By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY – Here in northwest Missouri as in most developed countries, a glass of clean water is taken for granted. But consider this: 780 million people in Central and South America, Asia and Africa, don’t have ready access to clean water. Families drink, cook and clean with contaminated water.
The presence of bacteria, human and animal waste in the water leads to frequent intestinal and digestive problems that result in poor nutrition, missed school days and sometimes death in children and older adults. Even clear seeming streams and pools can be contaminated with bird, animal and fish fecal matter from runoffs.
This is not a new problem. There are numerous biblical references to women carrying jars of water drawn from their village well. Over the centuries, towns and settlements sprang up where there was access to fresh water, usually near rivers, streams or springs.
But, the water didn’t always stay fresh. As recently as a century ago, major cities including New York, Paris and London were also centers of infectious diseases, most caused by water contaminated by human and industrial waste.
There is a solution to this problem: effective water filters that clean contaminated water of all bacteria, parasites and some viruses. But communities that have no money to purchase filters are stuck with unclean water. Even if someone else purchases the filters for them, the filters have to be delivered and the community taught to use them.
Ursuline Sister of Mount St. Joseph Larraine Lauter has been working with Sawyer International, which manufactures small, effective water filters. She arranges for delivery of the filters to communities in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and other countries in Central and South America, in Asia and Africa, and most recently, Haiti. She trains community mothers on how to use them, and how to make them last. She also travels back to the U.S. to give talks and presentations to interested, concerned individuals asking for help in purchasing more water filters to help more families. She was and is an inspiration to Kansas City businessman Chris Chaney.
Chaney, who got his start in business mowing lawns, is a husband, father and Visitation parishioner. Early in 2012, he dropped in to the church to pray, asking God to give him “something exceptional,” a task that would make a difference in the lives of others.
A few months later, in May, he watched a Charlie Rose interview with Matt Damon on public television. Damon was talking about a successful clean water filter program for communities in Third World countries, water.org.
Then, the night before Thanksgiving 2012, he and his friend Kermit Fendler were enjoying a beer at The Well, a Waldo watering hole. Both men had been invited on a St. Elizabeth Parish education and mission trip to El Salvador in January 2013. The men decided to go.
While in El Salvador, they learned that while water was available in many poor communities, the water was not clean, and consumption of it caused illnesses, diseases, even death. The men felt compelled to help. Chaney recalled his prayer of the year before, and felt that this was the answer to his plea.
The year 2013 was also the 25th anniversary of Visitation Parish’s Water for Madre program, a safe water program helping people in El Salvador through their sister parish, Santa Maria Madre de los Pobres in San Salvador.
Discussions with organizations that serve those in need in underdeveloped countries including Visitation Parish, and conversations with each other followed, and GiveSafeWater.org was born. Chaney and Fendler both visited El Salvador again and Honduras to learn more about existing safe water programs.
Their solution? A simple, inexpensive yet effective water filter, Sawyer PointONE, manufactured by Sawyer International using advanced kidney dialysis filtration technology, the same water filter Sister Larraine has been encouraging women in Honduras, Guatemala and other developing countries to use to clean water for their families. The filter is cylindrical, about 6 inches long and two inches in diameter, about the size of a can of Red Bull energy drink, Chaney said.
The filter’s technology uses tiny u-shaped tubes to remove bacteria and diseases caused by bacteria, including cholera, botulism (Clostridium Botulinium), Typhoid (Salmonella typhi), Amoebic dysentery, E. coli, Salmonella and Streptococcus. It also removes protozoans including Giardia and viruses including Hepatitis A and E, poliovirus, Reovirus, SARS (Corona virus) and others.
The filters cost less than $100 each, and include tubing, hardware, and two five-gallon food grade plastic buckets, one to collect contaminated water and the other for clean water after it passes through the filter. Sawyer International guarantees each filter will clean at least 1 million gallons of water, which, if cared for properly and the water used only for drinking and cooking, translates to clean water for 10 years for four families of four.
Give Safe Water, which received its 501(c)3 status this past May, purchases the water filters from Sawyer International. The volunteer 501(c)3 organization partners with local organizations in developing countries that are screened and certified, with the resources and ability to distribute the filters to families in need. The partners must also train the people, usually the women, monitor the filters’ use and report regularly to Give Safe Water.
Delegations from the U.S. are employed to take the purchased filters to underdeveloped countries when traveling on mission trips or similar travels.
Give Safe Water is now officially in business, and is launching a Christmas campaign to get started. Those who want to help change the lives of people in poverty in developing countries are invited to make a $100 donation to GiveSafeWater.org on behalf of a loved one or friend, or themselves, to purchase a filter for families in a developing country. Each $100 donation will enable four families or up to 20 people to have access to clean water for a year. Make a donation by Dec. 15, and a hand written Christmas card will be sent in the donor’s name to the loved one or friend for Christmas morning opening. An annual $100 donation will purchase one water filter each year to clean a million gallons of water.
Chaney said that for now the majority of donations received by GiveSafeWater.org will benefit Sister Larraine Lauter’s work with Water for Blessings. “I would like to make the Water for Blessings program sustainable after her,” Chaney said. Other funds raised during the Christmas campaign, a Mother’s Day campaign planned for next spring and during the year will benefit other safe water programs.
For more information or to make a donation, visitwww.GiveSafeWater.org.