My indoctrination into Haiti’s water-starved culture began my very first morning on the mountain. We were there to begin building a church, and needed water to cook, drink, and make concrete. A few brave volunteers decided to join the parade of women who were walking past our campsite carrying empty buckets. Trusting they would take us to water, we followed. The twisting rocky paths led us to a distant place on a hillside where water simply flowed from a random pipe.
The next hour we just sat and watched the line, and observed that if you are large and loud you could always cut in line. Eventually we worked our way closer, befriended an older woman who was repeatedly being pushed back, and had our turn at the pipe. We filled our containers, and hiked back to camp, repeating the process once or twice each day we were there.
We learned men in Haiti do not carry water, so our arrival always resulted in an entertaining chorus of taunts and teasing. You also never, ever waste water when the “faucet” is miles away, and each gallon weighs eight pounds. Once I saw someone recklessly toss a half glass of water on the ground and I erupted in anger. Water was obtained through hours of work, many blisters, and sprained ankles. I was just beginning to appreciate the harsh reality of life in this place.
On those hikes, it became apparent how desperate and how resourceful the Haitian people were when it came to water. They would use just about anything they had to catch rainwater off their roofs. It was obvious all they needed was a simple gutter but the abject poverty of their lives meant it was hopelessly unattainable.
Eventually I recognized the situation as an opportunity – and a responsibility – to do something substantive for Haitian families. I built a Haitian-style roof in my backyard and began designing gutters using materials I could find in Haiti. I recruited some college students to make the first trip to install them, and Raincatchers was born. That first trip we built 14 systems, and I knew we had a lot of work to do.
When I got home, I organized Raincatchers as a non-profit corporation, and with the help of committed people like Roro Eustache and Kim Smith, we began leading trips. We can now can install 30-50 in a week, and have about 2000 systems up in the Seguin region. Each trip we plan has a waiting list of people who want to go and the waiting list for the systems is frustratingly infinite.
The earthquake has drastically altered the dynamic of working in Haiti, but our mission has not changed. In a world where people live on 3 liters of water a day, Raincatchers transforms lives.