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Charlotte mission brings aquaponics technology to Haiti

By Deanna Morono
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After a bumpy plane ride down to Haiti recently, a team from Covenant Day School arrived in the city of Jérémie to partner with El Shaddai Ministries.

Under the leadership of high school Bible teacher Clifford Chin, they also built an aquaponics system to help feed the hungry.

Last November, Covenant Day’s greenhouse project – known as This Green Fish – was flourishing with had 50 tilapia and several varieties of vegetables. To prepare for the possibility of scarce materials in Haiti, Chin’s class built a new prototype using whatever materials they had available, like concrete, wood, or barrels.

In Haiti, they found IBC containers, which worked perfectly. After purchasing the tanks, the team found a location and began set-up. They also brought an aquaponics manual that a student had translated into French.

“Most people bring down food, and that’s good for five days,” said senior Carly Starnes. “But we’re trying to give them something that’ll sustain them.”

Aquaponics technology is alluring. Just up the road, they found a chicken farm that wanted to do aquaponics, too.

“We actually convinced (the farm) to move their prototype down by the school where they could integrate it into the educational system,” said Chin, 57, who lives in Monroe with his wife and two children. “We’re going to teach them to build one – we’re not going to go in there and build them all. We want them to embrace it, see the value of it and then carry on themselves.”

During the one-week mission trip in April, Chin’s team did as much as possible to get the aquaponics system started. Then in June, a second team from Covenant Day went down to finish the job.

“We were able to get the system up and running with only some minor snags along the way, most of which involved leaks in pipes and tanks,” said chemistry teacher Rusty Randles, 36, who lives in Matthews with his wife, Kristen, and three kids. “We added some ammonia to the system to ‘jump start’ the nitrogen cycle in preparation for adding fish.”

They also trained a local man and set him up with an iPad to monitor the system. He plans to email weekly data back so they can help him if problems arise. Then they met with math and science teachers from the local high school, explaining how the system works and how to incorporate aquaponics into their curriculum.

“So far, I would say the reception has been cautiously optimistic,” said Randles. “Naturally, they are excited about the prospects of the possibilities of the technology, but they’re waiting to see how it works in reality. The teachers that we worked with were very curious and asked great questions.”

Because Covenant Day sends a team to Haiti every year, they get to see how their projects impact the people.

“Last year we planted Moringa trees, and they’ve really embraced them and started a program to grow the trees and take them to about seven other orphanages,” said Chin. “We saw one orphanage plucking the leaves and putting them into the food for the orphans.”

The mission teams also brought more than 200 shoes for the orphans, purchased more goats, taught Vacation Bible School classes, and trained teachers.

“The people were really excited just having us there,” said Chin. “Sometimes you wonder whether it’s worth the money to go down there and serve, but it brings them so much encouragement just having people come and work alongside them. That’s what our desire is – to teach them things that will make a difference in the way they live.”

Serving in Haiti also lets students experience a different culture.

“Everything moves a lot slower there, but in a good way,” said senior Drew Pierce. “Being down there, you realize what’s actually valuable and not just fluff. It’s about how you treat people and interact with people and show love.”

With all the attention aquaponics technology is having – and because of the impact they’ve had so far – Covenant Day could expand their program.

“We could potentially be taking it to a couple different countries,” said Megan Holt, the director of communications and marketing.

And that’s the hope – to spark interest and partnership with other missions, schools and businesses.

Deanna Morono is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Deanna? Email her at
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