Category: Blog

Trip to Haiti to secure the Rig, Trip to Haiti to secure the water drilling rig

I’ve been to Haiti several times documenting life there and the hardships they live in every single day. I remember the very first time I went to La Gonave, the first thing I saw upon landing were scores of little kids running up to us, following us everywhere we went. The unique detail though was that they all had orange coloring in there hair, what I later realized was that is the evidence if severe malnutrition and starvation. Later I saw children eating dirt just to get something in their belly. Heart breaking. I would see children with small cuts turn into massive and life threatening infections due to lack of clean water and hospital care. No food, no water, no hope.

By my fourth trip there, we had drilled several water wells and had begun building a place for the locals to grow crops. We had built a hospital, added to our feeding stations and poured in tons of love and support. What I noticed now were children with solid colored hair. I wasn’t seeing the massive infections from small cuts anymore.
Proof that we had made a very tangible and lasting impact on this once hopeless island. We had taken a little slice of “Go YE into all the world” and have made real change here.

What I take from my time in Haiti is that we can’t just sit by when we have the ability to help. This is a very real example of the Good Samaritans story in our own lifetime. So many people saw this island as impossible to reach, or maybe it was just a little too much effort. Yet the man on the horse, saw a person broken, he got down and he cleaned him up. He carried the him to shelter and paid for care. That is exactly what we have done in Haiti. We saw a hurting people, we went to them with love, hope and help. We are drilling wells, building hospitals and schools, creating a new life filled with the Promises of God. All it takes are just a few to helping out a little to see massive change.

The first water drilling trip to Haiti 507

The summer of my 9th year on this earth my father took me to heaven.

Or Iowa.

Growing up in Northern Indiana basketball was always my favorite sport by birth. But deep down inside, I found my greatest joy and fulfillment in life when I was on the baseball diamond with a glove on my hand. I don’t remember how old I was the first time I watched Kevin Costner’s “Field of Dreams” but I’ll say it this way – I don’t remember life prior to that film. Back then my grandmother lived in Madison, Wisconsin – it wasn’t a long drive over to one of baseball’s holy grails: the cornfields of Dyersville, Iowa and Field of Dreams.I wore my team jersey and hat. Laced up my spikes and sprinted to the corn – so I could take the field like one of the ghosts of the game. I got to run the bases, take batting practice and even shag fly balls in left field as if I was Shoeless Joe Jackson himself. On that day, I wasn’t living out a childhood dream that passed me by in my youth, I was living it with my dad. My dad and I “had a catch” in baseball heaven.

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This last January I traveled to LaGonave, Haiti to help film and scout for this next seasons drilling expedition. Each time I land on the island my mind switches into a different mode. I become very focused, quiet and task-oriented. I force myself to this mental state for a few reasons: 1 – you never know what could go wrong and when – so it’s always best to slow things down and think through every step of what you’re doing to avoid any mis-steps. 2 – I’m on the island to do a job that will in turn make the greater job (drilling water wells) accomplishable by the drilling team. If I don’t do my job – their job becomes that much harder or impossible. I’ll write in more detail about this trip and my experiences later this year, but the thought that I want to share with you today came to me on our last day on the island. On this day we traveled to one of the many feeding stations we’ve established on the island. As I mounted my camera and began filming a group of small boys eating, I became very overwhelmed emotionally. This was my first trip to LaGonave since my son Easton was born. Easton is not much older than the boys I saw in front of me, naked, crying and hungry. No parents, no clothes and save the grace of God and the good people of Guts Church – they wouldn’t even have the one meal that they were eating on that day. I tabled my emotions, focused on my camera and filmed the feeding station.

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Screenshot 2014-04-17 10.41.50As I laid my seat back on the plane ride home to Miami, I pulled out my headphones and iPad and pushed play. I fast forwarded to the first of my two favorite scenes: when Shoeless Joe Jackson emerges from the corn for the very first time and introduces himself to Ray Kinsella. As I watched my mind wandered back to that feeding station and the boys covered in dirt. They weren’t dirty because they wanted to be. They weren’t naked because they thought it would be funny to take of their clothes and diaper and run away from their dad, laughing and falling like my son Easton does every night before bedtime. They didn’t choose this life. No one would. Yet there they are and here I am. In that moment, on that plane, I made a connection between LaGonave and the truth of our national pastime. It’s not the sound that the ball makes when it hits the bat. It’s not the thrill of the grass or the smell of the ballpark in your nose. It’s fathers and sons. It’s about time honored tradition and playing the game (life) the right way. There’s honor in that.

I never choose to go to Haiti. Truth be told, I’ve never once desired to go. But I believe – deep down – that I was put on this earth to achieve something greater than anything I could accomplish on my own. I am a part of a team. We wear the same jersey and have the same goals. And this goal is honorable. In my lifetime I will see the boys at that feeding station on the island grow up and become men who have sons of their own.  And when they do – because of our efforts as a team – they will have grown up knowing what it’s like to have life with food, water, a church, a clinic and basic economic development. And maybe one day, I’ll have a game of catch with them. If only just to share in our national pastime together; helping men live their greatest dreams, thus feeling like little boys all over again.

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954864_10151402328227371_889528361_nAfter seven days on the island, things become workmanlike.  Wake up early.  Drive to the drill site.  Punch holes.  Lay pipe.  Drive home as the sun is setting.  After the initial physical shock diminishes, your body becomes hardened to the difficulty.  You expect problems and expect God to solve them.  And so you set out each morning, ready to do your job.  To make any more of it is to overdramatize it.

And as your physical body adapts to the pain and exertion, your emotions follow suit.  It is impossible to comprehend all the need, helplessness, sickness, pain, and death.  So you shut it off- you adapt.  And so you set out each morning, ready to do your job.  To make any more of it is to overdramatize it.

After seven days on the island, I was on autopilot.  My team just finished punching our tenth hole in a week.  We had it down to a science.  On our way back to camp, we stopped by one of our first drill sites to watch a pump installation.  This was the fun part- the first time fresh water starts flowing out of the ground.  There is something about watching that water flow- it made me smile.  It made me laugh.  I let my guard down for the first time in a week.  And I got blindsided.

He appeared about 50m down the road.  The makeshift wheelchair was the first thing I noticed- a cheap plastic deck chair and two bicycle tires fashioned together with bailing wire.  The next thing I noticed was his legs- withered and undersized for his age.  I would guess he was 20 years old.  But what broke my heart was his smile.

He struggled to negotiate the terrain.  But with the utmost patience, the wheelchair kept moving.  He was smiling all the way.  I met him halfway with some freshly pumped water and some candy.  We struggled to communicate, but when he raised the water to his lips, I realized what that smile meant.

Change was one the horizon.  Hope had come to La Gonave, Haiti.

As we progress toward our goal of reaching 100 wells, the drilling locations have become more remote. During our first 50 wells it felt as though we canvassed as many “easy” communities as possible. Not that is wasn’t difficult, we are usually the only game in the village. But a daily commute on average was 90 minutes one way, and we could sleep at our own compound each night.

The last 20 wells stretched our teams, our equipment and our reach on La Gonave. Drilling Gros Mangles was an incredible achievement. It was nearly four hours away and required one day just to transfer and set up the equipment, when the salt flats were dry enough to support our rig. It had proven the extent of where we could reach and still sleep at home per se.

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Since we only drill one month per year, each day is critical to keeping the drill bit in the ground. We can’t afford to have 50% of our days spent on travel time and set up. Since we will reach to the very west end of the island this summer, far from our compound, it was time to not only locate villages that we could access for drilling, but also find a few new places we could house our drilling teams. That would prove to be difficult but not impossible.

This year as we scouted, we visited many villages that were some of the most remote places on La Gonave. We touched the west end at Plain Trou Louis and the highest peak in the region of Lotorre, half mile above sea level, as well as the pebble covered southern coast at Pointe A Raquette.

photoWe met villagers who hike a half day to fetch water for their families. As they explained, they don’t even drink water every day because the travel time would prohibit any other activities in life. Water is the foundation of physical human existence. In these places, the fragility of life is evident in every family. Being born into such a remote and harsh environment is a crap shoot for survival. Lives melt away in complete obscurity as people die without adequate water. Nobody knows them, and their stories go untold.

These families were gracious as always. Some shared from their fresh harvest of peanuts, mangos, or opened their churches to allow us a place to roll out the sleeping bags. They were curious and kind, always willing to give the nothing they had. It certainly endears you to Gonavians. This drives me to dream of doing that which seems so unconventional and risky while we search for water.

Some of the accommodations yielded tarantulas the size of my hand, which kept our media guru Erik Hansen from Webster Street Media up all night with his headlamp and my only spoon, hunting these fuzzy man eating beasts. It felt like we were living in a washing machine the half day we spent each day riding in the back of a 4×4 bouncing over rocks and ravines. We viewed the landscape as we slammed off each other and the gear we carried. The views over cliffs were majestic but hoped our “chauffer guide” would steer clear of. Had we rolled off a cliff there was no “life flight” to bring us to safety.

All in all we located 15 villages that may very well represent the last 30 locations we drill for water wells. These locations hold a mysterious unrelenting challenge as some must have felt waiting at their camp before ascending to the peak of Everest. Fortunately made new friends, and even found a remote “outpost” that will serve as our final base camp before we push forward to 100.

As we wound down the trip, my good friend Kent Harle and I found some old Honda XR400 motorcycles to go blow off some steam. We spent an afternoon traveling at a much higher rate of speed, which raised our fun factor to its zenith. It was an epic way to finish a grueling week.

There is plenty of prep to be completed over the next four months, but the route and locations are clarified, and obstacles defined. It’s time to put our heads down and complete the prep before looking up again at our goal sometime in late May.

Screenshot 2013-11-26 09.39.18It’s hard to put into words the incredible amount of success that we have experienced in 2013.  Since importing the Schramm T64 onto the island of La Gonave back in the summer of 2007, we have experienced many challenges and acclimated to the pressures of drilling in such a tough environment.

This year was quite special in our history of sending drilling teams from Guts Church.  We took on the greatest challenges yet, traveling to distant places such as Gros Mangles, and mountain peaks in Bua Bolie. But through it all our teams from Guts Church performed at their highest levels and we saw the greatest victories yet.  I couldn’t be more proud of all the men from Guts Church who volunteered their time and money and risked their health to come and drill alongside Curt King and our Haitian workers.

My heart is filled with gratitude for our partnership with Curt King and his commitment to help us complete our goal of 100 wells on La Gonave.  It is such an honor to work alongside a master craftsman who has spent his life drilling in remote places around the world honing his skills and now, seeing him at the peak of his career working with us is humbling.  Curt anchors our teams and ensures we operate safely and productively, thank you Curt!

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During 2013 we drilled 14 wells, nine of which produced fresh water in six communities that had no available fresh water sources locally.  Collectively these wells produce fresh water for up to 9,000 people per day. At this stage we have drilled approximately 70 wells on our way to our goal of 100.  Of these 70 wells, approximately 35 produce fresh potable drinking water daily.  This translates for up to 35,000 people, or 1/3 of the population of La Gonave having access to fresh water locally every day.

Our ability to access some of the most dangerous and remote places on La Gonave is nothing short of miraculous.  We can see God’s divine intervention working with us each day as we attempt accessing new well sites.  Our hearts thrive on the challenge of attempting wells in villages who watch us, hoping with emotions ranging from excitement to desperation as they wait to see if the drill bit will yield it’s liquid fruit from beneath the surface.  And many experience joy as we find water.

One particular town was La Cayene.  A coastal town on the northern side of La Gonave, completely isolated by a rocky ridge and no quality roads which impede the ability for any organization to even want to attempt access.  But this year we chose to try.  As our well drilling machine crawled up the ridge, and we walked next to it praying the tires would hold out, I questioned why we would risk our equipment on this village.

At the ridge top, we looked down at the village within walking distance and asked the locals to clear us a spot.  We knew that this was probably our best shot as drilling by the coast would produce only salty water.  The locals worked for a day clearing a site, and we set the equipment and began drilling.

As always happens the crowd gathered watching, waiting hoping and praying.  About two hours in, it happened, clear blue water shot from the ground, it was s gusher!  Curt took the cup and tasted the water but his smile turned somber as he spit our salty water.  We passed the cup into the crowd and their frowns confirmed our suspicion, unusable. With a clenched jaw and no small amount of anger I looked at our team and said “we are not quitting, lets go down the ridge and into the village.”  It was a move that had no common sense, but there was no way we could pack up and leave.  Curt and I have a “three strikes your out” rule, and he probably knew that’s what we needed to do.  He held strong and the crew followed. Within a half mile we had a flat, and put on our last spare. The locals told us of fresh water that seeped from rocks just west of the town, maybe there we could drill.  The crew was quiet as we arrived and set up the equipment and went about our work.  The locals worked alongside, helping to arrange casing, after clearing the site.

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Again we hit water and the crowd held its breath.  This time Curt tasted the water pressed his lips together and smiled.  The crowd erupted in laughter, relief and praise.  I took my drilling hat and poured precious life giving water over my head. As the crowd partied on, Curt turned to me and said “there isn’t a geologist alive that would tell us to drill here, it’s a miracle.”  I replied “lets drill another.”  And we did, and hit fresh water again.

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Everyone roots for the underdog and there is no dog under this one.  The island of La Gonave produces the poorest people, in the poorest country in the western hemisphere.

Visiting La Gonave with the idea of bringing change can be quite a daunting task.  The need is certainly quantifiable.  There is between 75% and 90% unemployment.  The largest employers on the island are NGO’s (non governmental organizations) doing their best to help.  There are no public schools, no real municipalities, no roads, no public power, water or sanitation systems, etc.

It is easy to talk about “the island” and refer to it’s inhabitance in terms of population density, age, gender and location.  But these are real people, each of whom has their own story.  They have dreams, talents, emotions and desires just like us.  Once a project begins to touch people whom you meet, it all becomes personal.

Although we do our best to tell the stories through blogs, videos and photos, it is impossible to capture the essence of the punishing poverty unless you are actually there.

Until you smell the stench, live without water in the heat, walk on craggy rock covered roads, and through fields covered in thorns, hold starving children for yourself, and experience the desperation of human suffering, you just can’t quantify this.  It is impossible to measure the sea of compassion that flows from our hearts for the people of La Gonave and this is why we do what we do.

As we drilled water wells last week in La Cayan we handed rolls of Smarties to children between two and six years old.  These children unwrapped their candies and were happy to share their treat with other children around them. The fact that these children who have nothing, were willing to share their gift certainly moved and convicted us.

Every time we drill a well, or feed a child, it reinforces that poverty can be overcome.  It is within our power, our ability to defeat poverty.  Truthfully if we work together with our resources, poverty will topple.

La Gonave is desolate, but it doesn’t have to be.

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This past week our driller, Curt King, arrived on La Gonave with one of our Haitian employees to perform maintenance on the drilling rig.  The Big Red Truck fired up and after two days of tinkering and repairs.  State side we received a long list of items for purchase and replacement.

Over the next two weeks Guts Church interns are working to source materials and supplies from around the country to update the 30 year old drilling rig, and push it through the June drilling season.  These parts will be hand carried to La Gonave by members of the drilling teams to ensure their on time arrival.

Details are checked and then double checked.  On La Gonave there are no auto parts stores to pick up a replacements.  So we must plan for what we need and hope the “bailing wire and duct tape” holds out as we push our equipment and drilling teams far into the mountings in search of water on the island of La Gonave.


Screen Shot 2013-05-15 at 11.24.32 AMThis time of year is all logistics.  There is much more that goes into drilling wells then just driving the rig to a site and putting the bit in the ground.  Drilling sites, and road maps must be created, supplies and materials are procured in the USA, and Port Au Prince and shipped to La Gonave.  Endless lists of supplies.  Team trips are formed, meetings held and tickets booked.  Pumps and PVC are inventoried and drilling bits inspected.

 

I am thankful for the team at Guts Church who work hard to help make preparations for the trips, as well as the men who volunteer their time and money to travel to La Gonave and help our people on the ground drill wells.  We are always looking for candidates who may be qualified and have interest in joining a drilling trip so email the info link and we will respond.  Although teams are booked for this year, we keep a waiting list of candidates for the next drilling season.

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The drilling season employs several Haitian men who make their annual wages in June to support their families.  They find odd jobs and scrape by until the next time we see them.  These men are talented and hard working, certainly resourceful.  But they live in an economy with 75% unemployment and no government subsidies.  I am Looking forward to seeing Snaider, Airiant and the crew as they pour concrete pads and install new pumps this June.  I hope the water flows and they have more work installing pumps than they can handle.
We will keep our eyes on the prize.  It’s easy to do that scrolling through photos and seeing faces of those we visited some months ago, who wait for us day by day, waiting for the big red truck to bring fresh water.

HAI06_0004I am reminded of this as we ride motorcycles on challenging trails that we hope will support the drilling rig.  As we attempt to travel further into the island than ever before, we pass children with buckets, some empty and others full, carrying their daily supply of water two hours one way.

People know us on the island.  Not as You Help Haiti but as “Go Machine Rouge”, the Big Red Truck.  People know that water sustains life.  Without it you die.  So Go Machine Rouge is a big deal on La Gonave.  When we ride our motorcycles into a village to investigate the possibilities, hopes are high.

There are so many challenges that we face each year during drilling season, and this scouting trip helped me get my mind right for what lies ahead.  We are thankful for our 35 year old drilling rig because if it breaks we can fix it.  This is within our control.  Unfortunately there are some villages we visited that will not receive water because the roads simply will not support a rig the size of Go Machine Rouge.

It’s heartbreaking to have scheduled a meeting with village officials, only to arrive and tell them we will not be drilling.  With sunken shoulders and long faces they sink into regret.  Maybe another time.

I am so thankful for what Concern is doing to improve the roads around the coast and into low lying mountain villages.  Their work provided access for us to reach new villages in 2011 when we drilled 23 wells in two months.

We also encourage villages to put together a “road work committee” but it is nearly impossible for them to improve road conditions with no equipment, and no supply of good foods and water for crews working.

It is simply mind boggling how on an island so small, people can be completely isolated.  People in mountain villages never travel to the coast, and vice versa.  Road conditions in a brutally mountainous region keep people from sharing information, trading foods or other products, teaching each other, and simply keeping in touch.  Without vehicles, it’s a two day walk to make the 10 mile journey from mountain villages to coastal towns.  And with no way to transport anything, why would someone travel?  The conditions land lock villages and make them natural prisons that keep them disconnected from the world.

I am encouraged one again as we pass through the village of Palma where we drilled and installed wells some years ago.  Its late evening and the sun is setting but there are hundreds of people gathered, visiting while they fill buckets of water for the community around them.  The run off trickles across the path to a large field that is prepped and ready to grow crops this spring.

La Gonave is a bittersweet dichotomy.  To view the beauty of the island but experience the desperation of the people makes me realize it is truly poverty in paradise.  

_DSC1442I have been encouraged as we passed villages using the wells we have supplied in years past.  There is a certain difference in the communities where we have installed the wells and villages where we have not.  Crops and fruit trees are growing around homes, people congregate around wells.  There is a change in the attitude people have toward their community and life.

I can’t properly articulate what I’ve seen throughout the island other than saying La Gonave is truly the slums of Haiti (a comment made by our translator).  At it’s best LA Gonave provides a subsistence living for those in the mountains able to grow some crops.  In the lower regions not even this is available.

A consistent clean water source will always be the primary need for those on La Gonave.  Rains come and go, collecting and storing water costs money and is a challenge.  We are at the end of the dry season which makes La Gonave look like a scorched moon landscape.  Most cisterns are dry and those with little water are happy to share with their neighbors.

In the 30 or so villages we have visited I’ve had a few interesting experiences.  We stopped at a cave known at “bat cave” where hundreds of bats nest.  Inside there was a little pool of water people were dipping buckets in and taking home for consumption.  Of course it was contaminated with bat droppings but in their desperate state it was their only option.  We plan to drill a well close by so families in this village can enjoy fresh clean water.

We had a flat tire in Abricot after a two hour ride.  This cluster of mountain villages has 25,000 people and no  economy , but a soccer field built by a wealthy business man in the US.  It’s the only grass I’ve ever seen on La Gonave.  While the tire was being fixed we sipped a fruit drink and visited with a man who lost his right leg after being severely burned making charcoal.  Because there was no proper medical aid they just hacked it off!

We were able to complete the scouting two days early which provided us ample time to bring out the drilling rig and drill for a nearby village.  Thankfully we did hit water at 300 feet, pumping a healthy 8 gallons per minute.  Cheers went out from the hundreds of Haitians that watched and waited hoping we would find water, and we did.

Many villages are desperate for water.   Most nights we were approached with delegations form villages around the area begging us to come and drill.  It is a difficult situation to navigate, but our hope is to reach all Haitians on La Gonave with fresh water.  The need is so great because people simply cannot survive without water.


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