Twelve U.S. engineers. 150 Haitian technicians. 200,000 gallons of water. These impressive numbers add up to something extraordinary: a water system installation in Haiti’s central plateau that will serve about 10,000 residents with purified and filtered water.

Over the past year, engineers and students from Clemson University’s Engineers for Developing Countries (CEDC) joined forces with Zanmi Lasante—Partners In Health’s sister organization in Haiti—and two South Carolina-based church congregations to renovate and expand a town-wide water system in Cange, Haiti.

The group of engineers and Haitian water technicians—two of whom had traveled to the United States to learn about the pump’s mechanics—installed nine fountains and showers, four large cisterns, and a powerful turbine that propels water up a steep mountainside to Cange.

The system was inaugurated this past June in a ceremonious parade that wound its way through Cange’s main streets, passing by each fountain and culminating next to the water source, where a plaque was erected to commemorate the work of CEDC and its partners.

“We all saw on the back of the [volunteers’] T-shirts ‘water is life,’” said Dr. Jean Robert, a doctor in the community. “The people of Cange have new life with this new system.”

A generations-long partnership

The Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina (EDUSC), the project’s main funder, initially installed a water system in Cange more than 25 years ago. Its congregations, as well as partners from South Carolina’s Christ Church, returned a generation later as volunteers to help replace the system’s infrastructure and expand its capacity, from 80,000 gallons to 200,000.

“It is an extraordinary testament to the bonds of affection that exist between the people of Cange and the people of EDUSC that the sense of shared mission and solidarity has been transmitted from one generation to the next,” said Alison Lutz, PIH’s Haiti special projects manager. “These kinds of relationships are what make development projects sustainable.”

The water system is also environmentally sustainable. The power of the river current propels a turbine that in turn pumps water two miles up a hillside through a 4-inch galvanized pipe. The turbine and the pump both use few resources aside from the force of the current, and the component that filters the water and sterilizes it with ultraviolent light and chlorine runs on a very small amount of electricity.

A half-ton challenge

From all accounts, the installation wasn’t easy. Once built, the half-ton turbine had to be transported through a field, across a stream, and down more than 500 stairs to be installed. A team of workers carried it, singing in unison to ensure they all moved at the same rhythm.

“This project was full of physical challenges, and the team was able to overcome all of them, from connecting 300-pound pieces of pipe up the side of a steep mountainside, [to] digging an 80,000-gallon pit into sheer rock,” said project manager Michael LaDue, who will graduate from Clemson University in December with a degree in civil engineering.

“I cannot sufficiently express the magnitude of the efforts that the workers in Cange put forth to make this project possible.”

Bringing bread and water

The same week as the inauguration of the water system, Zanmi Lasante and EDUSC opened and dedicated the Centre de Formation Fritz Lafontant, a vocational school named in honor of Father Fritz Lafontant, the organization’s founding director.

Both the school and the water system were part of The Bread and Water Capital Campaign, a multi-year initiative begun by EDUSC, in partnership with Zanmi Lasante, to provide nutritional and educational assistance to Cange. Through a series of fundraisers, mission trips, and volunteer initiatives, congregation members and rotary club members from South Carolina supported the construction of both projects.

“It was as if we were in a desert, but now we have a river among us,” said Robert. “We promise South Carolina that we will protect this system so that our children’s children can enjoy clean water.”

The water system will serve about 10,000 people in Haiti's central plateau with purified and filtered water. Photo by William Watson.