Thursday February 11, 2016
“What do you do when you go to a place where you see a problem so big that you don’t know how to solve it?” Emma Owens, a senior at Champlain Valley Union High School, asks that exact question in a YouTube video filmed of her, along with Ellie Hall and Hannah Fisher, both juniors at South Burlington High School. In that video, these three young humanitarians share their mission to continue bringing clean water to Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Last October, they volunteered to help make a difference, and spent five days in Haiti with Pure Water for the World (PWW).
All three girls are fortunate to have parents as humanitarian models. In addition to Ellie’s mother, Robin Hall, who serves on the board of PWW, Emma’s father, David Fisher, and Hannah’s father, Kevin Owens, joined the girls on the trip. In addition, Hannah’s mother, Dr. Fisher, also a PWW board member, has volunteered her medical expertise in Haiti time and again. “She’s been going since I was two,” Hannah said during our recent meeting.
Founded by a dentist and Rotarian from Brattleboro in 1994, PWW is a non-profit organization whose objective is to establish safe water solutions for developing countries. They bring clean water filters to schools, health clinics, orphanages, and hospitals. Based in Rutland, PWW opened its doors in Honduras in 2001 and in Haiti in 2008.
Six years after the 2010 earthquake shattered the country, killing 8,000 people, followed by the worst Cholera outbreak in recent history, the struggles of the Haitians continue. With a population of nearly eleven million, 50 percent still lack access to potable water, and 75 percent lack access to basic sanitation, such as toilets. Twenty percent of children die before the age of five.
On their first day in Haiti, the girls and their parents visited Buda Chita, a rugged two-hour ride from Porto-Au-Prince. They asked the people of this rural and mountainous community what they thought about having filters installed. “People were jumping up and down,” Hannah described, indicating her own excitement with a slight bounce in her posture. It is no wonder they were jumping up and down: The closest water source is a forty-five-minute walk from where the villagers live. They return, carrying on their heads, a bucket of water – contaminated water: human and animal waste, and deadly pathogens, including the bacterium that causes Cholera. They endure the trek, the weight of a full barrel, and the knowledge that the water is contaminated, because they have no other choice.
On their second day, the girls and their parents participated in a community meeting in the village of Trianon, where some residents had filters, while others did not. Understandably, people were frustrated. “They wanted what the others had,” Ellie said. “They’re not any different than we are. They’re trying their best.” At least the girls and their parents had the opportunity to offer hands-on help to the people of Citi Soleil, considered the worst slum in the Western Hemisphere,” according to PWW. They installed a total of eleven bio-sand filters.
Constructed of concrete and plastic piping, then filled with sand and gravel, the filters are the size of an office water cooler. Contaminated water is poured into the top through a diffuser, which prevents disintegration of the sand’s top layer, close to where most contaminants are removed. A combination of organic and inorganic material disrupts the environment for pathogens that cause human illnesses. High water pressure runs through the sand and gravel, into the pipe, then into a clean container, creating water that is clear, clean – and safe.
Typically, six people live in each household. Under the guidance of PWW employees who are all from Haiti, volunteers teach families how to operate the filters, which are easy to use, require little maintenance, and cost only $75 dollars. Essential to PWW’s mission, volunteers also teach families how to protect their water source, for instance, by encouraging families to collect rain in barrels rather than from contaminated rivers and streams.
Two days before leaving Haiti, the girls visited kindergarten-aged children at a school in Citi Soleil. “Kids were dancing and singing,” Hannah said. “They were showing how excited they were to have filters.” But, in the corner of the humid classroom, five children sat, with their heads resting on a scratched-up table. “They were so sick,” Ellie explained, holding her own head low.
As Emma says in the YouTube video, “We don’t accept this.” The former country director of PWW challenged them to formulate a plan, “What are you going to do with what you have seen?” They initially thought about selling Nalgene bottles. “But we quickly realized we’d have to sell a lot of bottles,” Hannah said.
After much brainstorming, gathering of notes, and then pitching their ideas to Hannah’s father, CEO of Select Design in Burlington, also the person who helped the girls develop a logo for the Nalgene bottles, they arrived at a solution, The 1070 Project. They would ask local Vermont businesses and donors in the area for financial support toward their goal of raising $80,200, a figure reached by calculating the cost of one filter by 1,070 – the number of families living in Buda Chita and Trinalon combined. Though Hannah said, “This was the first time we took on something like this on our own initiative,” they have proven they can do it. In combination with online sales of Nalgene bottles, they have walked away from meetings with fifteen businesses and major donors like the Hoehl family of South Burlington, with $60,000 for the project.
Once they reach their $80,000 goal, the girls hope to return to Haiti. In the meantime, they share with us their collective transformative message in their YouTube video, “Doing nothing is not an option . . . let’s do this . . . we have to do this.”
For more information about how you can support The 1070 Project, visit www.generosity.com/community-fundraising/the-1070-project or watch the YouTube video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOvakLQr304.
SOURCE: Melissa Cronin, Contributor