Frequently Asked Questions
Why was International Action started?
International Action started in 2003 when Lindsay Mattison and Youngmin Chang visited Haiti with a friend. They saw that many of the community water tanks in Port-au-Prince were filled with untreated water that spread cholera, typhoid, and hepatitis and caused chronic diarrhea. Children were dying and unable to go to school because they didn't have the basic need: clean water. They wanted to help. In 2006, Lindsay and Youngmin returned to Port-au-Prince with chlorinators and a whole lot of ambition. They immediately began forging community relationships to ensure that their life-saving solutions were impactful. They also created a base of operations in Haiti, led by Dalebrun Esther, to execute the organization's many programs and to address urgent community needs.
Who does International Action help?
Our programs focus on public health, with a particular focus on access to clean water, and benefit Haitians of all demographic groups. Many of our installations are located at schools, orphanages, and clinics, targeting young students and the infirm, as they tend to be most susceptible to waterborne illness. We emphasize community participation in infrastructure maintenance and development and growth driven by local, domestic actors. We intend for our programs to be easily replicated across the globe.
How is International Action different?
Our organization’s work is unique, because our chlorinator systems offer advantages that other programs have not yet tapped. Our in-line chlorination systems treat water within the pipes, ensuring that it is safe to drink before distribution and that it will remain safe to drink for many days after. This means that everyone who accesses our community, school, health center, orphanage, or camp water tanks will be sure to receive safe water and that chlorine will not go unused and wasted.
Our programs are also unique due to our strong working relationships with Haitian communities. Our permanent staff in Haiti is made up entirely of locally trained Haitians. Our Haiti Director is a former employee of the Haitian water agency and general coordinator of the organization of poor neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince. For this reason we can make contact with community leaders quickly and easily and ensure that the communities are involved in planning, maintaining, and operating their water systems from the start and in the long-term.
How does International Action measure success?
Using our standard chlorine residual testing kits, we aim to ensure a chlorine level of 3.5 – 4 parts per million (ppm). At this level of chlorine residual, the water is safe to drink. Through a recent study of our program in Port-au-Prince done by Emory University graduate students, it was found that 91% of households in communities with positive chlorine residual were getting their water from International Action sites – meaning that 91% of the population was safe from cholera and chronic diarrhea. Our goal is that 95% of the households that have access to our clean water sites with have residual chlorine in their water at home.
In conjunction with the Emory students, we have created a 33-question survey that includes questions on topics such as household demographics, water source and toilet type, treatment practices and perceptions, and diarrheal incidence within the household. We will gather reports from teachers detailing the prevalence of diarrhea and absenteeism of students. Reports of reduced diarrhea among children and an increase in the school attendance rate of the students in schools with access to our chlorinated water will mean that we have been successful.
We will also provide these surveys to Community Hygiene Promoters (CHPs). They will be responsible for distributing the surveys throughout their communities three times each year. They will be taught how to test for free chlorine residuals of drinking water samples using a Hach Chlorine Test Kit, record GPS coordinates for households using a Garmin eTrex GPS handheld device, and conduct the survey with heads of households. We will use this data to improve our programs and document our successes.
What does success look like?
In areas where we conduct installations, we see significant drops in reported cases of chronic diarrhea and other waterborne diseases, as well as soaring school attendance rates. We see community leaders assume autonomous administrative control of water distribution, requiring only minor technical assistance from our staff in the future.
We also find that at least 90% of the households that report retrieving water from a community with an International Action water system have a chlorine residual of 3.5-4 ppm – indicating that water is safe for human consumption.
Are International Action projects sustainable, scalable solutions?
Due to the low cost of chlorine and the simplicity of the chlorination system, our clean water programs provide long-term, sustainable water infrastructure for developing communities. Local community leaders assume control of monitoring and administering water distribution and chlorine is easy to supply. One key aspect for the sustainability of our programs is that we employ locally trained, Haitian technicians to run the technical branch of our organization. They conduct all of the installations and can respond to maintenance requests by the community leaders in charge of our systems. Our project can be scaled up, but it is imperative that local professionals, technicians, and community leaders are involved in the planning and implementation of the program, as we have done in Haiti. Our sister organization, the International Rural Water Association, has put our chlorinators to work in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala as well.
What's next for International Action?
We are expanding our efforts to the Sud-Est Département (South-East Department) of Haiti, which is centered around the city of Jacmel. The Director of Health for this region called Jacmel and Sud-Est, "the zone most touched by the cholera epidemic." Since the October 2010 cholera outbreak, 22% of the reported cholera cases in Jacmel have been fatal.
Sud-Est is home to over 500,000 Haitians. We have received help requests from 54 schools, many without a safe way to store or treat their water, and from community leaders throughout the region. We will install water tanks and chlorination systems at the 54 schools in the South East (the majority in Jacmel) that have asked us for help. Moreover, we intend to install 20 chlorinators at public water stations throughout the South East department. Our goals are to improve the health of the residents of this region, to train Community Hygiene Promoters (CHPs) to educate children and adults about the importance of clean water, to increase community participation in neighborhood development, and to improve school attendance.
Can I fund a specific project?
We use our strong community connections and online help request forms to identify sites in need on an individual basis. We can define a specific area that will be served through a given project and complete work on that project under a reasonable timetable. Individuals, foundations, and organizations that sponsor a particular site can provide a logo or emblem that will be displayed prominently on-site in Haiti and on our Partners page on this website.
Where does my money go?
International Action uses donor contributions to directly fund projects on the ground in Haiti – projects carried out and maintained by our staff and the community organizations we serve. We report on all foundation grants, sizable donations, and monthly donors in our quarterly report, as well as in our annual report and at meetings with our Board of Directors.