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C of I student completes 'Water for Peace' project in Haiti

It was an eventful summer for College of Idaho student Margarette Pierre-Louis, who completed her “Water for Peace” project by bringing 2,375 gallons of water, 240 trees and 300 water bottles to her hometown of Nan Misye, Haiti.

Pierre-Louis, a sophomore environmental studies major, hopes the project will bring peace to the village she calls home. In addition to bringing water and supplies, “Water for Peace” focused on education and planting seeds of change in the Nan Misye community.

“A lot of small villages in Haiti lack access to water, which leads to a lot of conflict,” Pierre-Louis said. “We need to solve that problem and give people a way to improve their lives, because everyone knows that water is life.”

The project began during the spring, when Pierre-Louis conceptualized “Water for Peace,” and began planning and fundraising. Thanks to support from her local church, Caldwell First Baptist, and Pastor Dick Shaw, Pierre-Louis raised $11,580 to purchase 19 125-gallon water tanks. Through gutter-like structures, the tanks collect rainwater – a naturally clean and abundant water source in Haiti’s mountainous regions – from the roofs of houses.

In July, Pierre-Louis and her husband, Keveny, began collecting materials in Haiti and visiting the areas where the tanks would be installed. The couple held meetings with the villagers to explain the objective of the project.

“At first, some did not understand how the project would develop and misunderstood me to be making a profit off of the people,” Pierre-Louis said. “But when I explained everything they were eager and willing to work.”

In each area where tanks were installed, Pierre-Louis built management committees to enforce the rules of working as a team such as respect, sharing and proper maintenance of the water. She taught villagers about a treatment process for drinking water: setting full water bottles on a table under the sun for six to nine hours, which is a good preventative practice even though the raw rainwater is drinkable.

With Pierre-Louis’ leadership and encouragement, the locals helped install the strategically placed tanks. Depending on the size of the area, three to five families would share one tank of water – more than enough for them to drink, cook and wash with, provided they take good care of it. Pierre-Louis emphasized the importance of trees, planting 240 seedlings and encouraging proper care of them to slow the process of deforestation. Pierre-Louis’ host family, Kandee and Freddie Harris from Caldwell First Baptist, also made the trip and taught villagers how to manage relationships and deal with conflicts.

As a child, Pierre-Louis used to join her village’s women and children in walking the two-hour trek to retrieve the water needed for drinking and irrigating crops. In addition to the physical hardship, conflicts over the limited water supply often led to violence and sometimes even death.

Easing the tension between people and creating an easier way to obtain water were Pierre-Louis’ primary goals with the “Water for Peace” project.

“There is something different that can be done instead of just leaving and forgetting about the problems back home,” Pierre-Louis said. She hopes to continue the project in the future and return with even more ideas on how to better her community and environment.

Today, the people of Nan Misye are happy with the sudden change in their lives. Pierre-Louis says the villagers are starting to think outside the box, coming up with their own creative ways to improve their community.

“I believe this project not only provides clean water, but also brings hope and empowers Haitians to make a difference in their situation by working together,” she said.

Founded in 1891, The College of Idaho is the state’s oldest private liberal arts college. It has a century-old tradition of educating some of the most accomplished graduates in Idaho, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three Marshall Scholars, and another 11 Truman and Goldwater Scholars. The College is located on a beautiful campus in Caldwell, Idaho. Its distinctive PEAK curriculum challenges students to attain competencies in the four knowledge peaks of the humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field, enabling them to graduate with an academic major and three minors in four years. For more information on The College of Idaho, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.