I arrived in Haiti on June 2nd for a month of research on Biosand water filtration programs. Aside from the inescapable heat and bucket showers, the first two weeks have been off to a great start. I am staying with the NGO All Hands Volunteers in Léogâne, a city about 18 miles outside of Port-au-Prince, though with the state of the roads it takes well over an hour to make the trip to the capital. This is my second time to Léogâne; I spent a month here last summer volunteering with the earthquake recovery effort. My first impressions upon return have been positive for the most part. Restaurants and shops are open again, rubble no longer lines the streets, and overall the city seems like it has returned to some kind of normalcy. This recovery, however, only underscores the general state of underdevelopment in the country. Léogâne has moved out of the post-disaster stage, but continues to be gripped by poverty, poor sanitation, and a general lack of infrastructure. In this context, I plan to study how NGOs act in place of the state to provide water services, specifically through Biosand filter projects, and the community’s response to these filters.
For the first part of my research, I have been meeting with All Hands staff and observing their Biosand filter program in action. Due to some staff turnover in recent months, the program had been put on hold and is just now picking up speed again. This has been advantageous for me because it allows me to observe the new Biosand filter team as they try to assess what works and what doesn’t work in their program. My focus is primarily on community response to the filters, and I have had the opportunity to assist All Hands in their assessments of filters that were installed about six months ago to see how well they are being used in the community. I originally envisioned asking filter recipients a fixed set of questions about the filters, but the program staff prefers a more open-ended approach. What this approach lacks in consistency, it makes up for it in the unexpected variety of answers from community members. The finding so far point to some deep-rooted structural problems in getting clean water to rural communities, namely lack of education about germs and other contaminants in water that cannot been seen by the naked eye. Bad spirits, not germs, are often blamed for illness. So far, the communities that we have visited to assess the success of the filter program have been predominantly rural, so in the coming weeks I’m looking to expand my focus to other organizations that work with Biosand filters in more urban settings. I curious to see what kind of differences arise across locations. All Hands will also be holding an orientation session for families receiving filters later in the month. This will be the first comprehensive orientation that the organization has held, and I will be observing to see how the filters are presented and what kinds of questions the community members have about Biosand filters and general sanitation.
Posted by Kelly Stetter – MA Candidate in CLACS at NYU