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Local volunteers dedicated to clean water efforts in Haiti and Guatemala are looking to partner with others who want to make a difference in the lives of those who do not have the privileges offered in the United States.
A team sponsored by Memorial United Methodist Church and the Hardin County AM Rotary Club returned from its latest trip earlier this month to the city of Port-de-Paix, Haiti, where they installed solar-powered water purification systems in a region where children walk up to three hours to fetch unclean water from wells in containers they carry atop their heads.
The team recognizes today as World Water Day, which has been designated by the United Nations for the past 20 years to focus on freshwater resources.
The Rev. Michael Gibbons, senior pastor of Memorial United Methodist, said he has challenged his church and others to drink a glass of clean water at 10 a.m. today to show gratitude for the nation’s clean water resources, but also to recognize those who have no other resource but water laced with harmful bacteria that cause waterborne diseases, such as cholera and dysentery.
Dirty water found in Haiti and other impoverished countries can disrupt the lives of families and children, many of whom are unable to get a quality education because of their poor health.
“You can’t go to school if you’re sick,” said Jack Morrison, a member of the team.
In addition to their local partners, the team represents Living Waters for the World, a volunteer mission organization that has been installing clean water systems and building relationships with communities for the past 20 years. In 2012, Living Waters for the World teams installed 70 clean water systems in 14 countries, according to a news release.
Bob Wade Jr., a team member, said they started traveling to Haiti in 2011, and have made several trips after establishing a relationship with Sonlight Ministries, a mission station in Haiti.
Once initiating the partnership, a team installed a water purification system at the Sonlight Academy, which provided clean water for 700 or more students, parishioners, employees and missionary teachers.
Since the start, they have installed five water purification systems, two of which are powered by generators while three are solar powered, Wade said. Most of the systems have been installed around schools or churches, the team said.
Ranging as high as $25,000 for a single system, the group has held fundraisers and collected donations through the Rotary Club, Memorial United Methodist and other sources to pay for the installations. The members, meanwhile, pay their own travel costs.
“They’ve got skin in the game,” Wade said.
Team members test the water once the systems are installed and train Haitians in hygiene so they can educate the area on the best practices to use and maintain clean water.
“It continues for a lifetime,” he said. “These systems last for decades.”
The Rev. Skip Dunford, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Elizabethtown, said the systems are not as advanced as a municipal water treatment plant, but they are reliable and have been approved by several health departments. Dunford is a part of a separate group that has been installing similar systems in Guatemala, where they have installed nine systems.
The Haiti team learned of the efforts in Guatemala and expressed interest in starting their own project, looking to the Guatemala team as a “nurturing” influence, he said.
Morrison echoed Dunford’s comments, saying they have been mentored by members of the team working in Guatemala, specifically businessman Bob Swope.
Both teams said they maintain lasting relationships with those they install systems for.
“We don’t just go over there, slap everything together and leave,” Dunford said.
And they are looking for more to step up and express a desire to help.
“There’s just always a need,” Dunford said.
Wade said he is motivated by his three children and the desire to help others, particularly children, have access to better drinking water and, by extension, better lives.
“They don’t have the basics for learning when kids don’t have clean water,” he said.
Morrison and Wade said they approach the faucet differently now having seen the unsanitary conditions people live in — realizing how easily those in the U.S. take clean water for granted.
“It humbles you here and makes you less likely to complain about your own life,” he said.
Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or email@example.com.