Who: Aaron Gordon, Civil Engineering Student at Clemson University
What: Working as a Project Manager
Where: Haiti
When: January-August 2015
Why: Keep reading to find out for yourself

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Bondye bon

God is good.

This may be my last post in Haiti; I leave on Monday for the States. As some may remember, I was supposed to fly out in August but things here are getting hairier as we get closer to the election date (fun fact: my original flight had me leaving the same day as the election, August 9th). I can’t miss school, which starts in just three weeks now, so it is best to leave now before I can’t leave at all.

Thus here I am, going into my final weekend and I’m still working to tie up all my loose ends. We have two big meetings the day before I leave to discuss the water system and the marketplace. I expect them to relatively heated so I am happy that my boss is flying in to help us handle them. Needless to say, most of my packing will need to take place today or the morning that I leave.

It’s hard to believe that my time is coming to a close. My description for this blog included the classic ‘Who What When Where’ but I neglected to put a ‘Why.’ Honestly, before coming down I didn’t really have a great answer for why I was doing this work. I wanted to make a difference where it matters most but honestly I didn’t really know what that meant. Now, after almost 7 months here in Haiti, I just hope that the hours and hours of work that I put in will help these wonderful, generous, and kind people in some way, no matter what way that is.

If anything I did made just a single person’s life a little easier—saving them a long trip to find clean water or providing light to study or improving the quality of their school building—I can truthfully say that everything was worth my time. And in my opinion, I know that I got a lot more out of this experience than any Haitian did.

I want to thank everyone who made this experience possible. Here in Haiti, Colon and Greg were two of my most loyal employees and best friends. I know I will keep in touch with them and advise them on their future endeavors (maybe they will even visit the US this winter). In the United States, David Vaughn, Jeff Plumblee, and Jennifer Ogle were my advisors for all our projects, did all the logistics, and are the main reason why this program exists in the first place. None of this could have happened without them. My parents were also incredibly supportive of me throughout this experience and were amazing to vent to when things got frustrating. In addition, my grandmother Harriet Smith is probably the most loyal follower of this blog and I want to thank her for her thoughts and prayers. To all my other family members and friends, thank you for your support and I look forward to seeing everyone again soon!

For those interested, I made a little FAQ below and am attaching some of my favorite pictures to this post. If you have any more questions about my experience or how to contribute to the work that we do, please email me at asgordo@g.clemson.edu or visit www.clemsonengineers.com.

What was your favorite experience?

My most memorable experience by far was the Morne Michel project. I loved living up there with only Haitians and getting to see what living in a completely different culture is really like. People up there have little to no exposure to white people or Americans so they just treated me like a Haitian. No one begged me for food, asked me for money, or judged me by the color of my skin the whole time.

While no electricity, running water, or proper housing may sound like a nightmare to some, I relished it and didn’t want to come back. Life was simpler there and our project brought the whole community together. I will never forget my time there.

What was the hardest thing you did?

The most difficult part of this experience was the loneliness. When you don’t have power or internet for days on end, you lose touch with your friends and family. One of the major things I am taking away from this experience is the incredible impacts that close friends and family have on your life. I’m not craving a hot shower, air conditioning, or food; I’m looking forward to spending time with the people I love.

What do you regret most?

What will you miss most in Haiti?

I am going to miss the work most. While this was definitely a job, I never felt like I was working as I enjoyed every day so much. I loved the projects and the feeling of making progress.

What is the biggest take-away for you?

Before coming down, I used to read a lot of literature concerning the developing world, global health, and international aid. These books constantly hit you with statistics about how many people lack access to water/sanitation and healthcare, how many families live in ‘extreme poverty’ and how many children go hungry every night. After living in the Global South for this long, these numbers are not just numbers anymore. I have met, talked to, and befriended people that contribute to these numbers. They have faces; they have names; they have stories. All that the statistics have done is dehumanize the development process. My biggest take-away is that in order for these development projects to succeed, you need to look beyond the economics of the situation and engage with the community. I believe that is the only way to tackle some of these pressing issues.

Will you return?

Yes. I’d love to.

So what’s next?

Great question. I’ve been planning this experience for so long that I haven’t really thought about what I am going to do now. I still have to finish school and will be serving as the head of all CEDC in the Fall. Next summer I’ll be looking for internships or research experiences that could build off what I have done here but I hope that I will never stop trying to help the people of Haiti and the destitute around in the world in any way I can.

In my first post I talked about my name and how it is difficult to pronounce here due to it's many vowels. I responded to many names in Haiti including Neg Morne Michel (Son of Morne Michel) and Ayitian (as opposed to blan) but my favorite nickname, and the nickname that stuck, is enjenye la

It means 'The Engineer.'

Monday, July 20, 2015

Pis gaye pa kimen

Spread piss doesn't foam.

As we go into my last week here, I am desperately trying to tie up all my loose ends.

Today, I went down to the new water system in Ba Cange to finish calibrating the chlorine levels. We added a waste line to the system on Saturday so that the water will be continuously flowing through the in-line chlorinator.  It seems that this may clear up all the issues but I am hoping to get another colorimeter to measure chlorine levels on Saturday that I can give to our Haitian employees who live there. This way, they can monitor their own water.

Tomorrow I return to Bel-Aire one last time to check out their system again before I leave.  The rest of the week I am going to Port-au-Prince to pick up the head of CEDC’s finances so he can take a look at establishing project accounts. We keep an account with Partners in Health but we don’t have separate accounts for each project. With any luck, specific project accounts should make our job much easier down here.

Saturday, my boss and CEDC’s industry advisor arrives to continue the conversations with the community of taking responsibility for the Cange Water System. Talking to people in the village, they are well aware of what we are doing and talking to their neighbors and friends about it. I am just happy to have been here to start this crucial conversation.

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I wanted to build the Ba Cange Water System, mount the solar panels at Morne Michel, and begin the process of transferring ownership of the Cange Water System before I left. With one week to go, I can confidently say that I have completed these goals. Now its just a matter of making sure I can leave here knowing that everything is in good hands.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Bondye fe, san di

God acts and doesn't talk.

This week I went up to Morne Michel for what could be the final time. We carried up two car batteries, 250 feet of ten gauge wire, two solar panels, and a variety of other materials and equipment to install lights in the school. I think that last hike up the mountain was one of the hardest treks I've ever done just due to the shear weight of my pack.

It took two days to install and a month to plan but it works! See pictures below:

Here, Colon (our foreman) and I are making the connection from the solar panels to the room where we have the charge controller and batteries. I don't have a lot of electrical experience so this was a great time to learn (shout out to Devan Vaughn for schooling me on basic circuitry work). I'm squinting because I was standing on the roof of the school in the middle of the day and it was sweltering.

One of the reasons that this project took so long to implement was that we had to fabricate the burgundy solar panel mounts you see above. The panels are locked so they can't get stolen and tilted at a 15.2 degree angle to the south in order to maximize sunlight. 

The kids were watching us the whole time during the installation. Here, you can see me sitting with the students at the school underneath one of their new lightbulbs powered by the sun. I don't know who was more impressed: the Haitians by the complexity of the wiring or me by the fact that it actually worked.

On the final day of installation, we started our descent a little later than we wanted as we tried to finish everything. When we left, we saw the storm (seen above) in the distance. As it turned out, the grey stuff between the ground and the clouds was not just mist but rather one of the most violent storms I've ever been exposed to. 

The hail and rain on our way down from the mountain was incredible. We were getting pelted from every direction and pretty soon we were completely saturated. Through Boy Scouts, I know what it is like to hike in the rain and hail but we were much too high to be safe. The Haitians wanted to take cover but I told them we had to get to lower ground. It was treacherous climbing down all the rocks in the rain and hail but it was better than being struck by lightening. We passed one smoking tree on the way down and another lightning strike made my ears ring. 

You can imagine this was not a pleasant way for me to finish my final project. As we slowly climbed down, amidst marble-sized hail and deafening thunder, I turned to Colon and the other Haitians with us and yelled over the din, "It's over. This was my last project. I can't believe it." 

They laughed and looked up at the one of the worst storms I've ever seen and said, "God is giving you a benediction. He must think you did good work."

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Gras a diri, ti woch goute gres

By the grace of rice, little rocks taste good.

On Thursday we finished up the Ba Cange Water System. It took just about all day on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday (plus calibrating it this morning) but I am very pleased with how it looks. While we are still messing with the in-line chlorinator to get it to a decent chlorine level and I am concerned about our filters, the system is adjustable enough that I know we can make it work.

I'm not celebrating my last project quite yet though; the bacteria test isn't quite done yet so I can't confirm that the water is pure. That being said, we are lowering the sediment load in the water and injecting fairly high doses of chlorine so I am not overly concerned.

Above, you can see me checking the inside of the small 125 gallon cistern we mounted on the wall. Coincidently (or not so coincidently) I am also doing the Heisman pose. Anyway, you can see our four-stage filtration system in the bottom right that goes to a chlorinator under the cistern. 

This system will be used by the hundreds of people that live and work in the area of Ba Cange, a community nestled between greater Cange and Lake Peligre. It will be cared for and maintained by our Cange water team and, after some more testing, it should be just as reliable as the larger Cange system. 

Next week I hope to install the solar panel in Morne Michel. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Konstitisyon se papye, bayonet se fer

The constitution is made of paper but bayonets are made of steel.

The meeting with the Cange community went about as well as I expected. I knew people would be unhappy and I knew they would yell at me but I was actually surprised about what they were yelling. They understood why they needed to take responsibility for the system, although I'm not quite sure they understand that this will involve paying for water. What made them angriest was actually that they may need to work with DINEPA (the Haitian Water and Sanitation Department) to make this happen.

To be honest, I don't know why DINEPA has such a horrible reputation here but the citizens of Cange absolutely despise them. It was shocking. They told me that DINEPA would fe desod (make a mess) if they came to Cange and took over for CEDC.

Unfortunately, their arguments escalated to the point where they questioned why some young engineer was telling them this news about the water system and not Dr. Paul. To this I replied that "I'm not Paul Farmer but I'm all you got right now." Regardless, I am waiting until some more important individuals arrive later this month before continuing. Unfortunately, I may not be here for the establishment of the Cange Water Committee but, as it turns out, this may not be a bad thing...

On the bright side, the water system we are building this week is going quite well. Wifi and power have still been abysmal but I will try to upload pictures whenever we finish it.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Bab pi lon men sousi pi vye

The beard is longer but the eyebrows are older.

I'm back! First day, I went to the village of Bwa Joli to check out their water system.

After a wonderful, albeit somewhat hectic, week at home for my brother’s wedding, I am back in Haiti for this last full month of my summer in order to finish up a few projects and initiatives while training the next set of Clemson interns for life here.

There are three things that I hope to accomplish before I depart:

1)   The water system in the community of Ba Cange
2)   The establishment of a local water committee that can one day take over the operations and
     maintenance of the water system in Cange
3)   The installation of a solar panel at the village of Morne Michel

We have been completely out of power for the past 10 days now. The only reason I have been able to get this post is that the generator in the compound where I stay provides power for about 2-3 hours every day. As soon as power is restored, we should be ready to finally begin work on the water system (1) as well as the solar panel (3).

There is a huge meeting with the whole Cange community on Sunday where we will introduce the idea of a water committee in order to take over the water system. We don’t know exactly how this will go over; people will not be happy that they have to start paying for water. My goal is to hold elections the Sunday after and then bring in DINEPA (the Haitian Water and Sanitation Department) to legitimize the committee as a legal entity.

In terms of the Marketplace situation, we have money coming down later this month to mitigate the terrible erosion that I mentioned in my last post. Since I am leaving in a month, most of this work will be conducted with the next wave of interns that came a few weeks ago. See the pictures below:

This is James standing next to a pit latrine that has started slipping down onto the new Marketplace road due to erosion. 

The concrete structure you see on the right is the roof of someone's house adjacent to the new Marketplace land. As you can see, it has been almost completely buried by dirt due to the erosion.

As you can imagine, it is going to be a busy couple of weeks here in Haiti but, if all goes well, I should be able to depart without feeling like I am abandoning the people and the new interns.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Sa pral rive nan semen avek kat jedi

That will happen in the week of four Thursdays.

Tomorrow I go home for my brother's wedding but I will be back next week. After that, I only have about a month left of this experience. However, there are still two projects I want to finish in July: the solar panel at the school in Morne Michel and the clean water system in Ba Cange (the small community that lives next to the lake below Cange).

This weekend, the local high school here had their graduation. It was a major affair that lasted over six hours and made other graduations seem rushed. However, this ceremony was much more interesting with everything from lip-syncing Beyonce songs to a fake wedding.

The graduation ceremony was in the church and it was packed. When the power went off and the fans stopped, you can imagine it got hot and smelly pretty quickly.

After the ceremony, I went to a reception for one of the wealthiest families in Cange. Check out this cake:
I just want to point out the fountain underneath which is a part of the cake. I guess Haiti has a Cake Boss too.

In terms of the Marketplace project, the erosion due to the bulldozer is much worse than expected. Even if we decided to proceed after the government broke their promise, we would spend all the allotted money to build retaining walls much less a marketplace. We are waiting to see how our funding source handles the situation but it is out of our hands.

I am looking forward to going home for the first time in six months but I know I will be eager to get back to finish my work. Wish me luck!