Sunday, December 31, 2017

Yo relem "injenyè"

"Yo relem injenyè." - "They call me 'engineer.'"

As you read this first line, you may find yourself thinking "that doesn't sound much like a proverb, we usually start with proverbs" and you would be correct. I've been thinking about my final post to this blog for a while and I tried to decide what I wanted to talk about, the things I wanted to say and the things I wouldn't say. Since the blog is written in almost report format I was (admittedly relieved) to realize I needn't restate all of the things we'd already discussed! After near-excessive thought, I decided I wanted to keep this closing message short with a couple thoughts more personal in nature than technical. The title of today's post comes from a thought I'd actually had shortly after arriving in Haiti. I'd realized that the team and other people in the village referred to Zach and I (later Ashley and I) as "engineer," sometimes appending it as a prefix for our names and other times simply by that. It was no surprise to me of course, why we were referred to in this way, but I found myself immediately pondering its implications. I realized two things about this immediately with the second in effect a result of the first. The first was that I noticed an air of respect that came with the title which conveyed a sense of both confidence and trust between myself and the people of Cangé. I found myself reminded of the way people at home might readily trust a doctor or a priest of their respective faith. The second, as a result of this conveyed trust, was acceptance and attentive listening to what I said and my ideas involving solutions to problems. This seemingly small gesture had an appreciable effect on my personal growth these several months.

As I worked in Haiti and with the team I realized that both my approach and my position in working with them was very different from what I'm used in a work environment. I'm used to a more hands-on work experience and completing tasks myself. I found myself in a different dynamic here in which my position was more consultatory and managerial in nature which I found honestly maddening at times. However, I realized this had more to do with my preference for consistency over changing dynamics and retrospectively, I'm beyond grateful for this exit from my comfort zone. I gained a confidence I didn't know I lacked, and I gained leadership skills I didn't know I needed. I've learned what it means to work cooperatively, how to recognize my own strengths and weaknesses as well as those of other so that we can plan to work tandemly such that our collective strengths are amplified and weaknesses minimized. It would take me a lot of time and likely a couple thousand of words to talk truly about all that I've learned, but these are a few of the quick things I wanted to share with all of you.

To say that my time in Haiti and its people have affected me would be an understatement. It would be more accurate to say my time and all of the connections I've made have begun and continue to mold me into something more. I don't yet know how this "more" will look in the end, but I understand that it signifies the person and engineer I am becoming. I will treasure this time for the rest of my life and confess that I too have received much as a result of it. As I finish writing this and wrap up this blog, I want to extend my thanks for travling alongside me from home and assuring me that these writings actually have an audience. It has been a pleasure for me to share my experiences with you, and I would be more than happy to share my future endeavors with each of you so interested!

Friday, December 15, 2017

Kreyòl pale, Kreyòl konprann

"Kreyòl pale, Kreyòl konprann." - "Creole spoken is Creole understood."

Today's proverb is another common one in Haiti and is used in different situations to mean a couple of different things. I've found two main meanings of it, one being that spoken Creole is understood Creole (the one we're using today,) but also used to convey the meaning of "speak simply and plainly." This was said to me a lot when I first started in Haiti back in May (which seems almost a lifetime ago,) to say "you're going to make mistakes in your speaking, but keep practicing and that the Creole you know inside your head isn't any good if you don't use it." As I practiced and learned Creole I remembered this, but I also found it to be true of building relationships and working in Haiti in general. The connections I've made during my time in Haiti took time and understanding to develop and I'm proud to say that each of them is worthwhile. It is with great pride that I've served CEDC and Haiti these past seven months and with a tinge of sadness that my time, for now, has come to a close. However, I cannot officially announce this stay as "finished" until I've updated all of you on how Ashley and I spent our last week before we returned home for the holidays (and in my case to return to classes in Clemson next semester.) So, without further ado (and minimal tears,) let us begin this last update.


On Thursday Ashley and I accompanied once more by Gaelle, Kolón, and Sadrack to the village of Belle Aire, a few miles southwest of Cangé. Previously CEDC completed a small project there consisting of a single capped water source and treated at distribution with filters and UV. We’d yet to visit the village since our re-installation and so set out to see how the system is faring. There are a few problems which have simple solutions of replacing of old pipe fittings and carrying replacement filters. There were two larger problems as well. The cap at the source is made of concrete which is being eaten away on the rear wall by run-off from an unknown source. Documenting and observing the problem we decided quickly this problem is easily remediable by constructing a diversion to route the water around the cistern and harmlessly to the side. The second problem we encountered was with the UV treatment, namely the disappearance of the solar panel providing electricity to it. A man who lives nearby approached us and began speaking with Kolón who asked him frankly but quietly where was the solar panel. He said that he wasn’t sure and that it had disappeared one night. Seeing that we would learn nothing else from him, we made our way up to the village’s school, a short walk uphill from where we were treating the water. On our way up, we encountered a man who works at the school who Kolón and Sadrack recognized. Kolón asked him what happened to the solar panel and he replied similarly to the first man that it’d disappeared overnight, and also mentioned (importantly) that the UV treatment was working until there was no longer a solar panel to provide electricity to it. He also told us (as we noticed while there) that it was truly curious that the box containing the filters and UV was open with the lock on the latch intact and unbroken. Noting everything we’d seen while we were there, we departed Belle Aire and returned to Cangé.

Friday, we descended to Péligre, a larger town about twenty minutes by vehicle down the road form Cangé. There is a man who lives there named Gaston we know from the ZL campus where he does social work. Before I’d left Haiti in September, I’d promised Gaston I’d visit Péligre to see how CEDC might be able to help with the water problem in Péligre. We went to Gaston’s house first where we were greeted by him and some other elders from the town offering us refreshments as they gave us a brief synopsis of the town’s water needs before walking around the town. Due to Péligre’s proximity to the dam that formed the lake (for which the town is named,) drinking water that is piped to the dam for the workers is shared with the town as well. The largest problem is lack of sufficient supply for the town; many of these people don’t actually live in Péligre but walk from the surrounding area to gather their drinking water from the system in Péligre. Gaston also interjected that as a result of the deficit, people who live in Péligre have to walk to unfamiliar places which has placed these people (often women or children in the developing world) at risk for violence with prior occurrences. As we begun to tour the infrastructure there are already cisterns and fountains in the town in good working order with small bits of piping in need of repair. We walked further down the road where we were shown the original cap and were told that water availability used to be intermittent but now water flows year-round, a boon to future work on the system. We were also shown an electric power water pump actually installed by the power company who distributes the electricity generated at the dam who pays and works to maintain it. As we talked and asked our questions we determined the likely reason for the water deficit is the pump being underpowered and overworked. We determined this could easily be rectified by conducting a census of the town to determine the size of the need in Péligre and installing an appropriately powerful pump. We let Gaston and the other elders know what we were thinking and told them that with all we’d seen their water problem should be easily fixed with the appropriate resources. They thanked us for coming to see them and we told them we looked forward to being able to work in Péligre soon. This visit was the last on Ashley and I’s list before we returned home for Christmas. This visit was my sixth to another community and also the last of my internship, a bittersweet realization. I was happy to have made good on my word to Gaston and filled with excitement to have documented their need so that we might help them in the future.

From Saturday to Monday, we went to Bas Cangé for some work at the dam. As I’ve written previously, we have dedicated piping at the dam for each pump as well as an overflow which feature metal grates for keeping large debris from entering the piping. Over time, the water has rusted the metal. To remedy this without replacing the grates, David brought a product called Corroseal which through a series of chemical reactions reverses the rusting process. To protect the coat of Corroseal (with help from Marcelin) we secured epoxy paint to be applied overtop. With the two coats having a full cure time of twenty-four hours we planned to fill the cisterns as much as we could during the week so the village would still have water while the knife gates at the dam to the pumps were closed. We had five pieces total to treat and paint with four fully curing in forty-eight hours and the last (requiring a second coat of Corroseal) requiring an extra day. As of yesterday, all of the grates had been replaced at the dam and the pumps re-opened and working. Officially wrapping up our work in Cangé for the year, Ashley and I began preparing for our trip home and spent some time with our friends before our flight on Wednesday. 

This week was very busy for Ashley and I as we tried to accomplish some big items on our list before it was time for us to return to the U.S. for the holidays. I’m pleased to say that we did accomplish everything we set out to do (with a good bit of fatigue,) and I’m further pleased with all the work I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate on and do during my tenure in Haiti. I’ll dearly miss all of the friends I’ve made as well as my work there, but I can leave comfortably knowing that Ashley is well-prepared to carry on our work and represent CEDC in Haiti. I wanted to make sure I talked sufficiently about the work we’d finished this past week (because it was a great deal,) but to save space and time for a single blog post, I will be publishing one more with some lessons I learned and some of my past and current thoughts. I think I’ll try to publish that later this weekend, so stay tuned for it!

Here'e the capped source in Belle Aire. Much of the foundation and ground around the system is un-eroded, but we would do well to address this before the situation worsens. The solution should be relatively simple, install a diversion for the runoff and then shore that which has already been eroded. This is definitely one of the more straightforward problems we've encountered. 

When everything is working as it's supposed to be, a solar panel mounted on this pole captures sunlight and converts the energy into usable electricity that can power the UV treatment. It is unfortunate that the solar panel is no longer there, but with the information of the UV working until the solar panel's disappearance, we know that everything on that end should still be functional. 

A quick look at the filtration system in Belle Aire. Inside we have the UV, four-filter system, as well as a water meter and pipe which exits the housing and has a spigot attached to the end. Most of this was in good shape with a need of new filters and replacement of some old fittings to make the whole system operational again. 

This is one of the main cisterns in Péligre. It was exciting and great for us to learn that much of the infrastructure needed for a water system in Péligre is already built and in good repair and that with which the town needs help is supply. 

Here we have one of the fountains (not far from the cistern pictures above) and Gaston. The fountains in the town we were told work well when there is water to distribute, making a project in Péligre that much easier for not having to build new fountains for distribution of the water. I met Gaston shortly after I first arrived in Haiti. It took some time for us to visit Péligre, but he was very patient after having my word that we would come. He was very happy to receive us for this visit and is greatly looking forward to working with CEDC in the future. 

This is the electric power pump installed by the local power company to send drinking water both to the workers at the dam as well as Péligre. I was told that the pump had had four or five major repairs during its lifetime and that it's required regular maintenance attention. From what was described, we inferred that the reason the pump has required so much attention is that it lacks sufficient power to supply the demand for water. As part of our plan going forward, we'll reach out to the power company in order to collaborate with them on securing and installing a pump with appropriate capability. 

As we concluded our visit, we thanked repeatedly for coming and were asked to pose for this picture in expectation of our future partnership. It's visits like these and the work to follow that first interested me in coming to Haiti and I'd like to underscore that I was not disappointed in my expectations. 

The team formally replaced the grates at the dam in our absence while we wrapped up other work before we left, but here you can Greg and Oddjob applying the epoxy paint we found on Sunday after we'd applied the Corroseal on Saturday morning. They were amazed to see the chemical process the Corroseal catalyzes on the rusted parts of the grates and after explaining the paint would protect the coat of Corroseal, we painted with great enthusiasm. This particular project we planned as far back as the summer, but circumstances surrounding interruption in regular water flow to the village for two days delayed us until now. I'm pleased to say I was able to see it completed before it was time for me to leave. 



Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Bondye Bon

 "Bondye Bon" - "God is good"

I'd had this update ready to post yesterday, but internet issues contrived for delay until now. I'm taking the time to mention that because as of yesterday, Ashley has officially been in Haiti a month! It has been a month full of adventure and an equal amount of work. She'll have a while in Haiti yet, but we couldn't pass this milestone without some recognition. The past week has had sufficient amount of adventure and work of its own and our final week doesn't look like it'll be any different, but I prefer it this way; this way, we have plenty of interesting things to share. Today's proverb is straightforward, celebrating the milestone of a month in conjunction with occurrences of the week past, I think the reasoning of my choice will be obvious. Without further ado, let's begin. 

Picking up where we left off last week, on Saturday night (25/11/2017) after returning from Port-au-Prince, Ashley and I solidified our plans for the next day to re-work piping in the Filter Building to incorporate the new pressure relief valves. Our final plan consisted of two objectives and three changes to the piping:

            The Objectives 

1. First of our objectives was to install the new pressure relief valves we acquired in Port-au-Prince in strategic locations through which water could easily be bled off in relief at a pressure more than 150 PSI.

2. The second was to create more distance between the flow-meter and control valve installed on the chlorinator’s inflow line before replacing the caps. An oversight during our initial installation of the chlorinator saw the flow meter and control valve for the line next to each other with little space in between them. As we began attempting to regulate flow in the pipe, we found it difficult to have an accurate idea of how much water was flowing through the pipe as every time we adjusted the control valve, turbulence skewed the flow meter’s readings. Detailing the problem with David previously, he stipulated we create twelve inches of space between the flow meter and control valve. Reviewing Hayward’s (manufacturer of the chlorinator) manual of the model we were using, we learned that more PVC (as opposed to galvanized pipe in our case) before the line was ideal. Learning this, we set upon going above our given twelve inches to as much distance as was possible for us to create with the materials we had on hand.

The Piping Changes

1.      If you’ll recall, we used vacant space where the non-functional UV treatment was previously located for the installation of emergency chlorinator (nouvo nouvo machin klowoks.) The first part of our plan involved dismantling the other line of the old UV (still intact until this point) to place the first pressure relief valve there. Doing so would place a relief valve between the chlorinator and the filtration system (where we monitor the pressure of the incoming water.)
2.      The second change was set for just after the chlorinator. Parallel to the line which passes through the chlorinator is another line, unfiltered, which is rejoined by treated water from the chlorinator before a static mixer. The now mixed filtered and chlorinated water flows together before it is split into two lines going to the Summit Cistern (from which the water for Zl’s campus and the top-most fountain in the village are sourced) and Village Cistern. We decided the best location for the second relief valve was after the static mixer but before the separation of the line to the two cisterns.
3.      The first two changes realized the first of our objectives, and this last change accomplished the second. The galvanized pipe nipples making the distance between the ball valve for the chlorinator’s inflow line and the control valve was vital to our design for the piping of the first pressure relief valve. We had twenty-four inches of one inch PVC which we aimed to use as the chlorinator’s new inflow line. The only thing we needed to figure out was if we had sufficient fittings to put our new pipe together.

We met with the team early Sunday morning (26/11/2017) showing them everything we’d bought the day before and explaining our objectives, we set to work. I’m pleased to say that the work progressed very well and we achieved everything we’d set out to do. However, the day was not without its challenges. These manifested in a culmination of trouble at the dam in Bas Cangé relayed to us by Djapanou. Pausing briefly for lunch, we descended to Bas Cangé to see what was happening down there.

Before we actually left for Bas Cangé Djapanou described to Sadrack and I what the problem was down there. Admittedly, I did not understand Djapanou’s explanation even after Sadrack tried to re-explain it to me. After which, I told them that for more reasons than one now, I needed to see what was happening at the dam for myself. It turned out that what Djapanou was explaining to me was earlier that morning when he was shutting the water to Pump Two (which currently needs to be turned off at the dam due to a separate problem with its butterfly valve normally used for regulating flow,) he noticed that the rod connected to the pipe’s door below was not properly seated and turning effectively. After he’d succeeded in shutting off flow to Pump Two, he saw that the rod simply turned in place instead of rising, thus preventing us from opening the door to Pump Two’s pipe would not be possible until the rod was successfully re-seated. To accomplish this, we actually had to detach the rod from Pump Two’s door along with the threaded bracket through which the rod is meant to rise and descend. Unable to have the rod and bracket seen by the welder that day (as it was already early evening just before sunset,) we knew we would have to wait until the following morning to see the welder and return to Bas Cangé.

The following morning (last Monday 27/11/2017) we met with the team again and saw the welder immediately after breakfast. Grinding down the inside of the bracket, smoothing chipped areas on the thread of the rod, and reinforcing the integrity of the aging bracket, we descended again to Bas Cangé to replace the rod and bracket. This went relatively smoothly and we were once more able to open and close the door for Pump Two. We would soon realize, however, that we were not finished for the day in Bas Cangé. In draining the dam to a level where we could work on the door for Pump Two, we needed to route water through the overflow. When we went to reset the door for the overflow to its normal place, the housing for the rod on the door itself broke. With the rod now separated from the door, we were unable to move the door in the intended way. To fix this, the team produced a replacement door stored in one of the pump houses, with which we replaced the door for the overflow. Now able to adjust the flow for Pump Two and the Overflow pipe at the dam as intended, we were finished for the day with our work at Bas Cangé. All that was left for us to do was await the pipe glue we’d applied the day before (needing to wait until Tuesday morning following a modification we’d made after discovering a leak in our new piping) to finish setting and we could replace the tops on the chlorinator and use it once more.

All of our piping set and not leaking, we were at last able on Tuesday morning (28/11/2017) to add chlorine to the system via the chlorinator for the first time since its original caps had both blown. We spent much of the remainder of the week reviewing what we’d learned about how the chlorinator was working in the system its first week and are working to fine-tune its integration in the system. The last couple of weeks have had their challenges, but with determination and teamwork, we developed effective solutions for each of them. Much of this week will be spent wrapping up for the year as Ashley and I are scheduled to return home next week! Though this month (Ashley’s first officially as of today) has passed swiftly as has my time in Haiti. I expect to pen one last post before we depart, so stay tuned for that by this time next week. Until then, be well and enjoy these pictures!

P.S. If you’ve already read the post from last week, those pictures (as promised) are now posted, so don’t forget to go look at those!

One of the finished products, the first pressure relief valve set up before the chlorinator, parallel to the emergency chlorinator we installed. 

The second pressure relief valve placed strategically after the rejoining of all the lines before distribution to the cisterns, but before the separation of the lines to the different cisterns. 

Here, we have Djapanou, Nol, Sadrack, and myself putting together the rod and the replacement gate for the overflow pipe. We needed to come up with a clever array of pulleys to lower and set the gate from the top of the dam, but we did figure it out and successfully reset the new gate. 

Here are Kolón and Sadrack taking apart what was left of the UV piping so that we'd have the space to install the new pressure relief valve (they were big fans of the new 24'' wrenches we picked up in PaP so they wouldn't have to use the 48'' ones for anything bigger than inch and a half.)

Ashley is usually behind the camera and as a result, not in many of our pictures, but here she is getting her hands dirty helping Sadrack apply some Teflon to the pipe before we fit it in its new home. 





Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Dye mon, gen mon

"Dye mon, gen mon" - Behind mountains, are more mountains

I realize what some of you may be thinking: "Alexander has already faltered in his goal of weekly updates!" I suppose this is partly true, but I will defend my position almost tenuously behind a lack of internet during the weekend and overall busyness the last few days following planned itineraries as well as a few unplanned. All of the really exciting bits happened this weekend, so let's start with Friday.

In my last update I mentioned that part of our scope is to visit other villages that we are dedicated to helping in addition to our responsibilities in and around Cangé, this week, we traveled to Morne Michel. Some of you may be familiar with the book "Mountains Beyond Mountains" by Tracy Kidder which is a biographical piece on Paul Farmer who co-founded Partners In Health (Zanmi Lasante in Haiti) and has spent almost the last forty years providing what PIH/ZL refers to as "a preferential option for the poor." The title of the book is a loose translation of our proverb for the day and used specifically in the instance of the book to refer to when Farmer and Kidder hiked to Morne Michel in order to follow-up with one of Farmer's patients who had missed his appointment in Cangé (this turned out to be due to a misunderstanding when the patient left the hospital in Cangé and was in fact well.) As such, the journey to Morne Michel has been referred to as the "mountains beyond mountains hike" and as such, I thought the titular proverb apt for our update. Sparing excruciating detail, we departed Cangé shortly after sunrise and arrived in Morne Michel just after ten o'clock, with the reasoning behind our early departure the desire to be in Morne Michel before the heat of the day set in as well as the need to complete our agenda for the day in Morne Michel and descend once more to Cangé before dusk. At this point, I'm happy to say that we accomplished both of these goals handily and saw a great deal in Morne Michel, the specifics of which are to follow.

Our predecessors had journeyed to Morne Michel and assisted with work on the school there (which looked amazing and far more structurally sound than buildings in other areas I've visited during my time in country) with investigations into constructing a water system with proximity to the school dating to before our eighteen month hiatus of no interns. On the way to Morne Michel, we actually encountered a man who Kolón introduced to us as the director of the school on his way to the town of LasCahobas. Alternating between talking with myself and Kolón and translating for Ashley, he expressed his joy that we'd returned to Haiti and that we were on our way to Morne Michel as well as his apologies for not being able to receive us personally. He also was deliberate in saying that he hoped we would be staying in Haiti and that Morne Michel was in great need of a water system. We assured him it was for these very reasons we were en route to his village and we continued on our separate ways. Seeing the great state of the school, we were immediately shown the solar panels installed on the roof of the school with aid from the last interns in the fall of 2015. We were told that the panels haven't quite functioned properly since shortly after they (the previous interns) had left. The panels themselves looked well and undamaged and the wiring appeared of good quality as well and the problem is suspected to be a bad inverter which, without delving into an in-depth explanation of solar panels and photo-voltaics (a subject of great personal interest,) simply converts the energy gathered by the solar panels into usable electricity (abridged and simplified.) Documenting and noting what we saw with the solar panels, we moved on to our investigations of where the people of Morne Michel get their water. There had been three primary sources of water identified previously where the people drew water. Along with Kolón, Gaelle, and Sadrack (who also came with us,) Ashley and I set about surveying around the first source. The terrain proved very difficult to navigate as we meandered slowly down from the school (what we would approximate after surveying) to be just over a hundred feet to the first water source.  Working our way slowly up the opposite side of the hill proved to be very time consuming and while we did finish the survey of the first source, we found that we were drawing very close to our ideal departure time to ensure we wouldn't be descending in the dark. With haste, Sadrack and I along with one of the men who works at the school (the same who greeted us when we arrived in the village proper) descended for a brief look at the lower two sources and to retrieve samples of the water that we could test for fecal coli-forms once back in Cangé. Often what we would do is restricted by resources of various kinds. This fact in the back of his mind, Kolón asked me quietly when we were alone if I thought we'd return to work on projects in Morne Michel during the coming year echoing the words of the director of the school earlier that morning of the need for clean and reliable water in the village. I told him that I certainly hoped we would and that our very reason for the visit was the intention of returning to work in the village. Following this we began our descent and returned to Cangé as the sun was setting. Though we were done for the day, Ashley and I prepared for an equally busy Saturday. We'd arranged during the week to travel with Marcelin (who works as the foreman for the water team) to Port-au-Prince and shop for pressure relief valves that we would install before and after the chlorinator to protect against pressure spikes that could be a potential cause of the blown caps on the chlorinator.

Arising early on Saturday morning, we met with Marcelin who had in his possession the replacement caps for the chlorinator (which he himself had held since Thursday, but we belayed their delivery to Cangé as we knew that we didn't want to replace the covers before we installed the relief valves,) after briefly reiterating our objectives for the trip to Port-au-Prince, we began the roughly two hour drive to the city. Ashley and I had previously only been to Port-au-Prince in transit to and from Toussaint L'Ouverture airport and hadn't really traveled it extensively. The first couple of ideas Marcelin had of stores where we might find our parts didn't quite work out and we at last went to EKO Depot, a name I recognized from old documents kept by previous interns as a reliable supplier located in Port-au-Prince. After entering and being checked out by security (a process with which I've become familiar during my time in Haiti when entering places such as a bank or store, and have similarly become accustomed to immediately producing my pocket knife for the guard which is held in his custody until I leave the store when I may retake it) we went about shopping. As I mentioned above, this was my first time personally at the supplier in Port-au-Prince, and after we'd finished Ashley and I commented about our surprises with the experience. Shortly after entering the store we were greeted by an associate addressing Ashley and myself in a bit of English (until I revealed that I spoke Kreyòl) and were subsequently helped personally find everything on our list. As I mentioned earlier, we were without internet most of the weekend and when we were getting ready to go to Port-au-Prince that morning Ashley and I realized that we didn't have pictures of the pressure relief valves to show Marcelin or anybody at the stores in Port-au-Prince. Left with little choice, we decided we would do our best to describe the function of the valves and see how things would go. After explaining to the associate helping us that we had an email with pictures we could show him if we could simply access it, we were loaned the phone of another employee in order to access the email and show them the picture. The pictures at last loading, the associate exclaimed half in English and half in Kreyòl: "Oh! Pressure relief valve! We have those, follow me!" Shortly thereafter we held the last two in the store (Ashley later joked probably the last two in all of Port-au-Prince) in our possession. Enhancing our experience, each time the associate helping us found a part we specified and we verified it would serve our intended purposes he cheered in a manner wholly genuine seeming to suggest assisting us in finding each part as a personal triumph. Thanking the associate for his helpfulness as well as his candor, we paid for our parts and returned to Marcelin's car. Our business concluded, I learned that Marcelin is originally from Port-au-Prince though he's lived in the Central Plateau (both Cangé and Mirebalais) for a long time, he took us on a driving tour of Port-au-Prince where he showed us the different neighborhoods and talked about each; also during which he treated us to what I could really only describe as a fruit smoothie (primarily banana) that, like everything else I've tasted while in Haiti, was delicious. After this, we returned to Cangé and planned the additions and modifications we would make to the piping in the filter building the next day.

I'll post a separate update later this week talking about the installation of the pressure relief valves as well as a few other things that happened on Sunday and earlier this week. Also, I know this is the part where we usually do pictures, but encountering some difficulty with the GoPro we carried with us to Morne Michel, I'll add those to this post later this week along with the new update.

Update 5/12/2017:


As soon as we arrived in Morne Michel chairs were produced for us to rest for a few minutes before we started our agenda for the day, but Ashley and I took a moment to marvel at the school first. The school is in very good shape compared to many of the other buildings we've come across in Haiti. The biggest thing being structural integrity. 


Here you can see people gathered at the lower end of what we refer to as Source One in Morne Michel. It's currently the source with the most water, evidenced by all of the activity. Surveying this area took much longer than we thought, but we did complete it and forwarded the information to the group working on the concept for Morne Michel's water system back in Clemson. 

This picture is actually on the way to Morne Michel. While pausing to catch our breath, I noticed that just on the edge of what you can see here (to the right,) you could see the Grand Savane, an area of interest to us for agricultural and water projects. However, at roughly six hundred feet above Cangé up rough terrain, we realized we would need to develop a road to facilitate greater ease of access (the team working on this was actually my first assignment in CEDC in the spring of 2016.) We noticed that the tower you can see here mounted much of the steeper areas to the top with more gentle sloping the rest of the way to Grand Savane. We think this could serve as the starting point for this crucial roadway in the future.

These are the solar panels atop the school meant to provide reliable electricity to the school. The panels themselves are intact and functional, but the school has had issue for a while with the intermittent availability of electricity. We suspect the problem to be bad inverters. The solution is simple enough and consists of securing new inverters as well as isolating the cause of the burnout in the original inverters to prevent the same course from taking place again. 

Coming soon to a Glenn Holcombe Department of Engineering pamphlet near you! This picture was actually taken by me (and featuring Ashley who's taken most of the pictures the last month and she loaned me her camera to take it,)  at Ashley's behest saying this was perfect shot for the department to advertise. Unable to agree more, here is the finished product*

*Made possible by skills learned as part of the curriculum of the Glenn Department of Civil Engineering, Clemson University. Trademark 2017 All Rights Reserved



Friday, November 17, 2017

Piti piti zwazo fè nich

"Piti piti zwazo fè nich" - "Step by step, a bird builds its nest."

In a reversed fashion of sorts, I'm writing this beginning last as I found myself ready to publish this update, I realized I hadn't explained my choice of proverb for this update. Today's saying is one heard often in Haiti (particularly this week.) It's employed often in cases including introduction to a new environment, when things don't go to plan, and slow but steady integration into new norms. The wisdom to be understood being that everything is a process, like a bird building its nest. Good and worthwhile things take time and yield fruit in their time (the case in the proverb of a new home for the titular bird.) With that finished, let's dive into our update...'s introduction!

It is with elation I find myself again writing from the Project Managment office in Cangé. Just over two months ago you might recall Hurricane Irma making its way through the Carribean. Hispaniola in the projected path of the storm, the decision was made that I was to be evacuated from the Haiti if at all possible. It was, and I found myself aboard one of the final flights out of Toussaint L'Ouverture airport bound for New York. What I was sure would be a brief stay to simply ensure I would not be in danger while abroad, indeed became a nearly two-month-long wait before I was able to return to Haiti and work in the Central Plateau. It's been nearly two weeks and the welcome I've received has been one of the warmest in my life. "Mwen kontan pou mache avek enjenyè yo Clemson anko" commented Djapanou, one of the guys we work with on the water team, meaning that he was happy that we'd finally returned and to be feeling similarly about working together once more. Further, I've had the opportunity along with the rest of the community to welcome Ashley as my new partner and our newest intern. Ashley is actually Clemson alumna having earned her B.S. earlier this year in Civil Engineering with a minor in Environmental Engineering; her time in Haiti as part of her graduate studies in which she is currently pursuing a Master's degree in Environmental Engineering. With my tenure in Haiti still set to terminate next month, I have just a few weeks to show Ashley many of the things she will need to know as an intern, in addition to tutoring her in Kreyòl so as to be effective and ready for the remainder of her internship extending into next year and to teach her own new partner in January. That said, we have had a very busy two weeks and expect to have an equally busy three more to follow, let us begin with the retelling:

The focus of Ashley's graduate research is one of the steps taken in treating Cangé's water supply, chlorination. In preparation for this, the design for a replacement of the then current chlorinator began early this summer. We carried the constituent pieces of the new chlorinator with us and arriving in Cangé late at night on Saturday (04/11/2017,) we set about work the following day after church. Assembly and installation of the chlorinator could not have gone better, and in the week to follow we set about testing the chlorine levels of treated water at the filter building and each fountain every day. There are, however, always hiccups in life. In this case, manifesting in unfortunate occurrences. Passing a whole week back in Cangé and five days with the new chlorinator, we arrived at the filter building Saturday morning to learn that in the night a loud sound had been heard by security emanating from the filter building; the sound heard turned out to be the cap of the chamber where water passed through chlorine tablets for treatment blowing from its seating and striking the opposite wall. Ubiquitously, unfortunate things happen, and in preparation for unforeseen circumstances, the chlorinator was designed with a redundant treatment chamber which we employed handily while arranging for a replacement cap. There are also times, for reasons we often don't understand, where a seemingly preternatural contrivance takes place only to stymy one's efforts. You may now be thinking to yourself "what a rather cryptic thing to say," and you would be correct, it is not however without significance. You see, I gave voice to this latter thought due to my ignorance of another way to describe what happened next. Just two days later, early on Monday (13/11/2017) morning, another loud sound which was (as you may have guessed by my borderline labored preamble) the cap of the chlorinator's redundant treatment chamber also blowing from its seating and striking the wall. Saturday morning, we had a problem. Now, we have a big problem. There may have been just a bit of internal freaking out at this juncture, without caps for the chambers, how will we treat the water? Fortuitously, we'd earlier that weekend received the balance of an order which afforded us fresh filters for installation at the filter building. This information in the back of our minds was a positive point of our current situation of course, but we still needed to devise a mode by which we could continue to chlorinate the water passed through the filters without a chlorinator. After conferring with David and planning the better part of the afternoon, we had our solution and as the sun set over Cangé (occurring around 17:00 or 5:00 PM now) we set about its implementation. With our chlorinator out of commission at the moment, we needed to route the water around it. The design to reintroduce chlorine to the system was simple; we had available lines in the system from when we used to use UV Rays to treat water which we had ceased due to its unsustainability. With the assistance of the team, we added a new connection in the pipe with a ball valve in the middle to serve as our "door" into the pipe, the means by which we would add the chlorine tablets into the pipe. The flow on either side of our emergency design (dubbed tongue-in-cheek as the "nouvo nouvo machin klowoks" or "new new chlorinator") manageable by the presence of ball valves, the outflow now serving the dual purpose of preventing the passing of whole pieces of chlorine tablets through the subsequent piping. We now had purchased for ourselves time, and I'm happy to say that just today we worked out the details of receiving replacement caps for this time next week.

Ashley and I have joked the last few days when asked that discounting the volatile nature adopted by the subject of her research, transition into life in Haiti has been very smooth! We've begun familiarization with the regular operations of the water system such as cleaning filters and testing water at the filter building, maintenance of the dam and pumps at Bas Cangé, beginning to understand and speak in a new language, and of course, (delicious) Haitian Cuisine. Before I return home, there are still some objectives to complete and ventures to other villages to be had; the details of which I plan to share with all of you. Bearing that in mind, check back often as I'll be undertaking the (arguably ambitious, given my record) of weekly updates for the remainder of my time as project management intern. Just before we sign off here, it's time for the best part: pictures.

Our arrival on the fourth was timely in the interest of being present for the monthly maintenance at Bas Cangé (normally scheduled for the 12th of each month.) Maintenance typically consists of checking each of the pumps, changing their oil, and noting any abnormalities in function in addition to the cleaning of the dam. In this picture, Djapanou was showing Greg and I an issue with the butterfly valve for pump two where we weren't able to close the valve completely and totally shut off flow to the pump. We were able to shut off flow to the pump at the dam, but became aware that will need to replace the valve in the near future. 
Cleaning at the dam is a necessary operation which the team currently undertakes monthly. As you might remember from earlier explanations, we partly drain water held by the dam via an overflow pipe built into the dam. Once the water is wade-able we set about cleaning mud and other flotsam we don't want to flow into the pumps or is otherwise stuck on some part of the dam. 


This picture is actually mid-installation of the nouvo nouvo machin klowoks. Once Ashley and I settled on a design and a plan, we called the team to help with its addition into the system. Having picked up those Stillson wrenches myself, I would have appreciated smaller ones! They were however what we needed and got the job done, and after that, I could not in good conscience ask for more. 

Completed installation! The design, as I mentioned earlier, is very simple with ball valves on either side managing flow and the upright valve allowing a point of access for the addition of chlorine tablets. 

Here lies what remains of the caps for the chlorinator. As you can see, the breaks were relatively clean. It was also very fortunate that when the caps blew, neither their threading nor the chambers themselves suffered any damage. This turn of events was just enough, however, to put a (slight) damper on our day.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Men anpil, chaj po lou

"Men anpil, chaj po lou." - Many hands, make the load lighter

Welcome back again, I know, two updates in two days, unheard of before. I knew that I wanted to create a post updating all of you about how I spent the first week of the month, but also knew that I'd said the next update would be dedicated to a history of Lake Péligre. So, my word kept and promise fulfilled, I'm now at liberty to share my experiences visiting two other villages in the neighboring Artibonite département. As I mentioned in my last post, the Artibonite River flows across all of Hispaniola (Artibonito in Spanish, as it is known crossing the border into the Dominican Republic) and is the namesake of the département. First, I'll tell you about the day I spent in the town of LaChapelle and after about the remote mountain village of Perodin.

The second week of July I was put in contact with Dottie Kelley, local to the Charleston area (where my family also lives) back in South Carolina. I was invited by her to journey together to LaChapelle at the beginning of August so that I might see some five hundred acres of land allocated for farming adjacent to the river. The problem I was told was that despite being situated in close proximity to the river, water was scarce in different parts of the land. I agreed happily to come view the site and we made the necessary arrangements. As July flew by I began to prepare the trip to LaChapelle. Upon arrival at the site, I was amazed at the vastness of the land. I, of course, knew that five hundred acres was a sizeable amount of land, but I tell you truly it is entirely different to hear and know something and to see and walk the same thing. I was delighted to learn two things this day regarding the land: the first was that at an unspecified time (nobody in the area remembered exactly when) following the January 2010 Earthquake, an organization from Canada constructed an irrigation system that is sourced by a tributary of the Artibonite and that it services much of the farmland. The second was that the irrigation system in fact services much of the land with the exception of a section closest to the river that was slightly more elevated. Leading me and my traveling companions who traveled from South Carolina with Dottie (Greg, a retired US Army officer and Steve, a practitioner of internal medicine,) was Fernand. An incredible young man from LaChapelle I had the pleasure of meeting who happens to serve as the head of an organization of young men in the LaChapelle area dedicated to improving life in the community; he graciously volunteered to serve as our guide when other pressing matters drew away my planned company, including LaChapelle's mayor. As Fernand, Greg, Steve, and I made our way down slope from the road to the farmland we decided on an itinerary for seeing the site, however as often happens, we needed to amend our plans when we met some local farmers to whom Fernand, explaining that I was an engineer come to see what could be done to help with the water shortage, asked if we'd be willing to walk them while they showed us where needed the most help. I'd realized two things quickly as we began to walk with the farmers: the first was that while the irrigation of the small tributary was a good and helpful thing, it was insufficient for the entirety of the area. The second was that many of the attempted additions to the irrigation system by the farmers weren't working because the land they needed to supply was more elevated than their source. As we made our way to the river I remember them asking Fernand after conferring with me for a moment what I was thinking. With Fernand's assistance, I described what I noticed as the principal problems and what I was thinking could help and we had a brief conversation that went something like this:

Fernand: "So I should say the reason they don't have water because the water is lower than the land?
Me: "That's part of it yes, we need to help it flow uphill."
Fernand: "But water doesn't flow uphill, how will we do that?"
Me: "It doesn't without help, and engineers somewhat specialize in helping nature do things it doesn't normally."

Admittedly, this amused me because the problem here was the exact same problem Cangé had and I felt confident we'd be able to develop a solution for LaChapelle as well. We were discussing this as we drew near to the river itself. I remember being in awe at the sight of it as I'd not so many times before been so close to a major river. I'd wondered at first if flood irrigation might serve the farmland, but upon arrival at the river bank, I realized the problem immediately. The very spot where we were standing was between twenty and thirty above the water level. Now having seen everything for myself, I turned to see Fernand waiting with the farmers to hear what I would say next. I was pleased to be able to tell them that I thought we (CEDC) would be able to come up with a solution that could help them. After translating, I was thanked by the farmers and, replying in Creole, I told them that we would do what we could for them.

After taking Tuesday (1/08/2017) to see the farmland in LaChapelle, Greg, Steve, and I traveled with Smith to the village of Perodin early Wednesday morning. Smith, like Fernand, is dedicated to inspiring positive change for the betterment of Haiti. Perodin is located in the Chaines des Cahos mountain range which stretches from the coast in the west to the central plateau. As we made the hike to Perodin, Smith told me that Perodin is only one of several villages where he works and due to his degree in forestry, he has also developed plans for the different villages to replant the mountainsides vastly depleted of trees and other wild foliage. At Perodin, there is a small medical clinic where we volunteered the next two days. Word spread across the villages on the nearby mountains that not only was a group of Americans coming to visit Perodin, but that one of them was a doctor and we'd be at the clinic in Perodin. Following breakfast Thursday morning we walked to the clinic and upon arrival saw a mass of people awaiting us. It seemed difficult to me to obtain an accurate count of how many people were actually packed together under the stretch of awning at the clinic, but Greg quickly estimated there were about sixty people. Thereafter, we made the acquaintance of the auxiliary nurses as well as head nurse, Fernande. Despite Steve being the only medical professional, we quickly devised a system for seeing patients in which: Steve would see patients, I and the auxiliary nurses would record relevant patient information and diagnoses, Fernande, Greg, and another man who works regularly at the clinic would distribute prescriptions for ailments that could be treated with what was available at the clinic. Over the course of two long days, we saw one hundred and sixty-three people at the clinic. Many of them were suffering from arthritis and cataracts, products of hard labor and daily mountain climbing coupled with constant exposure to the bright and constant Caribbean sun. It was pleasantly noteworthy that despite these common issues and a small number of more serious conditions, the community was in overall good health. I remember Aaron telling me once (a former intern himself with the conversation regarding advice on the operating in Haiti) that I should always watchful for opportunities to new projects and community development. That in mind, when Smith mentioned that after dinner on Thursday night he was attending a meeting with leaders from the village I asked if I might accompany him. It was an honor to be accepted with great hospitality and warmth by the village elders which I tried to reciprocate by introducing myself, why I'm in Haiti, and that I'd like to hear their concerns and discuss how I and CEDC might be able to help in Creole. As is often the case when I meet new people and they learn I speak Creole, I was greeted once more with even more warmth and welcomed not only as a visitor, but as someone dedicated to building relationships and change. They had many concerns and I thought of each as important. In an attempt to better understand how their minds were tending, I asked Smith if he would ask for me "if they could choose one thing that could be fixed overnight, what it would be?" After he finished asking my question, there was a great deal of murmuring for a minute, and then what seemed to me like consensus. They provided the following analogy: "Alex, they said imagine you are preparing a meal and you've gathered the three rocks upon which you need to set your pot. They say their priorities are like the three rocks being the road to the village, public health, and reforestation." I needed a moment to process this after Smith finished explaining, not because I hadn't understood the analogy (meals prepared outside in a pot situated amount three rocks was not only a common sight but something I'd enjoyed a number of times already,) but because I found myself insufficiently prepared for the concision of their well-thought out answer. Briefly discussing the specifics of that thereafter, we concluded the meeting. It is my hope that we'll be in a position to advise and aid Perodin in the future.

So, this was a very long update, but I wanted to ensure that I share important and a plentiful amount of details to everybody taking the time to read these. It was my distinct pleasure to become acquainted with Fernand and Smith. They're both men with vision, and who are truly dedicated to the idea of Haiti's improvement coming from its people, and not from any extraordinary amount of external assistance. This is incredibly important because while help from generous and kind people should not be undervalued, solutions provided by external sources (foreign governments and NGO's, for example) implemented without involving the community ubiquitously fail. It was also a respite for me to meet Dottie, Greg, and Steve as well. Often, it is easy for large organizations with the purest of intentions toward helping people in need to become burdened by bureaucracy and other ailments which render their efforts ineffective. For my skill with language, I find it difficult to express sufficiently in writing the importance of people like Dottie, Greg, and Steve who choose an area to support and invest in the community there; people who truly understand how critical it is to immerse yourself in a community and understand it in order to understand how to effectively help. If you've made it to the end here, it's time for the best part of these posts, where I stop talking and I share pictures of everything I just described.

Here, is one of several pools in the irrigation system constructed by the Canadians. from what I could see, their primary purpose is to send water in multiple directions (in this case, two.) 

This trip wasn't Greg's first visit to Haiti. In fact, he'd visited LaChapelle for the first time with Dottie in April and met many of the people we passed on our walk to the river. In preparation, he, Dottie, and Steve brought things like deodorant, soap, and toothpaste for people they'd met last time. Here is a picture of Fernand with a family with eight children after receiving some of these things. 

This picture was taken by Greg as we walked through the fields. The farmers plant many different things in accordance with the season including, but not at all limited to beans, cane, mango, rice, papaya and much more. 

When we arrived at this part of the walk, Fernand was leading and Greg and Steve walked past me. They turned to see me lingering and laughing quietly to myself. Inquiring as to why, I told them this was my first time fording (if it could be truly called that.) Amused, they took this picture of me 

To make the hike to Perodin, we arose at four thirty in the morning and climbed into Smith's truck on our way at five o'clock. We arrived at this spot at about an hour and a half later when the tire went flat. Fortunately, this was the exact spot where Smith had planned for us to disembark and being the (uphill, between seven and eight miles) hike to Perodin. Fortunate indeed!

This was during lunch time on Thursday. We'd worked at the clinic five hours already, and speaking truly, doctoring is fatiguing work. Steve asked Smith if the ladies preparing lunch for us might make coffee as well. Stating that it was no problem, coffee beans were gathered and ground by hand before our very eyes. I don't think I've mentioned this on here before, but I really enjoy Haitian coffee.  

I pondered sharing this with all of you for a while before I decided in favor of it. This was the tablecloth from the meeting I attended with Perodin's elders. Listening to their concerns, I began to think of how CEDC might be able to help them. Speaking candidly, I despaired momentarily at the sum of the problems and the want of resources for addressing each of them. It was in the midst of these thoughts that I looked down for the first time at the tablecloth and noticed that it was in fact orange. I couldn't help but smile, as I thought (not that I'm at all superstitious) that the table cloth  just happening to be orange was nothing short of a good omen. 






Saturday, August 12, 2017

Lake Péligre

"There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know." - Harry S. Truman

In my last posting, I promised to dedicate the next to a brief  (likely subjectively so rather than objectively) retelling of the history of Lake Péligre. Without further ado, let us begin. Lake Péligre is not truly a lake at all, but rather a man-made reservoir created by the damming of the Artibonite River (which flows not only across Haiti, but the island of Hispaniola.) The dam was constructed in 1956 without support from the United States Army Corps of Engineers. The premise was that the dam would provide reliable hydroelectricity to Haiti. Today, there is much controversy and debate about who has actually benefited from this electricity, but rather than engage in speculation (which is admittedly well-grounded, but not the purpose of this particular retelling,) I will speak about the repercussions felt locally.

If I have ever spoken with you personally about CEDC, you know that our work is centered in and around the village of Cangé.. What is less well-known however, is how Cangé came to be and the reason by its location. It is a story recounted at the beginning of each semester for students new to CEDC and also to serve as a reminder as to why CEDC exists. Beneath Lake Péligre, lies a valley submerged formerly home to farmers who worked the fertile land. At the completion of the dam, the farmers were obliged to relocate in order to escape the rising water. The farmers climbed to the highlands surrounding their former farmlands, however these mountains, arid and rocky, would prove unforgiving to their new residents in both accessibility and want of good soil for planting. Albeit, without alternative, people remained on the mountains and founded new villages. Cangé is one such village. Without land suitable for farming, Cangé became poised for sixty years of hardship and poverty. This story is important because it is often imperative to understand where a person, community or country has been to understand where it is in the present and where it is going.

I've had the distinct pleasure for the last two semesters of being part of Clemson Mappers, a division of the Youth Mappers organization. Clemson's chapter provides GIS support to CEDC, and to that end we've also been charged with telling the story of Cangé, as well as Haiti, in an informative and interactive medium. I've have tried to mindfully (and purposefully) maintain brevity while also properly conveying a basic understanding of the history of both Lake Péligre and Cangé. Below, should you find your curiosity piqued and your time unoccupied, I will provide the link to the story map we've generated over the last two semesters. The story of Lake Péligre is more specifically detailed there in addition to having full sections on other important point in both Cangé and Haiti's story. The most recent update to the story map's URL is: bit.ly/haiti17

P.S.: For fun, should you decide to view the story map, attempt to guess which sections I contributed (you might detect themes pertinent to language and length...)