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.