The Water School in Haiti

This past year I was introduced to The Water School and its activities in Haiti through the UBC Alumni magazine Trek.  Here is an excerpt introducing The Water School and the work of a UBC alum, Bradley Pierik, who is extending the SODIS approach beyond bottles to bags:

The Water School was founded by Robert Dell, a retired water chemist who ran Dell Tech Laboratories, a chemical regulatory compliance company, for 21 years. After a trip to Kenya in 2001, he began researching water treatment technologies that could be useful in Africa, and came across solar disinfection. The method had been studied extensively by a Swiss aquatic research institute (EAWAG), and after his own field work in Uganda, Dell made some further simplifications to the process. The Water School works in five countries, and maintains a “train-the-trainer” approach, so that teachers or other leaders promote the method to their own community.

As an undergraduate engineering student at University of Toronto, Pierik spent a summer in Africa working for a church organization and digging wells. The next year, while working at a large Canadian water treatment company, he met Dell, who later asked him to work for the Water School. He completed a thesis project on various aspects of the science of solar disinfection. At UBC he built a sunlight simulator and wrote his master’s thesis on the effectiveness of using plastic bags instead of bottles. The idea proved successful, and several other organizations that promote SODIS are now looking at using bags for treating water in disaster relief because they are easy to transport.

Pierik has studied many methods of disinfection, and often finds that great ideas work well in the lab but not in practice. His favourite part of his job is traveling to places like this and meeting the people who use the technology.

Read the Trek article.

Learn more about SODIS and The Water School.


Wrecked… Kin in the Kingdom of God

This morning I read a post written by Ann Voskamp about her trip to Haiti.  Halfway through I kept having to sweep the tears in order to finish.  Wrecked.  Its too easy to distance ourselves from our kin who live in poverty.  Its too easy rest in the self-righteousness of “where I was born.”  She writes,

And when our Haitian Compassion translator, Johnny, stands in The Alpha Hotel with its rats running down the hallways, he tells us how, after getting his BA in Florida, he’d got his MDiv in North Carolina.

How he’d come back to Haiti to work for Compassion, and took in 5 starving Haitian orphans to raise with his own 3 and saved to send all 8 of them to university.

How he’d walked out of the Hotel Montana not 30 seconds before it collapsed in the earthquake and how after the quake, how he’d climbed from one tree to the next, all down the mountain from the Montana, all the roads blocked with rubble and death, wild to find his kids and wife somewhere in Port Au Prince that is home.

And that’s when I couldn’t stop it – when it came out of me, a whisper, but still too loud.

Like an angry fool, I had asked him, laid my hand on his arm and quietly begged him, “Johnny, I know you were born here – but someday — couldn’t you take your family and move to a land like the States?

Just step over the rubble and beggars and latrines and garbage and gangs and just get your family out of this place where you were born and come find the land of the free? It’s ugly, but it’s what I thought for our friend: You only get one life here and who really wants to spend it in the slums?

And he looked me in the eyes and he waited, searching mine.

Searching for a way to get the truth right into me, me born into the lap of ease of the West and homesick for the farm and wanting everyone to have the relative ease of the middle class.

“But I am Moses.” Johnny speaks it deep, his eyes never leaving mine, his fatherly hand gently squeezing mine, soothing out my roaring wail.

I am Moses. I do not leave my kindred.

And the whole planet and all my heart reverberates.

I am Moses. I do not leave my kindred.

You don’t leave your kin to save your own skin.

You don’t stay in the palace if you want anybody to find deliverance – especially yourself.

You don’t forget who your brother is — when you know Who your Father is.

I turn away, chin quaking hard. I’ve got a passport in my bag and a ticket to ease and he only gets one life here and he’s living in the desperate need of this one for the definite reward of the next one – and how in the world again am I living mine?

If the grace of my life is mostly where I am born, and I am born again into the family of Christ, than how can my life birth anything other than a grace that gives?

Read the whole post and take in the pictures.

Media & Being “Proximate”

If you turn your ear and eyes to media today it will be difficult to miss that this is the one year anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti.  I still find the images painful to watch and the ensuing devastation in the lives of people feels like a weight even though I am thousands of miles away.

I’m now 100 pages into Tony Blair’s biography, “A Journey, My Political Life.”  In his chapter, The Apprentice Leader” he reflects on the impact Steven Spielberg had on him through the movie Schindler’s List.  He writes,

“There was a scene in it I kept coming back to.  The commandant, played by Ralph Fiennes, is in his bedroom arguing and she is mocking him, just like any girlfriend might do.  While in the bathroom, he spies an inmate of the camp.  He take up his rifle and shoots him.  They carry on their argument.  It’s her I think of.  She didn’t shoot anyone; she was a bystander.

Except she wasn’t.  There were no bystanders in that situation.  You participate, like it or not.  You take sides by inaction as much as by action.  Why were the Nazis able to do these things?  Because of people like him?  No because of people like her.

She was in the next room.  She was proximate.  The responsibility seems therefore more proximate too.  But what of the situations we know about, but we are not proximate to?  What of the murder distant from us the injustice we cannot see, the pain we cannot witness but from which we nonetheless know is out there?  We know what is happening, proximate or not.  In that case, we are not bystanders either.  If we know and we fail to act, we are responsible.

A few months later, Rwanda erupted in genocide.  We knew.  We failed to act.  We were responsible.

Not very practical, is it, as a reaction?  The trouble is its’ how I fell.  Whether such reactions are wise in someone charged with a leading a country is another matter.”  A Journey, p. 63.

Fortunate for many people around the world, the global connections media and the internet have created for us make us proximate.  Unfortunate for us, I believe, is that we are being conditioned to violence, awfulness, tragedy in a way that makes us inactive though proximate.  Unfortunate is to retreat to self-righteousness as a form of reason for non-action.  Compassion for others moves us to participate in both relief and development.  What we do with others more proximate than us, i.e. in this instance with Haitians on the ground in Haiti is I believe an essential though difficult process.  Leaders whose hearts are moved will do it.

Looking to take share in the responsibility of “proximate” try these organizations out:

Haitian adoption as a lens

As some of you know, my family has been in the process of adoption for about 18 months.  We have been in the process with Haiti since this past Fall.  Watching the earthquake coverage has regularly put our hearts in our throats and made us wonder “how long will we sing this song?”  While I hope for a faint hope for children and families who were in the adoption process before the earthquake I am wary of behaviours which would either weaken the sovereignty of Haiti in regard to her most valuable trust or would move children before establishing clearly that there is no one available within the country to parent a child.

Meanwhile, the debate regarding adoption rages on.

Adoption has become a lens through which many other staggering needs and tragedies come into focus.  Looking around through this lens you will see people who have persistently cared and advocated for children, you will see people who use and abuse vulnerable children, you will see people who rush in with good hearts, you will see families at their wits end because they love their children yet struggle to supply their needs, you will see families yearning to be united with their child as bureaucratic processes grind on-slowly, you will see many people debating the merits of adoption, you will see the children.

I appreciated this collection of voices in the New York Times for their varied views in the Haitian adoption situation.

Canada and Haitian Adoptions–a different story?

Jordon Cooper writes today to tell the story of Jackie and Greg who have two sons in Haiti, but have not yet been able to get them to Canada.  Of this I am confident, Canada can write a different ending to this story.  International adoption is fraught with difficulty.  Unfortunately some of that difficulty is created in response to the unmitigated willingness to take advantage of the weakest in our societies.  Other aspects of the difficulty in international adoption  is created by our caution born out of a desire to protect ourselves or our interests.  Balance is a myth.  But I believe wisdom born out of compassion will put us on the joyful side of things more often.  “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…”  Philippians 2:4-5  This attitude creates better stories!

Hopefully the desire to fast-track adoptions that have already been approved will turn into results for these families.