I’m five weeks into my Social Media and Outreach Internship with the 501(c)3 nonprofit Sustainable Integrated Organic Livelihoods (SOIL) and I couldn’t be more pleased to be working with such an effective, socially responsible organization. In my time here I’ve come to more fully appreciate the gravity of the global sanitation crisis, being that over 2.5 billion people across the globe lack improved sanitation facilities. In Haiti, over 70% lack access to a toilet leading to a high rate of child mortality from waterborne diseases. While SOIL’s contribution to mitigating this problem sometimes feel like a drop in the ocean in the context of these staggering data, the fact still remains that close to 7,000 Haitians are currently benefiting from SOIL’s products and services. In addition, SOIL focuses on designs and services with the potential to be scaled up through social business development so it’s exciting to see how this small project might help address the international challenge of increasing global access to sanitation.
SOIL implemented the first urban waste treatment site in all of Haiti in 2009. Considering how densely packed Port-au-Prince is, this is truly astounding to imagine. SOIL now operates two out of four waste treatment sites in Haiti. The capacity of these sites is clearly inadequate to suit the needs of the country, but Haiti is moving in the right direction with their new Water and Sanitation Authority and the public and private sector are working together more closely than ever to quell the cholera epidemic and implement long-term sanitation solutions.
With funding from the Reed College Internship Advantage Initiative, for eight weeks this summer I am working as the social media and outreach intern for the 501(c)3 non-profit organization Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL), started by the inspiring Reed alumna Sasha Kramer. SOIL uses methods of ecological sanitation (EcoSan) to mitigate the ongoing sanitation crisis in Haiti that was only worsened by the 2010 earthquake. One of their most promising projects is the implementation of EcoSan toilets that turn human waste into much needed compost for sustainable agriculture.
Haiti came into the international limelight after the earthquake, and it seemed that every journalist and pundit felt entitled to present the public with their half-baked theories about why poverty persists in Haiti. International commentators have gazed at the Haitian poor with a mixture of disgust, pity, and fascination for centuries. In a 2010 New York Times article, David Brooks suggests that “Haiti, like most of the world’s poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences.” And although he does recognize that Haiti has “a history of oppression, slavery, and colonialism,” he points out that “so does Barbados, and Barbados is doing pretty well.” His analysis, like too many others, blames the victim and clearly ignores the particular history of colonization, slavery that has brutalized so many Haitians, starting with the indigenous population that was decimated by the Spanish in the mid-sixteenth century. Brooks cites the “progress” of Barbados without explaining who is benefiting from that “progress.” Barbados has been hospitable to tourism and transnational capital, but their economy still favors accumulation of capital with the elite classes and the benefits of tourism are not necessarily distributed equitably. It is not justified for arrogant observers like Brooks to patronizingly define universal “progress” and dictate what that should mean to Haitians.