On our first day visiting missionaries working in the interior of Haiti, one thing was readily apparent to me: the most effective mission work today is being done by missionaries who have changed the way they have always done things. Instead of creating a crutch for impoverished nationals, they empower nationals to create solutions for themselves.
Roge Michel is one such example of a Haitian empowered. For the past 13 years, Roge has worked with mission organizations, including the last 11 for Haiti Outreach, an organization that relies on MAF for transportation needs in the interior. His most recent assignment as the community director of Haiti Outreach’s clean water program was to help figure out a way to make wells truly sustainable and maintained by the people.
What brought this about was the startling discovery that around half of the wells being built were no longer operational. There was no ownership by the Haitian people. They were wells dug by short-term American missionaries, wells they used until they broke.
But Roge and the Haiti Outreach team put together a way to empower the people to maintain the wells – their wells. They created a system where each family contributes to the upkeep of the well, as well as its protection. Wells are now locked and only opened during designated times by the well’s president. Each community also establishes their own rules about how they will maintain the wells, such as requiring the removal of your shoes before pumping your water.
“Haitian people are taking responsibility for their wells, and it is giving the wells more value,” Roge said. “We’re also educating them about the difference between well water and river water.”
Making such a change in a country accustomed to government handouts hasn’t been easy—but it is rewarding.
“Establishing the wells this way, it has definitely brought a change about in the culture and in the mentality of the people,” Roge said.
We stopped at a well on the outskirts of Pignon and met Rony, the well president. Rony was a young man in his late 20s or early 30s and beamed with pride as he unlocked the well to show us how it is operated.
Roge posed next to Rony for a picture. It was obvious that both men had pride in what they were doing. Roge also seemed eager to share just how effective this new program is in Haiti: over the last two years, of the approximately 100 wells under Haiti Outreach’s direction, there have been only eight total days of downtime on the wells.
It’s that kind of progress and shift in culture that will turn small change into sweeping transformation soon. Hopefully, very soon.