GREENFIELD — A Greenfield teen’s grassroots effort to bring clean water to a community she visited in Haiti has proven successful.
Kelsey Fisk, 19, a Greenfield-Central High School graduate, spearheaded the effort to raise money for a water purification system after a visit to Gonaives, Haiti, with her church in late July.
Fisk was among the group of nine members of Brandywine Community Church that spent a week in Gonaives delivering a three-day sermon series to a group of churches with which Brandywine is affiliated.
But spreading the Gospel wasn’t enough, Fisk decided after returning home.
One of the community’s most immediate needs was a water purification system. Brandywine has funded and installed 16 water purification systems there over the years, but there was no immediate access to clean water in the area where Fisk stayed.
And so, when Fisk returned, she organized “Pennies for Poverty,” a two-day community garage sale the proceeds from which she hoped would fund the $3,500 water purification system.
The effort was more successful than Fisk expected. She had collected clothes, furniture and other items to sell at the event, but donations far exceeded the value of the merchandise, she said.
“There were a lot of very generous people that just came, got a sweatshirt then gave me a big chunk of cash,” Fisk said. “It was just great because every time that happened, … they were touching people … that they’ve never even met.”
On the first day of the sale, business had been slow, and Fisk said she was getting discouraged. She said a prayer, and not long after, a stranger approached her with an envelope. He thanked her for what she was doing, handed her the envelope and left.
The envelope contained $400, which doubled what Fisk had made so far.
“Needless to say, I was crying,” she said. “I knew the money was going to show up.”
Fisk’s sale brought in $2,400, and the remainder trickled in slowly from church members, said Paul Galbraith, pastor of student ministries at Brandywine.
“We’ve got a continued commitment at the church, but her event just bought it back to people’s minds,” said Galbraith, 25. “I think people were excited to hear how (the Haiti trip) impacted her life and wanted to support that by helping toward this goal.”
Galbraith was among those who went back to Haiti in mid-October to install the new system in City Siede, a mountainous region about 25 miles from Gonaives.
It was Galbraith’s eighth trip to Haiti, and just as with trips past, he returned with powerful stories of hope.
As word spread that a new purification system was being installed, people from surrounding villages began showing up, offering to help and awaiting the opportunity to bring clean water home to grateful families.
Bill Newell was among the Brandywine members who helped install the system.
“Every time we would put up a water system, we would just be swamped with numerous people from the village,” Newell said. “The whole backyard was filled with people.”
Haitians speak Creole, and few knew any English, but oftentimes the meaning they were trying to convey was clear, despite the language barrier, Newell said.
“Most of them are just very appreciative of what you’re doing there,” Newell said.
Fisk would have liked to return with the group but was in school at Olivet Nazarene University, where she is studying nursing.
Last week, the pastor who hosted Fisk during her stay in Haiti visited Brandywine and personally thanked her for the difference she made.
One of the Jezi Dlo (Haitian Creole for “Jesus Water”) purification systems purifies 300,000 gallons of water at a time by injecting chlorine gas into the water source. Area residents are using about 600,000 gallons of water per day with the new system, Galbraith said.
“The entire community is being transformed by this,” he said. “Our mission abroad … is that … if you provide for the basic needs of life, you show the love of Christ; you don’t just talk about it, and that’s when the world is changed, I think.”