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Michigan group works for clean drinking water in Haiti


Haitians build concrete bio-sand water filters to remove parasites and bacteria from drinking water. UMNS photos courtesy of the United Methodist Michigan Area Haiti Task Force.

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*

March 28, 2007 

For years, United Methodists in Michigan have pledged to provide hot lunches to schoolchildren in Haiti.

Now, they want to ensure the children and their families have clean drinking water as well.

The United Methodist Michigan Area Haiti Task Force is partnering with Rotary Clubs in the United States and Haiti on the Haiti School Water Project. The project also has been designated as an Advance Special with the United Methodist Committee on Relief, allowing congregations or individuals to contribute financially.

Task force chairman R. Paul Doherty said the ministry is "in process" and that both Michigan United Methodists and the Methodist Church of Haiti are prepared for a 2007 startup.  

"Many of the Rotarians here (in Michigan) are really behind this 100 percent," said Doherty, who is scheduled to visit Haiti in April. "Hopefully it will become a model for all of Haiti."

History of mission work

Michigan sends about 20 Volunteers in Mission teams to Haiti each year and has a long history of mission work on the Caribbean island.

The hot lunch program was conceived after Doherty was invited to Haiti in 1993 to meet with leaders of the Methodist Church of Haiti. He learned the top priority was education but that it was difficult to teach hungry children.

United Methodists in Michigan then began a cooperative program for Haiti through UMCOR. "We have been working to bring a nutritious hot lunch to every child in the Methodist schools," Doherty said.

The ministry now runs in 105 schools, including six secondary schools, with 60 to 80 percent of the $300,000 annual operating cost raised in the state of Michigan.

Success has been measured by a decrease in malnutrition and diseases caused by malnutrition, a lower school absentee rate and better test scores. Even children not in the schools participate in the hot lunch program and other students take extra food home for family members.

"We have monitored the children," Doherty said. "Health is much improved in the schools. We also have seen the sacrifices that parents make to get the children into the schools."

Water is a concern

"More children die in Haiti because of water-borne disease than any other killer." -R. Paul DohertyWater is a part of the concern about malnutrition. "More children die in Haiti because of water-borne disease than any other killer," Doherty said.

The project will use a bio-sand water filter designed to remove 100 percent of the parasites and more than 90 percent of the bacteria in contaminated water.

Haitians are building the concrete filters, which cost about $25 each, with final installation costs of another $50 to $60. Each unit will produce 40 to 50 liters of filtered water per hour.

But providing clean water isn't enough. The project with Rotary will include mandatory hygiene education. Using a strategy of social mobilization, the goal is to reach 20,000 students through all the schools.

The new model is patterned after PolioPlus, Rotary's successful campaign to stamp out polio around the world, which used partnerships between Rotary and in-country organizations to share costs and staff.

Project management


The United Methodist Michigan Area Haiti Task Force is supporting the Haiti School Water Project.

The Michigan Area Haiti Task Force will help raise money from the general church through the Advance Special and oversee the water project, which will be supervised by the Haitian Methodist church's committee on development, led by Jean Michel Basquin. Pure Water for the World will provide overall project management.

Doherty credits Charles Adams, president of The Taeria Foundation and senior consultant to Pure Water for the World, with getting the project rolling.

On the Rotary side, the Rotary Club of Petion-Ville, Haiti, will be the host sponsor, and the Rotary Club of Grapevine, Texas, will be the lead U.S. club.

Startup activities will be financed by Rotary and will involve training Haitian Methodist teachers, pastors, lay pastors and administrators in hygiene instruction and filter management, manufacturing the bio-sand filters and creating a management system.

United Methodist and Haitian Methodist long-term responsibilities include paying for staff to implement and manage the hygiene and filter program and continuing a management system for inspections, troubleshooting and reporting.

Donations to the Haiti School Water Project, UMCOR Advance Special No. 418791, can be dropped in church collection plates in a check payable to the local church. Checks also can be payable to Advance GCFA and mailed directly to Advance GCFA, PO Box 9068, GPO, New York, NY 10087-9068. Credit card donations can be made by phone at (888) 252-6174.
To reach the Michigan Area Haiti Task Force, e-mail haititaskforce@sbcglobal.net.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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