And How’s That Working for ya? Throwing away Billions on disposable good deeds.

Posted on: August 23, 2010

 As I was getting on my flight to Miami, I encountered a Church (non-Methodist) team that was headed for Haiti. Turns out they were going down to hand drill shallow water wells and put in hand pumps for the people. They had 8 pumps on board the plane.

 When they found out what I was doing headed to Bolivia, we got to talking. Turns out the pumps have a really neat simple design, with only one or two parts that’s not available in Haiti.

 “Ummmm what happens if one of those parts break?”

 “Oh they shouldn’t.. And if they do, they can get someone to contact us and we’ll be happy to replace them.”

 “Someone? Do you have anyone who is responsible for maintaining and repairing the pumps when they are in place?”

 “Sure, We have church members down there who will  go out and check on them.”

“Are they paid people, professional folks, engineers?”

“No, but during our 5 day trip we are going to show them how to install repair and maintain them. And they are good church folks whom I’m sure will follow through. We don’t like to pay salaries. Then people become dependent upon us, and we have to raise that money year after year after year.  We did have some problems a few years ago.”

“What happened?

 “Well, the (denomination) was the largest drillers of water wells in Haiti about 5 years ago. We had drilling rigs and sophisticated hand pumps and electrical pumps. We were doing a lot of work. But then we turned it over to the (local Church) . They were supposed to maintain the project, maintain the wells and charge enough to actually make money. But the whole thing fell apart in less than two years.”

 “A lot of money wasted”

 “ Yeah, a lot, probably over a $1million. We believe that bringing them water is extremely important, a life or death issue. And we want to show them our love. And, I guess, it’s good even if it only lasts a short while.  I just hope this time it lasts a little longer and works better . . . . . . . . . .. . “

 I fought the urge to be Doctor Phil and ask, “And how’s that been working for ya???”

 Millions, billions of dollars thrown away because of the lack of a sustainability plan and the resistance to supporting the salaries of professional people who can maintain and repair what has been put in place. In the U.S. we live in a consumable, disposable world. Why should we be surprised that that same attitude takes place when most groups go to the Developing World. Build them something, and let them use it. We feel good and magnanimous.

 But don’t ask us for salaries. Don’t ask us for commitments. Don’t ask us to give or support beyond one year, because we are an A.D.D. society and we lose interest real fast. There just might be some place else that is more exotic and more fun to go to. And if (when) it breaks, maybe we’ll give them another one, if we haven’t lost interest and moved on to the next “sexy” area in the world to ‘do good’.

 This is the problem with fund raising for EIA. It’s fun and it makes you feel good to have a picture of the water well you paid for. You paid for it and its done. There’s the picture on the wall, hanging like an honor or medal that you’ve won. But giving for salaries. Giving for engineers and accountants to make sure the blankety blank thing continues to work well, is just plain boring.

 Well cheers for boring. Cheers for sticking it out. Cheers for not abandoning these villages once a project is completed. And cheers to all of you wonderful people who support the methodical boring work of Engineers In Action.

Thank you so much.

                                           From One Learning the Importance of Sustainability, to another,

                                                        David Stephenson

                                                          Exeutive Director, EIA