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
World Water Relief