Part 2: why do wells break?

Passed this woman from Savann Tabak who had just collected water from the river. We were on our way to see this dirty water source.

Charity marketing can make it seem so simple: drill a well, tap into clean water, and everyone is happy. Right?

Think of it this way. One day a construction team from some group in China pulls into your neighborhood. You and your neighbors are curious, watching them unload their truck. They begin to build a structure on an empty plot of land that has not yet been developed. A school, you come to find out. But they never asked any of you or talked with you beforehand.

What if your community was mostly retired adults? What if someone owned that land and was about to build their house on it? If it stays, who will pay for a teacher? Who will organize a way for kids to get there? Enroll? Did they talk to your city officials? What if you there was something else they could’ve put in that would be more helpful to your community? How would you feel?

Unfortunately, this fictional scenario is not entirely off base. According to our local partner Haiti Outreach (HO), an organization that has been in the country for 14 years and has an excellent reputation, this situation occurs pretty regularly. Church groups or nonprofits with the best of intentions just want people to have clean water. So they look at an area that looks ideal to them, and begins to drill. And sometimes these groups don’t even have experience in water projects, let alone the knowledge to implement long-term solutions.

This woman sifts through the sand in this creek bed to collect water for her family in Savann Tabak.

So why do wells break?

When thinking of anything that breaks, you might deduct that it is because of shoddy workmanship or wear and tear with time. And you would not be wrong. But there is something more common than that when it comes to broken wells: no community involvement. And therefore no community ownership. It is not “theirs,” in the most basic sense of the word.

And so we must ask, what does community participation and ownership look like?

The community and their water committees must ask and figure out answers to questions such as:

  • Where should we put the well? Who owns the land?
  • What kind of technology makes the most sense?
  • How much money should everyone in the community pay to use the well?
  • Who will collect the fees?
  • How often will the fees be collected?
  • Who will keep records of water committee meetings and fee payments?
  • Will the well be protected and locked, to keep animals from scratching their backs on it, or kids from playing on it, and possibly breaking it?
  • If it is protected and locked up, who will open it each day?
  • What times will it be open?
  • Can exceptions be made?
  • Should that guardian be paid? If so, how much? How will we get the money? If we collect if from the community, when will we collect it?
  • Who will be trained to fix the well if it breaks? How will we fix it? Where will we get the spare parts?
  • What are the rules for well use that we want to develop?
  • What happens if a community member breaks a rule? What will be the consequence?
  • What do we do if a conflict arises? What if someone won’t pay their monthly fee?

The water committee and Savann Tabak community meets to talk with Haiti Outreach about what will be needed to repair their broken well, and how to make it last.

Jan Raymond, the Haiti Outreach Animator, will walk with Savann Tabak over the next few months, guiding them in the process to have a sustainable clean water source.

Gerna, a member of the water committee, speaks about their need for clean water. Those are her kids! Too cute.


New friends from Savann Tabak who took the walk with us to the river where they get water currently.

Chewing sugar cane at his family's sugar cane mill. We got to try some too, pretty good!

Jan Baptiste, a member of the Savann Tabak water committee, led me to their current water source - the reason she is standing up for her community to get clean water.

It’s a lot, isn’t it? I had definitely never thought about any of this until working at It has been fascinating to learn about, and then to see firsthand on this trip.

– Erin Swanson, Communications & New Media Coordinator


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