On our second day in Haiti, we woke up early to travel to an orphanage. After driving through the streets of downtown Port au Prince and getting stuck in nearly an hour of traffic, we finally crossed through the gates of Melissa’s Hope. Leaving behind the chaos of Croix des Bouquets, we found a different kind of chaos behind the walls of the orphanage. The music and dancing of the children was overwhelming in the best way possible and gradually each one of us found our place amongst the day campers.

As the day came to a close and the day campers left for home, we found ourselves gathered with Pascal, the owner of Melissa’s Hope, discussing the subject of development in Haiti. Like many of the other individuals we had spoken to, Pascal also agreed that community engagement was one of the keys to a successful development program. But he took it one step further, arguing that local government should be a part of the process, working to support a program and nonprofit with cultural knowledge and resources they have available that the nonprofit may not.

Encouraged by his perspective on development I asked if he could show me the sanitation infrastructure they have on-site. He brought me first to the toilet that the children of the orphanage use; a single flush toilet for the 23 of them. Most of the children, though, are in wheelchairs and use diapers, which adds another level of waste disposal to the orphanage.

Next we visited the Porta Potty, a small yellow structure hidden behind a canopy of mango trees. It looked like any other Porta Potty found in the US except there was small pipe connected at the basin that led out the back of the structure and underground with the roots of the trees.

We followed these underground pipes to a large rectangle of concrete with two latches on each side of the slab. According to Pascal, all the waste was sent to this concealed underground pit each time the toilet was flushed or the Porta Potty was used. Once the pit is filled (about every two years), an organization from Port au Prince called Jedco, drives to the orphanage to pump out the waste. Despite this seemingly efficient system, Pascal still expressed discomfort at the solution of having waste sit in the backyard for two years until it was finally pumped. His main concern was the possibility of contamination with the exchange of waste to the water source.

While we were standing there looking at this concrete slab covering the waste pit all I could think about was the potential this waste had to give back to the orphanage. Hundreds of tires were filled with dirt growing avocadoes, mangoes, bananas, peas, and guava. The kitchen was cloudy, filled with smoke, with blackened walls from the burning charcoal. Each step we took on our tour further convinced me that this was a community in need of a solution that redefined waste. The waste sitting in the concrete pit was like gold for this compound – anaerobic digestion was already occurring, separating methane from solid waste. The methane could be used to fuel the cook stoves and back up the generators. The solid waste was perfect compost for Pascal’s garden and a block of toilets was a much better option than the one Porta Potty that was available for the school children.

As we drove past the open sewers of Croix des Bouquets and through the slums of Port au Prince, I realized that there are many different ways that a sanitation crisis can manifest itself. Open defecation is only one of these with waste disposal, contaminated water, the privacy and the safety of women and children, and so on all encompassing the complex and pressing reality of the crisis.

To learn more about the wonderful work that Pascal and Melissa’s Hope is doing, please visit their website at http://melissashope.org/