Hey everyone! We are SEE, a student-run organization with a vision of helping to bring educational equity to the country of Haiti. By encouraging social entrepreneurs to use their craft for a cause, SEE hopes to inspire students to utilize their own passions and talents in order to raise funds for Haitian grassroots organizations. A fusion of activism, sustainable development, and ethical leadership, SEE fosters a community of solidarity and consciousness.
On a gloriously sunny day in Topanga, we were fortunate enough to have stumbled upon David Zielski of RainCatcher while selling handcrafted jewelry on behalf of SEE at an Earth Day festival. David kindly ushered us over to his booth and gave us a quick filter demonstration: light bulbs went off! We were in utter awe of the ease and simplicity of the contraption, and immediately thought about the water situation in Haiti and the effects these filters could have in the camps, schools, and communities. Unlike sporadic water packet dispersal, these filters last years on end and can sustain massive populations, trapping tiny pathogens including cholera. With Haiti’s tropical weather and rain patterns, we saw huge opportunities for rainwater harvesting. David’s passion was contagious and we were overjoyed by his willingness to forge a partnership. In alignment with our views on sustainability, RainCatcher’s mission and vision were entirely inspiring. We were lucky enough to have him donate 5 filters to bring down and distribute!
On June 30, SEE set off on our inaugural trip to Haiti, where we spent 8 days meeting with various grassroots organizations, school directors, women’s groups, and community leaders to assess the current situation in Haiti and discuss ways to go about supporting these individuals in solidarity. We also set out to deliver medical supplies, funds, RainCatcher filters, and to survey potential rainwater harvesting structures.
What is the water situation in Haiti?
Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere where close to 70 percent of its population lacks direct access to potable water. Infectious diarrhea, usually caused by drinking contaminated drinking water, is one of the country’s leading causes of death.
After the devastating 2010 earthquake, Haiti took yet another fatal blow when the cholera outbreak hit later the same year. By March 2012, cholera had killed over 7,000 Haitians and had sickened over 530,000. Although increased awareness has somewhat lessened the potential for new cases to arise, limited government intervention has provided few safe alternatives to consuming contaminated water.
Water distribution has remained stagnant, and many Haitians face daily uncertainty regarding whether or not they will have access to potable water.
Where did the water filters go?
3 filters went to a tent city in Delmas, Port-au-Prince (shown below): home to approximately 32,000 people (roughly 6,000 families).
On a scorching afternoon, we crammed into a tent in Delmas where we were greeted with incredible hospitality and kindness by a few of the camp representatives. The camp leader, Jean, wearily spoke of daily challenges and hardships including the lack of educational opportunities (most children and young adults do not attend school), food, water, employment, and political representation for Haiti’s poor, especially those in informal IDP (internally displaced persons) camps. Two and a half years post earthquake, the situation in the camps had worsened, not improved, despite the billions of dollars of aid that was supposedly delivered.
He explained how life has become much more complicated in the past year alone. The population in this tent city has increased from 30,000 to 32,000 adding even more stress to the community’s already meager resources and deteriorating living conditions. Violence against women has increased and diseases such as HIV/AIDS, bacterial infections, and cholera have spread as plastic tents offer no protection against intruders, sexual predators, or germs.
While we met a number of incredible individuals over the course of our week in Haiti, Jean’s resilience and passionate determination to help his community were exceptionally inspiring. Without government assistance or acknowledgement, Jean modestly explained to us that he was in the process of putting together an English class, collecting materials to teach a computer course for adults (most of Acra’s residents are young and unskilled), and starting a nutrition/sex ed class with books and informational pamphlets he has collected.
After our conversation, we went outside to put together our first filter with Jean and his wife. We explained the easy process and we tasted the newly purified water to demonstrate our confidence in its effectiveness. Jean thanked us “from the bottom of his heart” for taking the time to meet with him and for the three filters, which he promised to use to distribute water to as many people as possible.
Jean plans to keep one water filter in the centralized portion of the camp and to give the other two to pastors and teachers within the other areas of the camp that he trusts to share.
2 filters went to our partner school in Cité Soleil, Port-au-Prince, the largest slum in the Western Hemisphere, where they will benefit at least 350 students.
An elementary school in Cité Soleil was the recipient of the other two rainwater filters. We have been working all year to raise funds for this school, and got to meet with its amazing director, Florence, to deliver our contribution and discuss the greatest challenges the school faces. A school made entirely of tin and sticks, this shack school is in need of massive renovation by the start of the school year. Because only 10% of schools in Haiti are publicly funded, approximately 50% of Haiti’s school-aged children don’t receive an education due to the costs associated. Although considered a private school (because the government doesn’t provide assistance), this zinc shack school is entirely on its own as the 350 children who attend cannot afford to pay fees. The director relies on donations and partnerships to pay for teachers’ salaries, supplies, rent, and food/water for the children (who usually come with empty stomachs). The filters will provide much-needed support for this school and hopefully when the new structure is built, a rainwater harvesting system can be set in place.
SEE Haiti. SEE solidarity. SEE change.
These three short phrases constitute our organization’s vision. For the past year, we have been dedicated to working in solidarity with our Haitian partners to raise awareness and much-needed funds for schools and grassroots organizations in Port-au-Prince. However, I don’t think any of us realized that these words would soon come to define a life mission.
Since we’ve been back, many people have asked the inevitable post-travel question: How was it? As a group, we tried to think of how we would describe our experience and came up with several options…amazing, inspiring, confusing, overwhelming, sad…but really, it’s a combination of all of the above. And in all honesty, it’s impossible to describe Haiti in words. It’s a place you must visit to understand, and there’s something about this country that constantly calls you back. Haiti may be an impoverished nation, but it is far from poor. Haitian resilience and spirit are unlike any other. Though we were only there for 8 days, it seems unquestionable that Haiti will forever be a huge part of each of our lives.
On behalf of SEE and our Haitian friends and partners, we would like to extend a HUGE thank you to RainCatcher for your support, and for your generous donation of 5 rainwater filters. Because of you guys, two deserving communities have received the priceless gift of fresh water. THANK YOU SO MUCH, and we can’t wait to see the wonderful work your organization will continue to do in the future!!!
To learn more about SEE, please visit our website at www.seesolidarity.com or visit us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/SEEsolidarity
– Julia, Alexis, Ashley, Rachel, and Emilien — the SEE team