Ferrocement Cistern Training and Building

“Teach a person to fish, and they will eat for a lifetime.” Those words sum up the empowering philosophy behind Mercy Focus on Haiti’s (MFOH) rainwater harvesting project in Gros Morne, located in Haiti’s remote northwest region. Initially, the project involved procuring and delivering prefabricated 500 to 1,000-gallon rainwater collection and storage cisterns (“chatodlos,” or “water castles” in Haitian Creole) to areas where both families and crops suffer from lack of water. While that approach continues to have merit, another solution is proving its worth, with the added advantage that local Haitian masons have been trained to become agents of change in their communities.

Despite the challenges of travel to Haiti – particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic – a special individual by the name of Johann Zimmerman, a professional structural engineer with a firm in Virginia, agreed to provide his expertise to Haitian masons. Instead of relying on imported plastic cisterns, Johann would create rainwater collection and storage systems out of locally available materials. Known as “ferro-cement cisterns,” these large containers are made of wire mesh, concrete, cement, Tyvek wrap, and PVC pipes, and the skills needed to create them can be shared far and wide.

Over a period of 5 days in November 2020, 19 masons were trained under Johann’s expert guidance, and each trainee received a certificate attesting to his new skills. These masons are now going out to surrounding areas and building additional cisterns. Over 60 cisterns have already been built in the Gros Morne region. The recipients of the cisterns have been carefully selected according to the following criteria: they are active farmers; their farms are adjacent to their houses; they attend training sessions on the proper care and use of the cisterns; they are open to collaboration with other farmers, and to sharing their water with them; and finally, they are obliged to contribute to the project according to their means, which may be as simple as providing sand, water, and rocks for the construction process.

Above is a picture of a ferro-cement cistern taking shape at the Gros Morne hen house, another MFOH-supported ministry that provides nourishing eggs to local school children!