Supplying Haiti with “Healing Water”

SoE group works with Dlo Geri to develop and install safe water systems

Clean, safe drinking water –the most basic of human needs—can be in short supply in Haiti. A group of scientists and engineers that includes School of Engineering graduates and current students has joined forces with Dlo Geri, a not-for-profit group that works to deliver safe drinking water to the people of Haiti.

School of Engineering involvement in the cause resulted from an American Waterworks Association meeting between Shivangi Ganatra ENG’15, who was the president of the school’s student chapter of Engineers without Borders USA (EWB-USA), and Albert J. (A.J.) Capuzzi, an engineer who had helped to design and install a water treatment system for an orphanage, elder home and AIDS center for the Missionaries of the Poor in Cap Haitien, Haiti. He also had volunteered to work with Dr. Eugene Maklin, a Haitian doctor who had established the Haiti Mission Branche Nord to build New Hope Hospital to provide care for 250,000 underserved people in Haiti’s Plaine du Nord.

Ganatra—who currently both works under Capuzzi in Jacobs Engineering’s wastewater group and also handles communications for Dlo Geri—recalls that Capuzzi told her about the water needs—including clean drinking water, wastewater treatment, and storm water management—for the New Hope Hospital . “He asked if our Engineers without Borders chapter would like to adopt this project,” Ganatra says.

In March 2015, an initial team that included environmental engineer and alumna Jessica Kretch Koop ENG’11, as well as student EWB-USA members Nimah Ahmed ’15, Nicole Del Monaco ENG’15 and GSNB’17 determined to commit to the New Hope Hospital project, even after learning that EWB-USA no longer started projects in Haiti.  They called themselves Dlo Geri, which means “healing water” in Creole.

Getting in on the Ground Floor

For Ganatra, who had previously served as a project lead for the School chapter’s water supply project in Guatemala, the decision to commit to this project was easy. “Engineers without Borders was a huge part of my college experience,” she says. “I had learned a lot that would help this kind of organization and liked the idea of getting involved at the ground floor.”

A Dlo Geri team that included students Francesca Chery ENG’16, a Haitian-American biomedical engineering student and bio-environmental engineering major Evan Lutz ENG’19 made their first trip to Haiti in January 2016 to assess water quality and better understand the needs of the community. The group fell in love with the people of Haiti. “The spirit of the people made the biggest impression on me,” explains Ganatra. “The people were always smiling and looking out for each other.”

Lutz, who joined the group because of his belief in their cause, agrees that the people of Haiti are incredible. “They are amazingly interconnected.”

Reaffirming their commitment to the hospital project following their assessment trip, the group registered Dlo Geri as an officially registered non-profit organization. The group’s goal is to apply the best practices of working in developing countries to help improve the quality of life for the people of Haiti.

Currently a water engineer at international consulting firm CDM Smith, Koop serves with Capuzzi as a Dlo Geri co-director, where she is working to accomplish key project goals. “For the New Hope Hospital project that includes installing sustainable and appropriate water and wastewater systems,” she says. “The short-term goal is ensuring that we have adequate funds to install the systems necessary to protect public health. Long term,” she adds, “I hope we can utilize local contacts, international support and our strong Dlo Geri team to successfully change the lives of thousands living far below the poverty line in Haiti.”

A Two-Phase Project

Following the lead of Dr. Maklin, who planned to open New Hope Hospital to the community in stages, Dlo Geri is implementing a two-phase water treatment project. The first phase involved developing a chlorination system for use in the hospital’s 33-bed clinic. Lutz and Capuzzi traveled to Haiti in September 2016, where they installed a new water system that included a well pup, conveyance piping, valving, flow meters and a new chlorination system.  Follow-up trips were made in April 2016 and June 2017 to troubleshoot and ensure that the system operated efficiently. “We are currently planning to install a more robust, long-term chlorination system for the hospital, as well as a wastewater system,” says Ganatra.  

Dlo Geri is also partnering with humanitarian medical organization Hands Up for Haiti on a plan for a community water system for a slum area in Cap Haitien.

Supporting Solutions for Haiti

“There is so much help needed in Haiti in terms of water and wastewater infrastructure and Dlo Geri does a fantastic job of listening to the pleas of various groups of people and trying to bring solutions to their problems,” says Lutz, who is hopeful that student involvement with the organization will increase at Rutgers and even at other universities. “At this point, it’s not a matter of finding the problems in Haiti, it’s a matter of finding members and money to support the solutions.”

Koop says, “My dedication to this cause and passion to make real change for those living without the basic needs in Haiti make Dlo Geri’s mission my mission.”  She and others at the organization are working to ensure that they have adequate funding to support their mission of ensuring safe drinking water and improved sanitation in Haitian communities.

On June 9, 2017, the group held their first annual fundraiser. Sponsors for the riverboat cruise on the Manasquan River included Jacobs Engineering; New Jersey American Water; Premium Color Group; Buck, Seifert & Jost, Inc.; JP Jager, Inc.; and Electro-Technique Generale S.A. “It was a great event,” says Ganatra. “We hope to keep it going and continue to earn more in the future.”

As a sophomore, Lutz joined Dlo Geri because he was committed to its cause. “I further Dlo Geri’s mission with my willingness to dedicate time and effort to the people of Haiti,” he says. “Every minute that I have spent on Dlo Geri has been worth it. I can say for certain that I have learned more through Dlo Geri than any class I have taken. It has broadened my knowledge of the world of engineering and created a web of connections I would never have established otherwise.”

To learn more about Dlo Geri, please visit. www.dlogeri.org.