Columbia volunteers will install water filters in Haitian villages

Thursday, January 2, 2014 | 8:52 p.m. CST
A resident of Archaie holds a water filter brought to Haiti by a group from the United Methodist Church in Columbia. Archaie's main source of water is a shallow, turbid canal, and it’s a breeding ground for cholera, Soendker Nicholson said.

COLUMBIA — When Audrey Wagner thinks of Haiti, she thinks of Nika, the 3-year-old girl who loves to play soccer even though she's too small to kick the ball.

But she also thinks of the dirty, bacteria-laden water the people in Nika's village drink.

Wagner visited Haiti in May as part of an effort by the United Methodist Church to install water filters in Archaie, a rural village on the Port-au-Prince Bay. In the past two years, volunteers with the program have installed filters in 190 homes, and on their next trip, they plan to install 180 more.

Wagner is one of 16 volunteers from Columbia who will work with local Haitians from Jan. 8 to 16 to build household water filters in Archaie and, for the first time, a second village, Mizak.

Each morning, Haitian families that want a filter will meet the team to receive hygiene training, said the Rev. Trista Soendker Nicholson, who is one of the trip’s sponsors. Then team members will visit their homes throughout the day to help them install the filters.

Archaie's main source of water is a shallow, turbid canal, and it’s a breeding ground for cholera, Soendker Nicholson said.

She said a Haitian woman told her that her family had not gotten sick since receiving a filter, an inexpensive way to safeguard against waterborne diseases.

Building the filters isn’t difficult, Wagner said. A team member will drill a hole in a plastic bucket, then into the hole, he or she will fit a plastic tube that runs down to a 4-inch-long filter. People who use the process need only pour the dirty water into the bucket, and they soon have clean water dripping from the end of the filter into a cup, pail or other container.

More demand, more filters

The first time church volunteers visited Haiti in May 2012, they installed 50 filters. They plan to install more than three times that amount during this month's visit.

There are two reasons behind this blitz: The church is sending a second team to Mizak, and volunteers have switched the old biosand filter to a filter that's easier to assemble.

To build a biosand filter, a team member needs to place two layers of gravel on the bottom of the filter, then add a layer of sand and put the colander on top of it, Soendker Nicholson said. And the family needs to wait 10 more days for the water to be circulated to drink.

In May, the volunteers switched to the Sawyer filter, which uses thousands of holes one-millionth of a meter wide. The Sawyer filters are not only easier to assemble, Wagner said, but they're also smaller and more efficient.

"Before, we would be in someone's house for an hour to install the old ones," Soendker Nicholson said. But "the new one we get to install within 15 to 30 minutes."

Haitians are increasingly asking for the filters, said Jeff Baker, director of Office of Creative Ministries who initiated the program in 2011. Demand is so high because they're cheap to install, cheaper to maintain and easy to use.

So far, Office of Creative Ministries has sent 20 to 25 teams, he said. This will be the fourth time United Methodist Church has sent volunteers, and the church plans to send more in June, Soendker Nicholson said.

Wagner feels grateful for how welcome the Haitian community made her feel, and she's excited to visit the same families she met in May.

"They have trusted us and allowed us to come to their homes," she said. “And they bring so much joy out to me.”

Wagner said she is looking forward to seeing Nika again. They will bring toys, children's books, bubbles and soccer balls to the Haitian kids.

Supervising editor is Adam Aton.

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