By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
As Sister Larraine Lauter held the tiny hand of an infant patient at a cholera clinic in Verrettes, Haiti, she made a silent promise.
“I made a promise to her, in my heart, that she wouldn’t have to be back in that hospital,” said Sister Lauter, recalling the moment recently from her Middletown office on a sunny September morning.
Sister Lauter — an Ursuline Sister of Mount St. Joseph and the co-founder of the local non-profit Water With Blessings — is on track to keep the promise she made in 2017.
Shortly before that visit to Haiti, Water With Blessings had launched a campaign to eradicate cholera there. Since then, Verrettes, a community of close to 50,000 people and two other communities in Haiti — Anse-A-Veau, with a population of about 35,000, and Cornillion, with more than 54,000 inhabitants — have been cholera-free, said Sister Lauter.
A few months after she met the suffering infant, that cholera clinic was closed — a sign there were no reported cases of cholera, said Sister Lauter.
Water with Blessings, founded 10 years ago, trains women in communities without access to safe drinking water to use donated Sawyer PointOne water filtration systems. Since its founding, WWB has trained 100,000 of these “Water Women” in 48 nations.
Sister Lauter said her promise to Haiti and that little girl back in 2017 was a “crazy” one, but it was rooted in her faith.
“I didn’t make that promise because I thought I could do it,” she said. “The reason I felt I could make that promise is that I felt I could count on the Haitian team, the mothers and the generosity of the people in the U.S. and we could ultimately count on God.”
Cholera is caused by bacteria that are ingested with contaminated food or water and infect the intestines of its victims, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms include profuse watery diarrhea, vomiting, low blood pressure and
Cholera has killed thousands in Haiti since an outbreak began in 2010, following a devastating earthquake that killed more than 200,000. The nation hadn’t experienced an outbreak in almost a century, according to the CDC.
A 2018 report by the World Health Organization estimates that 816,000 cases of cholera were confirmed in Haiti between October 2010 and December 2017. Close to 10,000 of those cases were fatal, the report said.
Though cholera is treatable, it can be fatal to communities without quick access to medical care, such as Haiti, where large percentages of the population live in remote areas and hours away from medical care, said Sister Lauter.
Since Water With Blessings launched its cholera-free campaign in 2017, the organization has donated filters to and trained more than 15,000 Water Women in three communities in Haiti. Close to 60,000 households have benefitted from the filters.
The women who receive filters from Water With Blessings — Water Women — make a covenant with God to share their filter with three other families, said Sister Lauter.
The Water Women are the real heroes in the fight against cholera, she said.
“We’re asking a lot of them. I tell them this is Haiti’s second revolution and this time the women are the heroes,” said Sister Lauter. “We can tell they’re stepping up to that because these areas have stayed cholera free.”
Eradicating cholera in these three communities has come with a hefty price tag. Close to $1 million has been invested there, said Sister Lauter.
It was made possible by WWB donors, including individual donors, as well as parishes and other organizations.
WWB has now set its sights on two more communities — Baraderes and Saint Michel de L’Attalaye and is working to eradicate cholera there, said Sister Lauter.
Epiphany Church recently donated $9,000, which funded filters and the training of 150 mothers as Water Women in Baraderes, an area hit hard by cholera, said Sister Lauter.
The Knights of Columbus Bishop Flaget Council at St. Bernadette Church hosted a benefit dance featuring The Monarchs last summer. The dance raised close to $14,000, all of which went to fighting cholera in Anse-A-Veau and Saint Michel de L’Attalaye, said Sister Lauter.
Individuals can donate as little as $60, the cost of a filter kit, that will provide a lifetime of clean water to four families.
WWB is now using a tool to show donors how their dollars are used. A Geographic Information System, collects data on the recipients of the filtration systems. Donors receive information about the people they’ve helped, such as the Water Woman’s name and the size of her family. Epiphany Church received a report which included this data, prayer cards and a video presentation, said Sister Lauter.
To learn more about WWB visit www.waterwithblessings.org. To make a donation or to host a benefit concert featuring The Monarchs, contact Sister Lauter at 502-749-5492 or firstname.lastname@example.org.