Surfer dude plumbers bring running water to Haiti school

05/25/2012 5:00 AM

05/25/2012 1:07 PM

After running a long-time plumbing company in Nashville, Tab Hunter was tired of the corporate white glove atmosphere.

So when he purchased Pritchard Plumbing in Bradenton in October 2010, he wanted to do something a little different.

His first call of action was to paint the company's fleet like the Mystery Machine in the Scooby Doo cartoons and throw a couple of surf boards on top. Next were the technician uniforms, which now feature mandatory Vans shoes and Hawaiian leis.

The rebranding to the Surfin' Plumbers injected new energy into the company, which has helped it grow all of the way down to the North Port market.

But Hunter also was ready to give back, something he says he never really did a good enough job of in Tennessee.

About 600 children at a poor Haitian village now have running water because of it.

Hunter and the business' original owner, Tim Pritchard, who still works for the company, installed a free plumbing system for a school during a mission in March to Vignier, Haiti — an area ravished by the 2010 earthquake.

"I didn't really know what to expect, but it was amazing," Hunter said. "As soon we turned the taps on, all of the children came hovering around to wash their hands and flush the toilets. They had never really been around running water before."

Pritchard had been taking missions to the school for a decade after meeting the preacher and owner at a Christian event. But the need was never greater than after the earthquake, which rocked the school into a pile of rubble.

A contractor from Texas donated his time a new steel frame. Pritchard went last year to lay the underground plumbing. He took Hunter and Hunter's 17-year-old daughter, Carly, back in March to finish the job.

Because the village has no electricity, the crew installed a plumbing system that relies on gravity to power the water.

The school uses a generator to bring water up the pipes to a 600-gallon tank that's sitting on a platform about 70 feet above the ground. Once the tank is full, the generator turns off, and gravity pulls the water down to feed the sinks and toilets at the school.

It's a system only the village's "wealthiest" residents typically can afford.

"It was eye opening," Hunter said. "The [school] is trying to teach proper hygiene because those who haven't learned will just go on the side of the road or wherever when they have to. ... There was one small river where a lady was washing a cooking pan, then several feet down a man was taking bath and then several more feet down a cow was drinking."

The schools serves about 600 children up to the age of 17, also providing one meal a day at least three times a week. It is regarded as one of the better schools in Haiti, where education is a privilege, not a segment of the government.

Hunter said the experience was especially rewarding for his daughter, who was awakened by how children in less fortunate countries live — without the luxury of a Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts down the street.

Pritchard also said he plans on continuing the missions, which have become almost an annual occurrence for him.

"One thing is for sure, you never run out of work in Haiti," Pritchard said. "There's plenty that needs to be done."

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