Local group helping Haiti help itself [UPDATED]Published 5:24am Monday, March 11, 2013 Updated 7:26am Monday, March 11, 2013
A dedicated team from Underwood, Ashby and surrounding communities has been traveling to Haiti to drill wells for clean water and bring clothes and quilts to families for over 20 years. But according one of the group leaders, doing for others in Haiti is not going to fix problems, but helping Haiti help itself will have lasting impact.
“I thought we could make a difference in Haiti, but I don’t think so anymore,” said Bryan Odegard, who has been on seven mission trips to the country. “It won’t be solved by us or the government, it has to be solved by the people of Haiti.”
Odegard says that his group has not given up hope — in fact he is part of a newly formed nonprofit, Global h2ope, continuing to bring clean water to Haiti. But when he realized that no amount of money would solve Haiti’s problems, he experienced a shift in thinking that, to him, is more realistic.
“We’re moving away from drilling wells to looking at the larger issue of clean water,” Odegard said. “We could dig clean water wells all over the place, but people will still go down to the rivers. A lot of people and animals drink out of the rivers. Cholera is a problem. We’re looking at portable filtration systems that could be installed where people congregate and get their water.”
The hope is that the people of Haiti will have the resources to create their own clean water.
Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, and is considered a water-stressed country, with only about 70 percent of urban residents and 51 percent of rural residents having access to improved water services. There are virtually no water treatment facilities. Sanitation coverage is also very low in both urban (29 percent) and rural (12 percent) areas of the country.
Odegard is a health care consultant by trade, flying all over the U.S. working for insurance companies and pharmacies. He is carrying on a tradition of volunteering in Haiti started by his uncle Don Robertson, a well driller from the Ashby area, who made dozens of trips to Haiti to help bring clean water through new wells, growing a group of volunteers throughout the years.
“On my first trip I was absolutely shocked by the poverty — the stench was unbearable and the sights unimaginable,” Odegard said. “But I’ve come to love this country and the people are absolutely amazing. It’s always new, always exciting.”
A group of volunteers, including Odegard’s aunt, makes clothes such as pillow case dresses, and quilts that are shipped to a mission in Haiti.
“When we go into rural areas you will see children up to teenagers without clothes,” Odegard said. “When patients go in the hospital, they bring their own food and blankets — those things aren’t provided — and their families will sleep under their cot.”
To donate toward clean water efforts or find out about volunteering, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call the organization at 701-850-3765. Funds raised go toward purchasing materials for Haiti. Volunteers that go to Haiti pay their own expenses, which run about $2,000 per trip.