By Kristina Goetz, Special to The Record
VERRETTES, Haiti — Elda Servius had never heard of cholera.
So when her husband, Mario Dortelus, came home from work complaining of a stomach ache, she made him tea.
Elda tended Mario through the night the best she could, but his symptoms worsened. Nothing she did eased his pain. Within hours, he became so violently ill, he cried. As the hours passed, Mario appeared to waste away before her eyes. By daybreak, all the fluid seemed to have drained from his body. He looked so small, lying there.
“The last thing he said to me was, ‘Come and put some water on my face,’ ” Elda said.
She did. And then he died.
Elda wailed as she looked at Mario’s face. She didn’t know what to do. Her young husband was dead. She called her mother, who told her to summon neighbors. They’re the ones who told her about this disease called cholera. They’re the ones who told her Mario had to be buried immediately so the disease wouldn’t spread.
The neighbors dug his grave that morning and laid him in it.
Now, every time Elda walks the hour-long rock path to the stream — the path just wide enough for her and her 5-year-old son, Benji, to squeeze through — she worries about the water she dips into her jug.
The stream where she siphons the water is “kle,” but she knows that doesn’t mean it’s “pwop,” as she says in Creole. There’s a difference between clear and clean.
She worries cholera will come back to her house and kill again.
Water With Blessings, a small non-profit in Middletown, Ky., has launched a campaign to eradicate cholera in the entire country of Haiti. Its leaders don’t want women like Elda to ever again worry about dying of cholera.
For the past 10 years, WWB has sent Sawyer Point ONE filters to 42 countries with waterborne illnesses, and they’ve seen tremendous results: children who no longer have diarrhea who can go to school and mothers who no longer worry about their children dying.
Anecdotal evidence shows that this program works all over the world. But with this new project, they will have hard proof.
“This is a crazy, God-sized plan, and it suddenly became clear to us that God was telling us that we have the capacity to do this,” said Ursuline Sister of Mount St. Joseph Larraine Lauter, who leads WWB. “We know that Haitian mothers with the right tools can do what no NGO professionals have done.
“Some day Haitians will look back on this as a historic moment. These mothers will be able to tell their grandchildren that they led and won the revolution against cholera for Haiti.”
The project starts with Sawyer Point ONE filters, which are about the size of the inside of a toilet paper roll. They’re filled with hollow fiber membranes, similar to technology used in dialysis to filter bacteria out of blood. They work like a microscopic net with holes so small no bacteria can escape.
For $60, a mother receives a filter kit that will provide a lifetime of clean water.
What’s different about the WWB project compared to others that distribute filters is the programming behind it. WWB recruits mothers to be Water Women and trains them to use the filters. Each mother makes a commitment to God to share the filter with three other families.
“The daily work of mothers is to make sure their children survive and thrive,” Sister Lauter said. “And a mother has a heart for all children, not just her own.
“Aid projects usually focus on men because they are universally recognized as leaders, but mothers, especially young mothers in the home, are the great untapped resource for human development,”she said. “They are smart, they are motivated and they are overlooked. Mothers are our secret weapon.”
In Haiti, WWB will target 14 villages around the area of Verrettes to prove to their method can get rid of cholera for good. For that initial footprint, it will take 4,000 filters, cost of $210,000 that the organization is working to raise.
For the first time, WWB staff and volunteers will use software to track the reduction in cholera cases, the same method used in university research studies.
That way they’ll have hard data, the proof they need to show donors what they can do. Then they’ll move to eradicate cholera in the whole country, which will take about a million filters.
“The amount of money we need to raise may seem insurmountable, but we know this kind of support can be built bit by bit, dollar by dollar,” Sister Lauter said. “We just have to pray that God opens hearts. It’s like the widow’s mite. Very small amounts can mean the difference between life and death.”
On a recent hot November afternoon, Elda walked an hour across the mountain with Benji to the village of Verrettes where Water With Blessings conducted a training session. She hoped she’d receive a filter in the lottery. But her name wasn’t called.
Elda leaned against a wall outside the school, watching Benji play. She could hear the Water With Blessings trainers explain to the women who received a filter how to use and clean them.
She looked at Benji as he played in the dirt.
“My son says, sometimes, ‘Mama, why can’t we have clean water? Why can’t you have a bucket, too?’ ”
Elda doesn’t have an answer. She can only hope that people will give.
For more information about Water With Blessings, visit www.waterwithblessings.org or call 749-5492.