It’s not enough that Haiti was hit by a devastating earthquake last January that killed 300,000 people and left another 1.5 million homeless. Now, because of unsanitary conditions, the island nation is enduring the ravages of cholera that so far has claimed 1,400 lives and sickened nearly 57,000 people.
Members of St. Mary Parish in Milford, Conn. are battling back by installing a clean water system at their sister parish, St. Theresa’s, in the rural mountain town of Marbial – a project they initiated last August before the cholera outbreak.
After months of planning, fund-raising and working through internal red tape of importing and transporting products – and helped by a generous, anonymous donation – St. Mary’s delivered 150 water filtration and purification systems in late December – enough to provide clean water for 1,000 people.
"It’s a basic two-bucket system," said Michael Mercurio, chair of the St. Mary twinning committee, which sent a medical mission of 14 doctors, nurses and volunteers to care for more than 1,500 people for a week last March.
Water is collected into a five-gallon bucket, poured through a carbon filtering system that includes two chlorine tablets, and "comes out 99.8 percent clear of impurities" into another bucket with a spigot, he explained.
"We’re very excited about it," said Mr. Mercurio. "If you deal with Haiti or any Third World country, you know that there is nothing more important than clean water. That’s where it starts. One in every eight children in Haiti dies from diseases due to dirty water. So if you can provide them with basic clean water, you’ll save lives and reduce many of the health issues they face.
"Every society needs medical care," he offered, "but clean water dramatically reduces the health care needs of the population and allows them to enjoy healthier lives."
St. Mary’s is working with Gift of Water (www.giftofwater.org), a 15-year-old, nonprofit organization that provides water purification and filtration systems to communities in Third World countries. St. Mary’s is donating 225 systems, at a cost of $40 each, that will provide clean water for eight to 10 people a day or 1,500 people a year at a cost of $10,000.
The long-term goal is to maintain and increase this project. St. Theresa Water Committee will manage the project locally, determine the families of greatest need and work with a local technician hired to set up the systems and teach hygiene to people in the community.
"We hope to eventually provide clean water for 5,000 people on an ongoing basis," Mr. Mercurio said, adding that because Haitians are a proud people, families receiving the system pay a small fee.
The parish is planning its second medical mission Feb. 7-14 with 16 volunteer doctors and nurses and others.
The St. Mary Twinning Committee was launched in 2007 at the urging of Father James Cronin, pastor, in response to a call for global solidarity from the U.S. Catholic Bishops.
Printed with permission from The Catholic Transcript Online, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Hartford, Conn.