I am so excited to be introducing you to my very first guest blogger, my husband Curt Gillis. Even though his topic has nothing to do with photography, it is a subject that is very dear to my heart. This story ties in with a goal that I have for Lydia Gillis Photography. A roadmap will begin to unfold throughout this month, so I encourage you to stay tuned in…
So, settle in with a cup of coffee and enjoy the wonderful experience of Curt’s journey into the “Pearl of the Caribbean”, the island nation of Haiti.
An email announces its arrival in the lower right hand corner of my computer screen. I am working in a very comfortable office setting about 15 minutes South of Portland, OR. I have unlimited access to very refreshing, cold, clean, filtered water. Fresh coffee is equally available. The office is nicely decorated and has colorful framed posters along the walls declaring the company’s 10 values and beliefs. Statements such as: “I have integrity – it’s what I do when no one’s watching”, “I keep everyone informed – communicate, communicate, communicate”, “We deliver results – period.”, “We promote fun & laughter on a daily basis – so I got that going for me, which is nice”.
My employer, Convergint Technologies, is a North American service-based integrator of electronic security, fire alarm & life safety, building automation, and healthcare technology systems. One of the foundational cornerstones of the company is to give back and serve local charities and organizations one day out of the year in the communities in which the various offices throughout the U.S. and Canada are located. We call this our “Social Responsibility Day”, which is based on our 8th value & belief: “We believe in balanced lives – family, business, community”.
I notice the email is from the corporate office located in Schaumburg, IL. The sender is the co-founder of the company, Greg Lernihan. This company wide message is announcing the Convergint Outreach Initiative. With the ongoing success of Social Responsibility Day, a leadership team discussed the idea of including at least one person from each office to come together for an even greater stretch to help those in need…a stretch into the 3rd world.
Here is a portion of that email. Outreach Project Abroad – We are looking at an opportunity to install water filters in Petit Goave, Haiti –A lack of clean water undermines everything in Haiti. It causes chronic diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis and even typhoid and cholera. The diseases fill hospital beds, keep children out of school and adults from working. Unfortunately, the water-borne diseases can also cause death. We all are given opportunities to make a difference – one person, one family, one community at a time. A Convergint team would spend 5 days in Haiti to build and install water filters. We would build and install one large solar powered filter in a school and also some bio-sand residential filters. Additionally, we would spend time helping out in an orphanage. One residential unit can filter 30-50 gallons of water per day and will serve many neighboring families. Our volunteer work would have a tremendous impact on the daily lives of many Haitian families. We believe that everyone deserves something as simple and crucial as clean, safe water.
Poured – Out is the charitable organization that we partnered with for the Haiti trip. Poured-Out is a U.S. based disaster relief charity that helps with the rebuilding of communities throughout America that have been affected by tornadoes, flooding, and hurricanes. The co-founders of Poured-Out, Carlee Greene & Steve Adams, have had a presence in Haiti since the January 2010 earthquake. Several teleconference meetings were conducted over the months leading up to our departure covering virtually every conceivable angle and detail of our venture into this small Caribbean island nation. Our time in Haiti would be from April 29th through May 5th, 2012.
As the airplane touched down on Haitian soil, my excitement continued to grow, as well as some nervousness with the world into which I was soon to be immersed. The airport is small and buzzes with activity from the passengers, the workers, and a swarm of locals that are selling their wares, wanting to carry your luggage for a fee, or just begging for a handout. We gathered all of our luggage and personnel and eventually got everyone and everything loaded into a few different vans and a large cargo truck.
We embarked on the 2 hour drive to Petit Goave. I rode in the cab of the cargo truck with Darin, one of the Convergint colleagues from our Houston, Texas office. Our driver only spoke Creole so we were unable to converse with him as we made our way through the streets of Port-au-Prince. The sights are truly heart-wrenching. Sprawling tent city type neighborhoods are typical, as well as small one room houses packed tightly together. The poverty is inescapable and blankets literally the residents and animals. Mounds of trash and debris line the streets with the occasional site of pigs and goats freely rummaging in and around the garbage. We kept the windows down as we drove and we would hear children yell out to us “blanc, blanc!” Many people would smile and wave to us, while others would stare quizzically.
Our home for the next several days was a walled in Wesleyan church compound that had several structures contained within. There were a few small houses, a dilapidated medical building, storage buildings, a cafeteria, two dormitory buildings, and a shower facility. The compound has a beautiful ocean view, although the rocky narrow beach is sadly littered with every sort of trash imaginable. There are a few wild dogs that live on the compound, as well as some of the local townspeople.
During the week we broke into 5 or 6 smaller groups and headed out in various directions to either assist with a church/school construction project, residential water filter installations, and public school filter installations. Convergint also brought in various supplies we called “leave behinds”. These included toys, books, clothing, soccer balls, hand tools, shoes, toiletries, etc. These items were sorted out, packed into various plastic bags & duffel bags, and taken along with the smaller groups to hand out to the people in the communities.
I volunteered the first two days on the church/school construction project. It was located in a mountainous region called Pomme Mountain. This community had their church utterly destroyed by the earthquake. Convergint was able to drum up $90,000 dollars through fund-raising and donations prior to the trip. With a portion of the money, we hired 22 local construction workers, and bought various hand tools and the building supplies. The construction work was very demanding and physical. We had to rely on more primitive forms of mixing concrete, stacking cement blocks for scaffolding, carrying dirt & rock in 5 gallon buckets. The task was great and the goal was to have all the walls completed and the roof trusses installed within 5 days.
Installing the residential filters was very rewarding. The families were very excited when they knew we were coming, and often times would meet us and help carry in the supplies. This was often times up hills, slopes, and mountainsides. After the install, an interview of the family was conducted. It determined how many people lived in the home, the general health, the monthly income, and employment status. Poured-Out would then document the location of the home and check in a few times throughout the year to track the overall improvements of the household and ensure the filter is being used properly.
The public school installations consisted of large tanks that are filled from a nearby well. The water is filtered through various carbon filters and UV filters, and is powered by a solar unit installed on the roof. Water faucets were installed in the wall for the children and teachers to use. Additional faucets were installed on a portion of the wall that faced the outside street. These faucets are available to anyone passing by. The schools in which these larger units have been installed experience a significant growth in attendance and improved health conditions among the children.
One of the most rewarding aspects of the trip was that our group was able to complete the task at the construction site. On the 5th day, the community of Pomme Mountain pooled what little money they had and provided a celebration party and lunch for our entire group. Pastor Lionell, through the aide of a translator, shared his joy and thankfulness for the gift of a new church for his community. He spoke from the bible and they sang worship songs which was a very moving experience. Very few dry eyes were in attendance. We were able to pass out many more gifts of clothing and toys to the members of the community.
The greatest part of the trip was certainly the people that were involved. Our Haitian translators are some of the nicest people I have met. All of them were orphaned as children, and have grown into very loving, kind, and sincere young men. Friendships between Poured-Out and Convergint were also formed and developed. With all the various lifestyles and backgrounds of everyone involved, not a single person grumbled or complained in the face of the difficulties that arose throughout the trip.
In 5 days, the 31 member team of Convergint and 7 member team of Poured-Out accomplished the following:
- 47 residential filter installs (30 gal/day) = 1,410 gallons of clean drinking water for families/neighbors
- 3 school water houses (1,600 gal/day, 600 gal/day, 500 gal/day) = 2,700 gallons/day
- 1 church/school building constructed
- 6 translators employed & paid several hundred dollars in bonus donation money
- 22 local construction workers hired & paid for the construction project
- 8 hygiene lessons taught in public schools
I hope to return again to assist in this most rewarding experience. I would love to travel with my wife and children back to Haiti. The experience was truly fulfilling and life changing.
Thanks to our family and friends who donated goodies for the children. To Eugene Kids Sports for donating shirts and soccer balls. Thanks Curt for sharing your story and pictures…..and you, for stopping by!
Make sure to leave Curt some love!