those we could serve, we could do so within days, not weeks.

Ben Seidl, our program director at the time, and I were on the ground within three days constructing our plan of how we could help.  There was no manual, no coordination of efforts, just chaos and the desire to do something.   It was my first trip to Haiti, and I will never forget driving the streets of Port au Prince that first day, seeing, smelling and feeling all the death and destruction around you.  The feeling of loss was palpable.  These were people who struggled before the earthquake, and I remember thinking, “where is the hope now?”.

After days of logistical struggles, hours of back and forth travel, and very little sleep, we had safe water flowing in a number of nascent refugee camps.  Our contribution was small overall, as we were probably serving 10,000 of the over 1,000,000 displaced by the earthquake, but we provided safe water to these camps for three weeks before the Red Cross and Oxfam showed up with more permanent, large scale solutions.

What I remember the most, however, was not the water we provided but the people we met in those camps.  Our group spent time in the camps, teaching the children some English, learning some Creole (more so Ben than me!), and I actually found myself helping two guys build what would be their home for the indefinite future.  They spoke no English, and I no Creole, but we spoke the international language of people building something together.  We had a pile of scrap lumber and some rudimentary tools, and as I have no talent myself, I measured, sawed and hammered what I was told, and somehow we constructed a 5×5 hut in the middle of a concrete park that was now wall to wall shanties. The three of us were very proud of our accomplishment.  For me it is still the only thing I have ever really built.

That day is one of the most meaningful in my life, and one I will never forget.  I was with people I love, trying to give something, but getting more in return, which is frequently how these things end up.  And so there I was, dehydrated, sunburnt and with blisters on my hands, but I had found the answer to my earlier question.  The hope for Haiti is in its people and their indomitable spirit.  Most everyone we encountered those weeks in Port au Prince had a hope for Haiti that seemed to have no basis in fact, the past or the present.  Based on history and what I was seeing around me, things looked hopeless, but after spending more time in Haiti over the years, I now see hope everywhere.  I see hope in the eyes of the schoolchildren to whom we provide water in Mirebalais.  I see hope in the smile of our Haitian program director, Solo.  I see hope in Samuel and our other hygiene education students, whom we educate on the importance of sanitation and safe water on weekends.  I see hope in the small changes I see every time I go back to Haiti.  I recognize change will not happen overnight, but I now believe, like the Haitians I work with, that change will come…. and it all started when things were at their lowest in January 2010.


5 Years Later- Remembering Haiti’s Earthquake

A Personal Account of Haiti’s Earthquake-  January 12, 2010

By Albert “Solo” Juin, Project Manager for World Water Relief

We were under that buildingThe building Solo and his wife were trapped under during and after the earthquake

Haiti’s earthquake was January 12, 2010. I will never forget this date, a day of sorrow. It was nice in the morning, beautiful weather. Everyone was moving around, doing business as usual. If you ever talked about a possible earthquake in Haiti, people would laugh at you. As time went by, that beautiful day would become one of sorrow, an unforgettable day, a day where all Haitians would be made one by standing united. A day where I personally saw some miracles and also thought it was the end of the world. Around 4:45 PM, only God knew what would happen. If we Haitians knew the terrible sorrow that would come upon us, we would rather have died and been finished with everything.

Around 4:47 PM all of Haiti “shook.” In a flash, all you heard in the streets and around the neighborhoods were people crying, grieving, weeping and yelling for God to help. Buildings started collapsing, houses started smashing down and people started dying. Dead bodies were all over the place. At that terrible time, my wife and I were in our small business in Delmas 33rd under the storage house. In a fast second everything flipped upside down in there, no time to run and if we could run, where? The first and second floors of the building we were knocked off. The next thing we knew, we were stuck in there, all of the doors got locked and we were surrounded by pieces of concrete and the place became suddenly dark. My wife and I thought we would die, but at least together. We embraced and held very tight until we realized that we did not die. That we were alive. We thanked God almighty for that, only minutes after we realized that we were under a ton of bricks and there was no way out.

We began to wonder what was going on outside, why people were crying and what happened to our daughter who was in school? We started crying and screaming for help, but all we heard from outside were other people crying and calling for God help. We kept on screaming and crying until some people heard us under the bricks. They came and started to unpile the bricks that were on us and took us out of there. We were finally out after a while. When we stepped outside, what we saw was crazy, we could not believe it. They were throwing dead bodies along the side like trash.

We realized that we might have lost our beloved daughter who was at school at that time. We tried to contact the school office, but no answer. All of the telephone networks went down, there were no communications whatsoever. So, we rushed to our daughter’s school and when we got there, she was fine, but her school collapsed down minutes after she left. We rushed home. But, our house had collapsed down as well, with three people under it. Life hit us with double sorrow! We found out that in my house were my cousin and her two kids. We felt so saddened again! Two innocent children and a mother just gone.

The night of January 12 was unforgettable. We all got together as one, to overcome that tragic situation. One bag of water was shared with ten people, but it brought love and harmony among us. The other miracle I saw, was a big house in my neighborhood that collapsed with ten people beneath it. A seven-month old baby, plus a dog were inside. But God was good enough to protect the baby and keep the dog alive. The dog wanted people to know that they were alive and started barking like crazy. When people heard the dog, they went to rescue it and saw that the dog was protecting a baby- and the baby came out without a scratch!! They rescued both… for me and for everybody else that was one of God’s miracles.

Now, as days went by, my wife and I started thinking about what we were going to do. Our home was gone, our business was gone with everything in it. We lost everything. We thought about the future and felt life was miserable, but we were thankful to God for being alive. We lived under a tent for few weeks. It was unsanitary and very contaminated. So, I decided to leave Port-au-Prince and head to Mirebalais, only 45 minutes away from Port-au-Prince. During the earthquake, not even a single house collapsed there. This is where I met with World Water Relief (WWR) staff and became enrolled with WWR in August 2010. Since then, life started to become different. Not only am I getting paid for my position as a hygiene educator, but most of all, God set me in a position through WWR to help Haitian kids. As you all know, after the earthquake, all the dead bodies were thrown out like trash and so all of the water became contaminated.

With WWR, I educate my people- other Haitians -about the importance of proper hygiene and sanitation. I help build sustainable water filtration systems that prevent kids from catching any type of water sickness. WWR is doing wonderful work in Haiti, the whole community observes this. WWR does not come and go, it’s a ten year commitment and all of the WWR staff loves what we are doing… It’s all a matter of saving lives!!!  Solo's family

Solo and his family

Atlantaid Interview

Atlantaid Peer Interview with Ben Seidl, Program Director

Author: Carrie Golden, Atlantaid.org

This blog is the first of a Peer Spotlight series in which we interview a member of Atlanta’s international development community. We hope you enjoy “meeting” your peers and delving more deeply into the issues and realities of their work. Please contact atlantaid@gmail.com if you’d like to be put in touch with the interviewee.


This blog is the first of a Peer Spotlight series in which we interview a member of Atlanta’s international development community. We hope you enjoy “meeting” your peers and delving more deeply into the issues and realities of their work. Please contact atlantaid@gmail.com if you’d like to be put in touch with the interviewee.

Our first interview is with Ben Seidl of World Water Relief (WWR). As the Program Director, he oversees the implementation and fundraising for WASH in Schools (water, sanitation, and hygiene) projects in the Dominican Republic (DR) and Haiti. WWR has twenty-four school projects that have brought potable water fountains and ongoing initiatives such as education and after-school activities to over 29,000 children. As part of a long-term sustainability commitment, the schools continue to receive weekly monitoring and maintenance, as well as coordination of educational initiatives for ten years. Ben spends about one month a year in Atlanta and kindly agreed to be our guinea pig before returning to Haiti.

How did WWR chose to work with schools?

We decided to work with schools after a lot of research. Schools provide a natural climate because they have infrastructure and an established management group that helps get the program up and running. There is a tight-knit connection between our local staff and our school staff. The school staff do a lot of maintenance and serve as our eyes and ears on the ground for our service team.

Working with kids in schools has been a fun platform. Kids are so curious, motivated and excited to learn about something new. Sometimes it’s hard to rally adults who are ingrained in their ways, but kids offer a fresh start. Informing them about clean water can be powerful as they spread the message to their parents and adults in the community. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s been very productive.

What are some of the benefits for the kids?

Hand-washing is one of the most important interventions for health. Just by hand-washing with soap you can reduce the incidence of gastrointestinal disorders by more than 40%. Providing hand-washing facilities, is one of the most effective ways we can keep kids healthy. The kids have more energy, feel better, miss less school, and study more. Doing better in school ultimately will lead to better outcomes professionally, help them in their livelihoods, and we hope, eventually change the water and sanitation practices of their families and communities.

How do you communicate with your team?

That’s one of the hardest things about international development work. Technology helps. We share files on Dropbox, and we have a weekly Skype calls with the Program Team in the DR and Haiti. We have a meeting with the Executive Team and Board of Directors by conference call. We do have internet and phone in the DR and Haiti, but mostly we communicate through email. As far as communicating with schools locally, we usually rely on face-to-face meetings. There’s a lot of waiting involved. Cell phones aren’t the best because people don’t always have minutes available on their phone or electricity to charge them.

Is there some frustration that pops up over and over again?

Well, often times the lack of financial buy-in due to schools’ limited resources can be frustrating. Schools help and are committed to the idea, but they usually can’t contribute financially. It’s not their fault – they are in a situation where teachers and security can’t even be paid, students don’t have books, and maintenance can’t be done. For example, the replacement filters cost $128 a year, but most of the schools in Haiti we work with are not able to cover that cost.

How do you bring monitoring and evaluation (M&E) into your work?

M&E is hard. We don’t have the institutional resources to conduct this type of wide-spread research and tracking so it ends up being a secondary focus. But we’re beginning to track outcomes with a sustainability checklist that asks about internal processes like effectiveness, production of systems, maintenance issues, how many kids are involved in the programs, and the number of filter changes. It’s so hard to prove that exactly this or that intervention caused the positive outcome because there are so many influencing health factors.

Anecdotally, there have definitely been changes. You should see the kids’ energy levels change when they drink water! Just being able to wash their hands and faces helps them cool down and be more positive. Also, a lot of the schools are saving money and time since the no long have to buy potable water. Instead the money can be used for teacher salaries or books.

Can you talk about ways you coordinate with other international organizations?

We are a partner of WASH Advocates in Washington, D.C., but where we work, there aren’t other organizations doing specific water work in schools. We do connect with other water organizations, even if the context of their work is completely different. And we’ve connected with local experts to help us with aspects like M&E.

What’s the realm of possibilities? Is WWR trying to grow its programs?

We’re adding five projects next year in the Dominican Republic, and the government is committing to finance fifty percent of the project costs. The idea is to bring the program to the regional level and eventually the national level. Right now there is no requirement for public schools to have potable water. Our dream would be for the government to take up the issue on their own. I think policy changes have to happen, but our organizational goals focus on showing what should be and what it can be like. We let the work speak for itself. Policy will follow that.

How has being in Atlanta benefited WWR?

It’s a major business city with a lot of corporate sponsorship opportunities. And there’s a lot going on here, with Emory, CDC, and other organizations to support our work. There are people interested in international work who may not have found another local opportunity to connect to or who previously may not have known people who do this kind of work and are excited to have it be part of their city.


It Takes a Village to Track a WASH Project

Author: Ben Seidl, Program Director


As the WASH sector continues to expand and strengthen its role in global health, the sector’s trends and objectives have become more data-oriented and results-focused. Mobile, field-level technology has enabled NGOs to undertake data processing and monitoring of water resources in real-time…a practice that was previously only afforded to large municipal utilities and corporations. While this technological leap has ushered in a new era of transparency and reporting, there are some fundamental building blocks of sustainability that are beyond data.

Human capital is still the true driver behind sustainability and M&E in the WASH sector. Local, dedicated stakeholders are the true source of long-term sustainability and accurate, reliable monitoring and evaluation. Without the involvement of these local community stakeholders, the sustainability of any WASH project will undoubtedly wither over time.

As Program Director for World Water Relief in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, my team and I are tasked with building a responsive and flexible monitoring program to ensure that our projects are creating measurable impact and consistent WASH service delivery. World Water Relief is an NGO with limited manpower and resources. Thus, we are faced with the challenge of producing high-quality WASH projects with a high level of feedback and sustainability on a shoestring budget.

Without the funds for advanced technology and data collection, we are tasked with finding alternative ways to ensure that our WASH projects are meeting these three criteria:

  1. I) Beneficiaries’ needs
  2. II) Industry and international standards

III) Donor expectations

To address each of these criteria in a cost-effective way, we need to craft local, low-technology relationship networks to implement and feed our data and sustainability measures. As an organization of less than ten employees, we depend on the passion, dedication, and involvement of the stakeholders in the communities we work in to be the drivers behind our sustainability and M&E initiatives.

One such program we employ in both Haiti and the Dominican Republic is the Youth Water and Hygiene Club. This type of school-based youth programming has been championed by the WASH sector as an intervention capable of providing youth with leadership training, experiential learning, and an in-depth opportunity to learn and practice water, sanitation, and hygiene solutions firsthand. Our Youth Water and Hygiene Club has been both catalyzing for the participating youth and beneficial to the schools and communities they serve. Students are empowered to be active participants in improving and maintaining the World Water Relief WASH infrastructure in their respective schools and communities. This means helping to clean drinking water stations and hand washing stations, chlorinating potable water holding tanks, initiating trash and recycling collection, teaching WASH principles to student peers, and providing direct monitoring and feedback on WASH service delivery.



The second benefit of a school-integrated program like this is that M&E is conducted on a daily basis at each WASH in Schools site. The Youth Water and Hygiene Clubs provide detailed and dedicated reporting on the status of their schools WASH projects. The World Water Relief program mangers in both the DR and Haiti are in daily communication with the club officers and have frequent regional meetings that feature 82 youth from 16 schools. These meetings provide an excellent opportunity for club leaders to learn from each other and for World Water Relief to continue empowering an inter-connected network of dedicated WASH youth.

The ultimate goal of WASH M&E initiatives is to provide insightful field-level information and analysis that drives accurate and timely project oversight. Ideally, WASH implementers are then able to relay these informative reports to donors and stakeholders in order to prove the efficacy of WASH projects around the world. The rapid progression of technology over the past decades has greatly enhanced the sector’s ability to create and share these important results. However, when we think about sustainability and evaluation, we must remember that data and observation can only take us so far. True sustainability still lies in the hands of the local users and stakeholders.

As the WASH sector moves forward in its pursuit of real-time tracking and evaluation of project efficacy, we mustn’t lose sight of the ability and potential of end-user involvement. Data can inform and guide, but the root of sustainability is still built through long-term relationships, strong personal communication, and direct face-to-face participation.



Mirebalais Public Water Situation and the Importance of WWR

Author:  Albert Juin, Hygiene Education Coordinator for Haiti

The city of Mirebalais in the Central Plateau region of Haiti is the location of 6 World Water Relief projects.  Its current population stands at about 132,000 people.  After the earthquake in 2010 the population of Mirebalais grew substantially, as people from Port-au-Prince migrated to safer cities, such as Mirebalais.  Now the issue of clean water access has become a problem.  The following information is based on a report by Solo, our WWR Hygiene Educator:

In the past the city water office was run by CAMEP and after the earthquake in 2010, DINEPA took over the task of national water and sanitation.  In 1998 a large tank was constructed to supply the city with 450m3 or 119,047 gallons of water.  Before 2010 it was enough water to supply the population, schools, businesses and government offices.  Now it is not and often sites such as some of the public schools are without water for days.  In addition, the tank is reportedly cleaned just twice per year and often the quality of the water is very poor.


Clean Filter Above!
Clean Filter Above!
Dirty filter after three months!
Dirty filter after three months!










This information brings to light the importance of World Water Relief’s filtration systems in schools.   Even though the quality of water in Mirebalais may be suffering, the quality of the water in the WWR project schools is not because of our 3-step filtration system that takes the city water flowing into each school and filters it into clean, tasty drinking water.  All one has to do is look at the difference between a clean filter and a dirty filter to understand the importance of cleaning the city water tank.

Cholera Treatment Center

By: Albert Juin (WWR Hygiene Education Coordinator)

After the Sunday radio show broadcast on Haitian Mother’s Day, May 26th, it seemed that the whole community of Mirebalais was questioning me about World Water Relief.  Because my radio broadcast on hygiene and English is on every Sunday at 1pm and because I always represent World Water Relief, people have begun comparing WWR to other NGOs who come and work within the city and then pick-up and leave, usually just long enough to help with disaster and/or epidemic relief.  People are saying that WWR is different.  It is staying around for good in Mirebalais.  Parents are starting to ask me in which schools we have our filtration systems installed.  They tell me these are the better schools to put their kids in.

In my neighborhood there is a “cholera case” named, Olivie. He told the cholera doctor, Efemie that he was going to be 11 years old soon and has never drunk clean water at home or in school. He didn’t know that dirty water would make him sick.  On Thursday he came home from school (where WWR filters are not installed) with a terrible stomach ache.  Later on that day he started to have horrible diarrhea.  That night, his parents took him to the hospital, where they were told that Olivie had cholera.  The hospital then transferred him to the cholera center, here in Mirebalais.

A few days later, I heard the news about Olivie and ran to the cholera center to find out what school he went to and to get more details about his case.  They let me into the center, but wouldn’t let me take any pictures.  I did take some from the outside.


Just last Sunday, on my radio show I talked about how parents are not paying enough attention to the health of their kids.  They care more about putting food in the bellies than about the water their kids drink.  They don’t know how dangerous dirty, unpurified water can be.  I believe that my radio show focus on hygiene and sanitation through the work of WWR and how I have been explaining things is beginning to rub off on people in the community, especially the parents.  They seem to want to come together, learn and cooperate, making Mirebalais the modern and healthy city they dream of.

I have had a lot of positive feedback on the plan for parent meetings in the school.  Parents tell me they are waiting for WWR to teach them and want to become educated about proper hygiene and health for their kids.  Through our WWR radio broadcasts every Sunday, the people of Mirebalais are now realizing the lives WWR is saving and can save.

I talked to Marie Guirlaine R. Charite, the Director General of the Ministry of Public Health and was told that during the dry season (November-April), the spread of cholera decreases, but in the rainy season (May-October) it peaks again.  Doctor Magloire, the Director of Epidemiology in Haiti told me that the Artibonite, Northern Haiti and the Central Plateau have the greatest infection rates.

So people are asking me why World Water Relief is not in more of the schools in Mirebalais, since they know that less people would be sick from cholera and other water-born sicknesses.   I tell them that if we spread the word about clean water and water for life through purification and hygiene education, maybe more people would donate to WWR.  In this way, kids like Olivie would not be sick with cholera because their schools would have the help of the WWR and the water that they drink would be pure and healthy.

Lets spread the word about WWR.  I hope one day that my radio station can be broadcast over the airwaves throughout the word and over the internet so that the whole world can learn about the importance of clean water for life and hygiene education through the work of World Water Relief.

The Adventures of Hygiene Education in Haiti

By:  Steffani Fields (WWR DR/Haiti Project Manger)

As the Project Manager of both the Dominican Republic and Haiti, it is my responsibility to work with all 13 WWR project schools in both countries.  Although my home is in the Dominican Republic, I have to put equal energy into both countries and support the work of our WWR staff in the DR and Haiti in the same way.  Thus begins the account of my latest adventure to Mirebalais, Haiti to work with our talented Project Directors JB and Solo.

The day began on a Thursday morning with a bus, guagua ride to the border town of Jimani, where I crossed over into Haiti and caught another vehicle, tap-tap to the town of Croix-des-Bouquets.  This border is a frenzy of activity and one must always be careful to watch out for themselves and their belongings.  I was lucky and made my way through customs and immigrations without too much corruption from either the Dominican or the Haitian side.  From there it was another sweaty and crowded bus, bis ride up into the Central Plateau town of Mirebalais, where we have 6 of our 7 WWR project schools. I made it in time to meet with Solo and JB and grab a sandwich before running for cover from the typical, tropical afternoon rain storm on my way to the guesthouse where I would stay for the next 4 nights.  Although, thoroughly soaked, I was happy to finally reach my destination and begin the scheduled work.

Friday morning began warm, dry and sunny and my walk and motorcycle ride down into the city was pleasant, as I fell into line with the daily procession of people coming from the countryside, going to work in the city, the fields and to school.  In Mirebalais, I met with Solo at St. Pierre school where we gave a WASH presentation to the students.   In this presentation, we took students from each of the 6 classrooms to where the WWR potable water filtration system is set up and explained to them how the water from the city passes through pipes into the school ground and through our system of sediment, carbon and ultra-violet filters, finally traveling to the washing and drinking stations for the students and community to use.


Next we quizzed each class on what was taught and then rewarded them with prizes from our donors, Clif Bar and Patagonia.  In addition to the WWR filtration system, Solo and our assistant/protégé, Pickford demonstrated to each student how to properly wash their hands and the importance of always washing before eating and especially after a trip to the bathroom.  During the course of our demonstration, JB was painting a fresh WWR logo over the newly repaired hand-washing station that Dan, our engineer came to repair 2 weeks earlier.  There was a lot of work going on!

Throughout the school year, Solo and JB make weekly rounds to each school and continuously teach WASH to the students, updating their knowledge on hygiene education and how to protect their health with clean water and soap not only in school, but at home as well.

By the end of the WASH presentation and lunch at a favorite local spot, the afternoon sun and approaching rain forced us all indoors to do some administrative work and plan for the next day’s activities.

On Saturday I again joined the procession of community members and made my way on foot back into the center of the city to meet with a group of bright and promising future WASH educators, the members of our WASH youth group.  This meeting was centered on the formation of a summer club for the students from each of our 6 project schools.  Although WWR teaches hygiene education to the students throughout the year, it is also a good idea to make it fun and continue with activities during the summer.  This summer we will pick 3 students from each of the 6 schools and form a hygiene club, consisting of about 25 youth.  In June, we will train the WASH youth group how to teach the students from the schools about hygiene and how the WWR system of filters works.  In July, this core group will begin teaching the students chosen from the 6 schools the same information about protecting their health through the use of clean water, soap and hygiene education.  In August we plan to have activities and games, such as competitions between the schools for the most educated and informed students.  The winning school will be rewarded in September with a grand prize, such as a field trip.  In this way we hope to create a core group of students in each school who will then be prepared to monitor and educate their fellow-students about how to take care of the WWR equipment, as well as WASH and proper hygiene techniques during the upcoming school year.  The grand plan is to create a culture of hygiene-educated youth who will spread this knowledge to their families and friends, ultimately reversing the bad hygiene habits that cause so many unnecessary illnesses within the Haitian culture, such as Cholera.

My final work day during this trip happened to fall on Haitian Mother’s Day.  It was a pleasure to see how seriously Haitians take this special day for their mothers.  It was also Sunday, which is the day that Solo has a radio broadcast on 89.5 Radio Vision 9.  As I made my way through the streets of Mirebalais to meet with Solo and JB, I passed several locations, where people were preparing for big parties in honor of the mothers in churches and in school yards.  At 1pm I was seated between Solo and JB in the studio with a big set of headphones and a fuzzy microphone, ready to talk about hygiene education and on this day, how important it is for the mothers to teach their children proper hygiene techniques at home.  Solo and JB did a great job and we hope that one day we can broadcast this show over the internet for all to hear.  It was my very first time speaking over the radio and not only in English, but Kreyol as well.  Although a bit nervous, I spoke to Mirebalais about the function of WWR and our program in the 6 schools where our filtration systems are installed.  Solo and JB are naturals and after the show they received numerous phone calls, asking questions about hygiene and the related topics we discussed.  The radio broadcast is a wonderful way to spread the word about hygiene education and the work WWR does in Haiti and the DR and not only does Solo teach hygiene, but he also spends 30 minutes of each broadcast teaching English and how it relates to hygiene.



During the rainy season in Mirebalais it rains very hard, with thunder and lightning almost every afternoon.  I had to part ways with the guys before the rain’s water level prevented me from crossing the bridge over the Artibonite River.   Although soaked, I returned to my guesthouse room with a smile of satisfaction on my face because this was a productive and successful work trip.  As the Program Manager for WWR, I can proudly say that our staff in Haiti is working hard and doing a wonderful job.  Tomorrow I will make my way back across the border on a motorcycle taxi following the road through the beautiful, mountainous countryside of both Haiti and the DR, knowing that the work of our Project Directors, Solo and JB is being accomplished successfully and with great enthusiasm.  I only hope that one day in the future, cholera and the numerous related illnesses caused by poor hygiene habits and sanitation will finally be eradicated from this island with the help of organizations such as WWR.

WASH in Schools: Problems and Opportunities

Author:  Ben Seidl, Program Director

Schools are cosmopolitan meccas for all types of bacteria and viruses.  Whether in the United States, Haiti, Malaysia, or Angola, schools are breeding grounds for a dangerous mix of recurring gastrointestinal illness.  The sheer amount of children with underdeveloped immune systems situated in a small space, sharing food, materials, and sanitation facilities makes for a public health perfect storm. Recent statistics from UNICEF demonstrate that “more than 40 percent of diarrhea cases in schoolchildren result from transmission in schools rather than homes.”  Accordingly, the impact of diarrhea and gastrointestinal illness on education is direct. Students that lack access to adequate sanitation facilities, soap for hand washing, and potable water to drink in schools are exposed and vulnerable to fall sick with parasite infection and diarrheal disease.  These students then miss critical school days, which is exacerbated within education systems that are already underserved and underperforming.  UNICEF also presents a solution to the public health perfect storm in schools that it recognizes: “Hand washing practiced in facilities such as day-care centers and primary schools reduces cases of diarrhea by 30 percent.”  WASH in Schools, otherwise known as water, hygiene, and sanitation services, are therefore an important service to building a healthy and productive student body.

World Water Relief focuses on implementing WASH in Schools projects in Haiti and the Dominican Republic to create a hygienic, healthy, and safe learning environment. Our projects feature safe water, hand washing, and improved sanitation that represent an immense opportunity to reduce the diarrheal illness that millions of students battle every day.  To ensure long-term impact and sustainability of our projects, we especially focus on ensuring that kids bring their lessons beyond the typical classroom.  From engaging students to sing songs about water in the classroom, to teaching parents to practice hygiene at home, to teachers being a role model and washing their hands with students side-by-side, we believe that long-lasting impact occurs when students, teachers, and their parents are all involved.  Instead of seeing the school environment as a dangerous breeding grounds for bacteria, we must embrace the opportunity that this platform provides by improving appropriate WASH infrastructure to vastly improve the overall health and productivity of students around the world.

Rowen Jin – World Water Relief

By: Rowen Jin, Project Manager; World Water Relief

Sitting cramped between the driver and Solo on the van to Port-Au-Prince, I complained again, “Twop cho.” Too hot. Sweat poured down my back. Thoughts ran through my head about the miserable week I have had in Mirebalais – Town ATM machine is down again? Why is there no quiet place to work in this town? I hope there is running water in the house again. I looked glumly at the dusty road, hoping that the AC will turn on soon.

Solo, who was sitting next to me, leaned out the window and yelled at a friend of his, “Hey big man, how’s it goin’?” Sitting there, with his big stomach resting on his suitcase, sweating into the car seat, Solo seemed invincibly positive. I have been working with him over the past several months. He shows up early to the project every morning, huffing, sweating, and smiling. We began talking. Somehow, the subject got to the earthquake that rocked Haiti in 2010.

“I had a business and three-story house before the earthquake, you know. I lost almost thirty-eight thousand dollars.” He said. I was shocked. He now works for me for a monthly wage. “Thirty-eight thousand?!” “Yes. But at least we are all here. My daughter was picked up by my friend from her school less than two minutes before it hit. Two minutes. Her school fell.  All of the kids died. Her best friend died.” I sat silent, not sure how to respond.


“The third story of my house fell. Kaput. The second story fell. Kaput. All onto the first floor, where we were. We just held each other and prayed that our daughter was okay. We were ready to go. Just to see that she was okay. We were in there for ten hours, before they got us out. It was night when we came out. We couldn’t reach our daughter because there was no cell phone tower. All chaos. Bodies on the street, like they were trash.”

It’s been more than two years after the earthquake. Although there are reminders of the earthquake throughout the island, the most dramatic of them are now gone or tucked away into corners of society. I go through most of my days here not remembering what the Haitian people had to go through little more than two years ago. Solo’s story is not unique. Many who live in Mirebalais moved here from Port-au-Prince after the earthquake and have similar stories. It humbled me and reminded me, again, of the importance of my work.


This summer, we have been focusing our attention on two schools, Caprofors and Sacre Coeur.  These schools were supported by the generosity of Primerica African American Leadership Council and H2O for Life.  Although located not far from each other, the two schools are drastically different from each other. Caprofors is a technical school of 1000 students with a regular shortage of water. Their rainwater harvesting system only provides them with water when it rains. Chantal Provencio, the school director, has many ambitious goals for Caprofors – one of which is bringing clean water to the school so they are not constantly stretched to find water. As we speak, we are adding the finishing touches to the project. Next week, the students will have clean water to drink and wash their hands with.

Sacre Coeur holds two separate sessions and serves as a school for elementary and high school kids. Unlike Caprofors, they have regularly piped city water, but most of the children still purchase bag water to drink. The main focus of our Sacre Coeur project, however, will be their latrines, which are in drastically unsanitary conditions. By remodeling their latrines, installing filtration systems, and providing hygiene education, we hope to improve the health of these two schools.


The earthquake has left an indelible mark on Haiti. As an organization, we thank you for your continued support over the years to help Haiti on its path of recovery. Recent reports have shown that many aids efforts have taken leave from Haiti – the initial surge of interest in Haiti after the earthquake have slowly petered off and the world has turned its attention elsewhere. Haiti’s recovery, however, is far from being complete. The current hurricane season has brought the resurgence in the cholera epidemic. Our work in the central plateau, where cholera once began, remains incredibly relevant in creating a sustainable system for prevention of future tragedies, like the cholera epidemic.

Kevin M. Fussel

Sunday morning in the predawn light I drove over the causeway from St. Simons Island, Georgia headed for the Jacksonville airport and my eventual destination of Mirebalais, Haiti.  This trip came about pretty quickly when WWR had been contacted by PBS’s Newshour and told that they would be in Mirebalais for a few days and wanted to talk to us about the work we are doing in the area.  I spoke with a producer for the show, Nicole See, who is part of the Under-Told stories project, and immediately recognized that this could be a great way for WWR to help frame a story that may highlight the life and plight of the people of Mirebalais, the challenges NGOs face working there, and also the impact our organization continues to make in the area.  Though Haiti is undergoing one of the biggest cholera crises of our time, Mirebalais is full of good stories, and it’s a testament to the work that our guys have done that World Water Relief has become a part of the tale.


Even though Ben and Rowen were no longer in Haiti, my hope was that between our local on-the-ground staff Jean Baptiste and Albert “Solo” Juin, the school administrators and school children that the story would tell itself.   My hope was that my presence would be needed only to fill in the background story, and answer some philosophical questions about the NGO presence in Haiti, where the money is going and how small organizations like ours can fit into the solution of a problem as large as the ones facing the people of Haiti.

The trip also promised to be a great opportunity for me to visit all of our Haiti projects.  I feel that it’s impossible for me to lead this organization effectively without having had the experience of standing in St. Pierre’s school, drinking the water, listening to the challenges that our guys face every day, talking to the children and putting all of that together in a way that no report could ever do.

So, how did it go?

Well, the Newshour team is a great group.  They tell the stories that rarely get told from corners of the world where most journalistic lights rarely shine.  I rarely watch TV, but with their professionalism and approach they found a new viewer.  They have some great stories, and hearing those stories made me feel very lucky that they found ours worthy of being highlighted.  We are a small part of Mirebalais tale, but with all that is going on there, we are in good company and I for one am excited to see the final result of the show, which should be airing soon.  It should be noted that the fact we are in this position is a testament to the donors who have dedicated themselves to funding our work in a part of the world where it is extremely challenging and outcomes aren’t always guaranteed.  We will continue to honor that dedication with a determination of own; a determination to work hard and accept failure very reluctantly.


That brings me to my assessment of our systems in Haiti.  We started installing permanent systems in Haiti in the summer of 2010, more than two years ago.  The first two systems we installed are still up and running.  We know from data compiled by the World Health Organization that less than 1% of water systems installed are ever checked on again by the organization that implements them so you can imagine how many systems are still up and running after two years.  The answer is very few.  Are our systems perfect?  No.  Do the guys have to fight hard, work hard and keep a near constant vigil on things to keep things running so that the children in these schools have access to clean water?  Yes.  But that is what has always separated this organization from the others.  We are determined to do what is necessary to ensure that each and every system we install continues to work.  To do any less would be a waste of a lot of time, energy and resources.


Just as fast as I got to Mirebalais, I turned around and came right back to St. Simon’s Island.  What the trip lacked in time, it certainly made up in substance.  In addition to the PBS piece and the detailed review of our Haiti projects I got to spend time with Dan Nolan, our Dominican Project Director and see him in his element.  Dan has done great work for us, and the more time I spend with Dan in country the more convinced I am of his value to our organization and his competence in the field.  I also got to see Jean Baptiste and Solo again.  It had been too long, but both looked great and it was still obvious to me that both continued to have passion for the work they were doing.  And lastly I got to ride in the back of the truck through a country that I love.  The Hispaniola humidity and sunshine is always good for me and this trip was no difference.  It’s good for the soul.



Kevin M. Fussell, MD
President, BOD
World Water Relief