A biosand filter is installed in a Haiti home. Supplied by the non-profit organization Clean Water For Haiti, biosand filters are an affordable option for providing families with a clean water source. (Photo submitted)

Okanagan woman leads Clean Water for Haiti

Non-profit organization looks to improve access to clean drinking water

Prior to the devastating 2010 earthquake, waterborne diseases accounted for 16 per cent of deaths in young Haitian children, the United Nations Special Envoy to Haiti said.

Following the quake, which claimed an estimated 300,000 lives according to the Haitian government, the infant mortality rate as a direct result of contaminated water has risen and the outbreak of cholera is an ongoing issue.

The CWH Foundation of Canada, better known as Clean Water for Haiti, has been on the front lines since 2001 to install bio-sand filters — an affordable point-of-use filtration system that removes cholera-causing bacteria — and improve locals’ access to clean drinking water.

“Every year in developing countries an estimated 3 million people die prematurely from water-related diseases. The largest proportion of these deaths are among infants and young children, followed by women, from poor rural families who lack access to safe water and improved sanitation,” a UN World Water Development Report reads.

“Access to safe water and adequate sanitation services has proved to be one of the most efficient ways of improving human health.”

Leslie Rolling, born and raised in Armstrong, and her husband Chris Rolling lead Clean Water for Haiti as administrative director and executive director respectively.

“Everybody knows the water is really bad there,” Leslie Rolling said. “In order to see a change in Haiti, it has to be a long-term process.”

Related: Making a difference in Haiti

Related: Vernon nurse shares expertise at rural Haitian clinic

Rolling has lived in Haiti full-time for 13 years. It all started when she met Chris in 2003.

“He really needed someone to come on staff and do administrative work,” she said.

Now, the couple has raised their family in Haiti and has helped the organization install more than 30,000 bio-sand filters and trained more than 250 filter technicians. However, it wasn’t always easy, Rolling said.

“It was really hard (in the beginning.) Haiti is a very tight-knit community and people didn’t know us,” Rolling said and added that they had originally relied on cold calls to sell the filters.

Now, Clean Water for Haiti employs locals to promote the filters to families in the area.

“It just kind of rippled. We developed this whole model of using community promoters,” she said. “It just fell into place.”

Designed by Dr. David Manz at the University of Calgary in the 1980s, a bio-sand filter is a water filtration system developed from the slow sand filter technology. The cost of a filter is about $100. However, Clean Water for Haiti subsidizes the cost and locals are able to purchase a filter for about $5. Local technicians are also trained to install and maintain the filters.

“We can build it in-country, which means we are supporting the local economy,” Rolling said.

To maintain a constant presence in Haiti, Rolling said the organization balances output and funding to work consistently and be able to assist those in need. Funding primarily comes through third party donors and Rotary International clubs, including a new partnership with Kalamalka Rotary, she said.

“We’ve been working to get more grant funding,” Rolling said. “We’re trying to reach out and some more of that.”

Currently, Clean Water for Haiti has a growing goal of 400 filter installations per month. In July, 430 filters were installed across the country. The organization also tracks usage of the filter at several intervals.

“We keep all that information so we can see how many filters are being used,” she said.

After one year, 95 per cent of filters are still utilized. And, five years after they first began tracking the information, Rolling said 75 per cent of filters are still in use.

“We’re always looking at how we can do what we do better,” Rolling said.

Because for Rolling and Clean Water for Haiti, the hope is to eventually see everyone in the country have access to safe drinking water.

“That change has to happen.”

For more information about the CWH Foundation of Canada or to donate, visit cleanwaterforhaiti.org.

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