My first day in Haiti was Friday, the day after the funeral of one of the HO well drillers. He was driving a water truck down a narrow, winding road when he lost a tire off the edge. The truck went down and he died on impact. It was a somber atmosphere around the office. The Haitian staff was given the day off.
Friday started at a meeting with Neil, the Haiti Outreach (HO) country director. He hooked a projector to his computer and discussed a list of all the active, planned and dreamed projects of HO. The magnitude of the work is crazy. I think he could easily keep 5 more Haitian staff busy. In Neil's words, "the country is full of ideas and money to fund them, but there is a shortage of people on the ground capable of doing the work." Water.org, IOM, CCH, the Haitian government and many others have identified projects but have all turned to HO to carry them out.
I have been tasked with working to get the City of Pignon water system up and running in the next few days. I will also be the local contact for a project on LaGonave being designed by a company in Illinois. By Thursday next week I'll head into Port au Prince with Neil to get started working on a pile of projects he has going with the Haitian government. They have given HO the responsibility of all water systems for the communities nearest to the earthquake epicenter. He also has 3 GPS crews logging locations of all tent cities. When they have all been located maps will be generated and HO will be responsible to monitor or carry out the delivery of water and sanitation to them. These are only a couple of the 7 active projects with 10 more near the end of planning and ready to start. There are also 11 more projects in the potential phase. I had only one comment for Neil, do you have any capacity for or plans to hire any new staff? He said, great idea! You write up a job description for an engineer, we'll advertise for 3 weeks and hire 3 guys for the last 2 months you are here. You can train them and at the end of 2 months we'll give them a test and hire one full time.
All this in my first hour on the job. By 10 AM I was on the back of a motorcycle with Abdias, a HO worker in charge of monitoring the Pignon water system. We toured the water system from the 5 spring boxes, 2 collector tanks, 2 hydraulic ram pumps and a steel reservoir on the hill overlooking the City. Neither of the pumps was working properly so Abdias and I took one apart. I saw the problem right away. They had made a home made gasket out of an old pickup tire, which is fine and done all the time here. But they used the wrong part of the tire. One side of the gasket was a full half inch thicker than the other. I explained that we'll need a more uniform gasket that will seat better.
I have since made a new gasket and should have the system up and running on Monday. The City has had piped water only sporatically for years now. I'm crossing my fingers that the gasket will work.
Life back in Haiti has been a fine transition so far. My Creole is coming back really well and the house I'm staying at has amazing food, 3 meals a day. But Neil said not to get too comfortable as next week I'll be out on the road working.