The community gathers at their favorite spot, around a broken well in the center of town, wonderfully shaded by a massive mango tree. The temperature drops at least 10 degrees in the shade, and there are a few nice places to sit on the concrete platform around the old well and a few spare tires to lean on. If you’re lucky, when the wind blows it may knock down a few mangoes, but be quick! The kids scurry and topple over each other in a race to see who can get to them first. Other times someone will climb up in the tree and knock a few down.
The old well in Cotin has been broken for longer than anyone really knows. Built with an old french style foot pump, it’s nearly impossible to find someone who a) knows how to fix it or b) sells the replacement parts in Haiti. Until it can be replaced with the sturdier India Mark II that’s readily available in town, the people sit on the concrete sides to the well platform, water waiting for them 80 feet below the surface. In the afternoons ladies will get together here to braid each others' hair as kids race each other for mangoes.
Cotin is a large rural community only an hour and a half outside of Port au Prince. Nearly 4,000 people live there, and as they're so close to the Dominican border they farm sugar cane that is then sold to the nearby rum factory.
There are two small schools in the community and one further up the road on the way to Cotin. One doesn’t hold students but rather is just a nice building that’s been closed off for political reasons; the second boasts over 200 students that meet in curtained off classrooms in the one room church. None of the walls in the second school are more than tarps, pieces of cloth, and sticks for support. The school outside of town serves the surrounding areas as well and is bursting at its seams with students.
On my first visit to Cotin, we were quickly rushed into the church where community members had gathered for worship that Sunday morning. Not knowing we were going to be presented to all the people gathered there that day, I squirmed in my workout pants among a sea of skirts and dresses. Pastor Charles introduced our small team to the congregation and explained how the organization I run, Solea Water, partnered with H-PI, our local team, to provide the water filters they had distributed a few months prior. He thanked and thanked us for coming to their town, explaining how we are welcome any time, and then presented us with a token of thanks: a beautiful certificate printed from their town organization with my name on it. The thought and care that went into what most Americans would call a humble gift, blew me out of the water. It's times like this that I earnestly believe we receive more than we give in serving.
Critical to our process at Solea Water is monitoring; we always come back to make sure the systems we help implement are working properly. After some time, our goal is to pass this task off to community members that form locally run water committees charged with maintaining, repairing, and advocating for their water systems. On the first visit to Cotin, this was our job: visit every home that has a water filter and see how the women are using them to ensure everyone is drinking clean, safe water. For us, this filter project in Cotin was also meant to be a study of introducing a new technology to the area and following up multiple times to see how this could be replicated and carried over to other similar communities.
What we found on our monitoring visits was mixed; some women were using them perfectly, refilling and cleaning the filter often. Some people weren’t using them at all and a few were afraid to “use it up” like one would a pair of good shoes. Others weren’t using the systems in the best way, but were still using the filter for their drinking water.
I sat down with our partner Jean, Pastor Charles, and the School Director Evans to talk about the situation and what we could do to address it before bringing more filters to the remaining families. Jean spoke about how the lack of education was his primary concern, despite workshops and classes we had already held. He felt that the people wouldn’t benefit from more talks. He spoke about how hard it is for them to grasp the concept of germs and how proper sanitation is such a big issue. We talked for a little while about some of the problems we saw with the filters and brainstormed some of the barriers to using the filters correctly. I stressed the importance of consistent follow up and explained how we used water testing kits to ensure that the water in the receptacle part of the filter system was safe to drink. Instead of bringing outsiders, I asked what our friends thought of finding a group of people within the community to go out and visit their own neighbors and make these monitoring visits within their own town. Charles and Evans started nodding their heads while Jean translated what I said into Creole and we started talking about who these people could be, the skills required for the job, and the tasks we’d need them to do.
They’d need to be able to read and write, know the filters inside and out, know the importance of drinking clean water, be influential among their peers, and be able to take one day each month to visit between 25 to 30 homes. Charles suggested that since the town is so spread out, some up to an hour's walk away from where we were meeting, that they elect a representative from each of the four neighborhoods. This was a great suggestion to spend time most efficiently. Weighing on my heart at this point in the conversation though was that these 4 individuals should be women. Women are the primary caregivers, and the ones most often tasked with collecting and storing water in their homes. They cook and clean with it; they give their babies a drink when they’re thirsty. Approaching the topic cautiously, I asked if women could be the ones we train, citing all the reasons I thought why women are more impacted and know more about how their community’s water is used. The group all seemed to immediately be on board with the idea and Charles soon said he had a few women in mind that he could talk to about the program. I let out a breath, not realizing that I’d been holding it in for most of this conversation, and here’s why - Women are so deeply and truly impacted by the water crisis, young girls more than any other group.
Women walk on average 3.7 miles every day to fetch water that usually isn't even clean. Their daughters, often as young as 5 years old, are enlisted to help their mothers, starting with just a few liters and working their way up to the 5 gallon containers their mothers carry. The weight that falls on them is more than just 40 lbs of water; it has a massive impact on the girls' education. Shortly after they reach puberty, most girls in communities like Cotin will drop out of school. The reasons are varied, but here are the top three:
There aren’t bathrooms at school, so when they menstruate, the girls have to stay home to take care of themselves. When they go back after they’ve missed so much school, they have a hard time catching up and keeping up when they have to miss a full week every month.
They have to help their mothers carry water and do the chores around the house.
School is expensive, and because it’s likely they’ll become a mother themselves before they’d be set to graduate from high school, brothers get sent to school instead of their sisters.
For these women to get an opportunity to be a part of ending the water crisis in their community is huge. Not only are they getting to drink clean water and give their babies water that won’t make them sick, they’re helping make sure every other woman in their community does the same. During our second time in Cotin, we had enough filters to more than double what we had already distributed there. Now, 113 families would have clean water to drink.
There are 165 families left in Cotin that are in need of a water filter. For just $75, 2 buckets and some simple technology can change the lives of a family in Haiti. Not only will less time and money be spent on clinic visits, but children are able to spend more time at school and not sick at home.
For just $75, you can provide a family with life-giving clean water for 10 years. We hope you’ll consider being a part of ending water poverty in Cotin. Visit soleawater.org/donate,
select Haiti under the country designation and 100% of your donation will be used in our Haiti water projects.