Tenth anniversary of Water with Blessings overflows with blessings

A young Haitian girl peers at a dirty stream of water flowing through her village. The island, devastated by a hurricane, is still struggling to recover, and Water with Blessings hopes to stem an outbreak of Cholera. (photos courtesy of Bryan Woolston)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY — The 10th anniversary of the founding of Water with Blessings coincides with World Water Day, March 22. It was founded by Ursuline Sister of Mount St. Joseph Larraine Lauter and two friends, Arnie LeMay and Jim Burris, following several medical mission trips to Honduras between 2006 and 2008.

There had been numerous trips to the parish of Tegucigalpa for Sr. Larraine, then Hispanic Ministry director for the Church of the Epiphany in Louisville, Ky. She had first been dismayed then horrified by the number of illnesses and deaths in the parish and sought answers. When the answer was found, it was simple: contaminated water and poor sanitation. But what was the solution? Bottled water was only a short-term solution, and recycling plastic was unheard of in the parish. The missioners were treating the same symptoms of the same illnesses year after year. A long-term solution was a necessity.

Then in 2007, at a mission conference, they happened to bump into someone with the answer, the Sawyer PointOne water filtration system. The small, cylindrical filters use 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 are inexpensive, costing 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, or about 20 people.

The system sounded perfect, but how to spread the news and energize the community to use the system?

They returned to Tegucigalpa, and introduced the leaders and congregation of El Templo Divina Misericordia (Temple of Divine Mercy) to the Sawyer system. With their help and the willingness of the community, Water With Blessings was born.

Students gather around Sister Larainne Later, USO-MSJ, at Les Menard primary school in Verrettes, Haiti, Wednesday, November 8, 2017. (photo courtesy Bryan Woolston)

How? Who are the most invested in the health and well-being of children and families? The mothers.

With the encouragement of the leaders and congregation of the Temple of Divine Mercy, Sr. Larraine demonstrated the water infiltration system to the mothers in Tegucigalpa, showed them how to use it and how it worked. Ten mothers were willing to help spread the word and get others involved. Those 10 women became the first “Water Women,” leading, sharing their clean water and teaching others, both near and farther afield.

Each woman and household with a filter system can provide clean water to 20 other people.

Maintenance is also simple. When the filter fills up with contaminants, they are simply back flushed out of the filter and it’s ready to clean more water.

Sr. Larraine said the filter system is 99.999999 percent reliable, filtering out all bio-contaminants including E. coli, dysentery, cholera, typhoid and others.

She added, “We had no idea where this would take us!”

The “Water Women,”— mothers and grandmothers raising children under the age of 5 publicly serving as a source of clean water in their village or community for three years — have embraced their service as a ministry. The Water With Blessings website explains how the mothers become involved and committed to the ministry. “We invite mothers to make a faith-based commitment, for we know that adding ‘the God-Spark’ will charge and sustain a mother for compassionate, joyful service to her family and neighbors… and that means the resources we invest will be maximized to the fullest possible impact.

“To become Water Women, mothers attend a training that is both spiritual and practical.  They are empowered to help prevent the spread of waterborne illness and equipped with a filter to share clean water. They sign a covenant, a sacred commitment to God and their community that they will use their filters to serve others. Then they go forth to love and serve their God and neighbor, through a daily, life-saving ministry of filtering water. “

In the decade since the first “Water Women” agreed to share clean water and teach the system to others in Tegucigalpa, Water With Blessings has expanded to 45 countries. Currently there are more than 57,000 “Water Women” in villages and communities throughout Central and South America, Africa, India and Southeast Asia, the Philippines and the Caribbean Islands, especially Haiti and Puerto Rico.

Sr. Larraine said that now, 1,200 filter kits with training materials are sent each month to “Water Women” who request them.

Water With Blessings was incorporated effective October 2011, and in May, 2012, through the generous assistance of Catholic Charities of Louisville, they finally had office space and access to a copy machine/printer. The filtration systems and the ministry of the Water Women are saving lives and improving the quality of life in many areas of the world. In the past decade, more than 60,000 filtration kits have been distributed in 45 countries. But, according to the World Health Organization, at least 2 million deaths still occur each year due to unclean water and/or lack of sanitation; most of those deaths are children.

Hands are washed with pure water, during a prayer service at Chapple Notre Dame D’ Altagrece De Plassac, Plassac, Haiti, Sunday, November 6, 2017 (Photo courtesy of Bryan Woolston / @woolstonphoto)

Benedictine Sister Barbara Smith, of Mount St. Scholastica Monastery in Atchison, Kan., is currently in Puerto Rico, working with a team to show the devastation still present around the island since last year’s hurricane. In the past couple of years she has advocated for Water With Blessings in Missouri.

Sr. Barbara credited St. Mary’s Parish in Higgginsville for “making WWB a priority as a fundraiser, and has raised enough money to provide over 200 Water Women with water filters! Many people in this small parish are farmers and they get it about how wells go dry and they have to dig new ones, and about dirty water. They are an amazing and very supportive group of men and women.”

Visitation parishioner Chris Chaney, a founder of Give Safe Water has for several years raised money for Water With Blessings locally. In early April, he will travel with a dozen people to WWB’s original location in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, to familiarize them with the organization’s mission. His goal is to “make WWB sustainable” for years to come.

A campaign is underway to “flush Cholera” out of the island of Haiti, where the World Health Organization attributes 2 million deaths annually to unsafe water, poor sanitation and hygiene.

A $60 donation to Water With Blessings will provide four families with millions of gallons of clean water over a 10-year period through the Sawyer PointONE filter.

To learn more or make a donation, visit www.waterwithblessings.org

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Tuesday
April 24, 2018
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph