Keesee’s rain catchers bring clean water to Haiti’s poorest

For as long as she can remember, octogenarian Mrs. Felix Ville had spent three hours of every day walking to and from a muddy, often contaminated stream for water. So had all the women in Seguin, a remote village high in Haiti’s rugged mountains.

Then a Michigan insurance salesman and inveterate do-it-yourselfer showed up with some plastic pipe, bits of screen, a few tools, and an idea that both his neighbors back home and the Haitian villagers thought was just plain nuts.

“These folks needed clean water,” says Bob Keesee, “so I figured, why not just come up with a really simple system for each house to collect the rain? It rains 60 inches a year in Seguin. Why not just catch it?”

Keesee first went to Haiti nearly 20 years ago with a group that planned to build a church that could also be used as a clinic and school. When he saw how far women had to walk to get water, and the desperate efforts people made to collect rainwater, he knew he had to do something.

“Sadly, the first [rain catchers] didn’t work so well,” he says with characteristic self-deprecating humor. “Took a while.” Mopping the sweat from his face, he finishes hammering a strip of galvanized tin onto the edge of a rusty, crumbling roof he is trying to stabilize so he can install the latest version of his rain-catching device. A knot of children and older men hang around the base of Mr. Keesee’s ladder.

The elders offer a stream of advice to him, to each other, and to the steamy air endlessly full of dust. Teenagers help hold tools or brackets, and the little ones play in a tangle of castoff bits of plastic tubes and pipe. The Rube Goldberg-looking invention Keesee and his team of volunteers fasten on shack roofs today is basically a gutter made from a length of PVC pipe, tubing, brackets, strapping, and a plastic barrel. His device collects, filters, and contains rainwater – and it changes lives.

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