5,000 Dead: Fighting Cholera in Ravaged Haiti

By Global Moms Challenge

May 14, 2011

Water for Life

World Water Relief, a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization, is a small group of dedicated humanitarians trying to fix the problem of dirty water in Haiti by installing clean water systems, but even more effectively by teaching kids how to wash their hands. So far, World Water Relief’s cholera prevention program has taught basic hygiene classes in 100 schools and has reached 30,000 students in Haiti.

“To rebuild this country, we need water,” Albert Juin, a Haitian youth coordinator for World Water Relief, told David Bruckner, who made a documentary about World Water Relief’s work in Haiti in October 2010.

“We need purified water,” Juin said. “We need to educate kids about this water is bad, this water is good.”

Although millions of dollars were donated in the terrifying aftermath of the earthquake, the country has still not significantly recovered.

“It doesn’t look like it did after the earthquake, but the tent cities are all still there,” Mo Baptiste, a World Water Relief board member and associate professor at Ithaca College, told ABC News. “Has there been debris removed? Yes. Is there a whole lot more to be removed? Yes.”

“When I started going to down to the [region] doing medical mission work, I quickly realized that you can treat all these problems with medicine, but the real problem is that people don’t have access to clean water,” Dr. Kevin Fussell, vice chairman of the board for World Water Relief and a practicing pulmonary critical care physician, told ABC News.

Fussell left for Haiti three days after the earthquake that struck on Jan. 12, 2010.

Globally, more than 3.5 million people die each year from waterborne illnesses like cholera, according to World Water Relief. More than 80 percent of those who die from those diseases are children.

A deadly outbreak of cholera struck Haiti in October 2010, stemming from the unsanitary conditions that continue to plague Haitians.

“We were in Haiti [in fall 2010] when the cholera epidemic broke out, so it was really important to teach kids really basic hygiene,” Tim Douglas, an education coordinator for World Water Relief, told ABC News. That involved teaching “when to wash your hands, how to wash your food, use a latrine, clean the latrine — really basic stuff. But you realize it’s difficult to do there, because you want to wash your hands but there’s no clean water.”

World Water Relief buys water filtration systems from a company called PURAUV, which sells ultraviolet water filtration systems. It installs large, 300-gallon tanks so that even if electricity cuts out, the purified water will flow out through the force of gravity.

“That was the easy part. It took a month and a half to get three schools done, which is pretty quick,” Douglas told ABC News. “From there, we had to go about doing our education. … We had to find a way to reach the students.”

They attracted students through any means they could. They taught English, since many people are interested in learning the global language for business, and Douglas even brought out his ukulele to add some fun to the classes.

“We installed a water filtration system at an orphanage and built a reserve system outside where the community could get water, and we thought the water was going to be free community water,” said Douglas. “We went back there after a few months and this guy called ‘El Pastore’ was selling the water.”

That is a problem that confronts many NGO’s, who are often unable to revisit each project they undertake.

“The key to any of these kinds of projects is to have the social infrastructure in place,” said Fussell. “The difference with what we do is we work in areas where we’re going to be day-in, day-out for tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. We work with organizations and schools on the ground, people we can touch base with to see if the systems are still working. We stay very involved with any system we install. We aim to find people who will be involved in maintenance and upkeep. We don’t just drop [water filtration] systems in anywhere.”

If you would like to help World Water Relief’s work in Haiti, visit their website to find out how you can get involved.

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