Tackling water sustainability in Haiti

Michele Girard poses at the Humphrey School.

University of Minnesota student Michele Girard is a changemaker—literally. Girard, who is finishing up her first year in the Master of Development Practice program in the Humphrey School, has been working for the past five years to provide a reliable and convenient water supply for a small city in Haiti.

In 2015, when Girard was an undergraduate at the University of Maine, she received a $10,000 grant from the Davis Foundation to build a water system in Grand-Goâve, Haiti, in partnership with a nongovernmental organization called Tree of Hope Haiti.

Now Girard is taking the next step by developing a plan to make sure the water system is financially sustainable, so that Tree of Hope can pay for ongoing maintenance and repairs.

She spent the past year developing that project as a fellow in the U of M’s Acara Changemakers Lab. Her work was so impressive that it was recognized as the top graduate-level winner of the 2019 Acara Challenge, which awards students who have fresh ideas for how to solve the world’s biggest challenges. She’ll receive a $5,500 grant and ongoing support from faculty members as she aims to launch her project.

Girard will return to Haiti in August for the next steps, including surveying people who use the water system and organizing community discussions so residents can decide how they want to proceed.

“If I were to go there and say, ‘You should definitely do this,’ that’s not the Humphrey way,” she says. “That’s not what my professors have taught me.”

“One of the most rewarding things for me is being in class and learning tangible skills like statistics, how to do interviews, and applying those skills right away. I’m on the phone with people in Haiti like an hour later,” adds Girard. “I think the Humphrey School does a great job of preparing students to do this type of work.”