Civil rights attorney Ed Buckley has built more than 330 artesian wells and water reservoirs, providing water for nearly 350,000 people in Haiti since he founded the nonprofit Water Life Hope in 2005. He is pictured here with some of the region’s children at one of the newest wells. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Life with Gracie: Veteran civil rights attorney providing clean water, life to Haiti

Long before the earthquake of 2010, before Hurricane Matthew tore through Haiti’s southern peninsula, clean water was hard to find.

Ed Buckley knew that because he’d seen it with his own eyes.

For nearly a decade before either of those horrific acts of nature, Buckley had been building wells and water filtration systems in Haiti just so people could have water to drink.

But in the months since the hurricane, the veteran civil rights attorney has noticed an even more menacing evil taking a toll on the area — cholera, an infectious and often fatal bacterial disease of the small intestine.

“That’s our biggest concern right now,” Buckley said recently.

Cholera, you see, is typically contracted from infected water supplies. Researchers estimate that there are roughly 4 million cases and nearly 143,000 deaths from cholera each year worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

Scientists say it was brought to Haiti by United Nations peacekeepers stationed at a base that leaked waste into a river. This summer, after years of denying responsibility, the U.N. acknowledged its involvement in the suffering Haiti has experienced from the disease.

Buckley said he ended up in Haiti after nearly 35 years of practicing law in Atlanta and wanting to do something that would have a lasting impact.

He had been raised in a family where giving to charity, including tithing a 10th of their income, was just part of what they did. “It didn’t feel right to hold on to all of your money,” and the practice spilled over into his adult life.

Plus he understood, looking at people who were less fortunate, but for the grace of God that could be him.

In 2002, the story goes he was reading a book titled “The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O’Neill” by Ron Suskind. Halfway through the account was a chapter detailing a trip to Africa, where a lack of clean water was commonplace even though building wells was relatively inexpensive.

Buckley had an idea. He could build wells by finding donors and dedicating wells to their loved ones, families, communities, churches, synagogues or mosques.

He started searching the internet, looking for cost estimates for building wells, who built them and who might partner with him to do so.

“I got a lot of no’s,” he said.

But he didn’t give up. He eventually had a conversation with representatives of the international relief and development organization Food for the Poor about building wells in the Caribbean. His first few projects were in Jamaica, but Buckley ultimately turned his attention to Haiti. Not only was Haiti the most impoverished country in the Western Hemisphere, the price of a single well was one fourth of a well in Africa.

“You could get four wells for the price of one,” Buckley said. “One well could provide water for up to 5,000 people.”

And so in 2005, he began working with Food for the Poor to create Water Life Hope, the nonprofit Buckley founded dedicated to providing clean water to the people of Haiti.

Since that time, he estimates the organization and its nonprofit partners have built more than 330 artesian wells and water reservoirs, providing water for nearly 350,000 people.

If you’ve grown up in these United States, that might seem like a small thing. Few of us, if any, have ever had to worry about having clean water to drink, to cook with or bathe.

In Haiti, not only is the need great, it has gotten worse since the hurricane. And not surprisingly, women and children bear the burden of finding whatever they can, a task that can take up to four hours at a time, time that could be better spent in school or taking care of their families.

By building wells, Water Life Hope is helping create jobs and thus build communities.

“We’ve seen our water wells become the hub for communities where commerce, trade and education flourish,” Buckley said. “Once a community has clean water, other things happen.”

But it wouldn’t have happened without the support of people like fellow attorney Amanda Farahany, who partnered with Buckley to raise money and help build clean water systems.

Farahany first donated money to the cause, but in 2008, she decided to join Buckley on a trip to Haiti to see what was going on.

“The poverty and injustice was beyond anything I could ever imagine,” Farahany said.

From that moment on, Farahany was all in and in 2012, signed to become a board member.

That same year, she helped build a community center in the village town of Vialet, where residents gather to learn job skills. That community center was paired with a Water Life Hope well and water filtration unit. Since then, a tilapia farm has been added, and the village’s economy is flourishing.

On Sunday, Farahany hosted a fundraiser for the organization at her home in Atlanta.

“It’s amazing work and it’s fulfilling work,” she said. “It’s been fun but we’ve seen real progress.”

Water Life Hope, though, may be the only nonprofit there is that doesn’t use any portion of its donations for overhead cost. The organization is run strictly on the shoulders of volunteers like Farahany.

If you’d like to donate and I hope you do, log onto their website at www.waterlifehope.org.

Clean water ought to be a privilege everyone gets to enjoy.