Water for Life provides clean drinking water for Haiti
Rotarian Roy Sheldrick (left), founder of Water For Life, and Past Governor Ralph Montesanto of District 7090 (parts of Canada and New York, USA) test a new water well in a village in the Artibonite Valley of Haiti. Photo courtesy of Roy Sheldrick.
Roy Sheldrick and other members of the Rotary Club of Ancaster, Ontario, Canada, have spent 15 years helping to provide clean drinking water for 300,000 people in the Artibonite Valley of Haiti.
A year after a massive earthquake crippled the country, followed by a deadly cholera outbreak, their work in the region is more important than ever.
Sheldrick and his wife, Norma, founded Water for Life after taking part in a service trip to Haiti with their church in 1996. The nonprofit organization, supported by the Ancaster club and District 7090 (parts of Canada and New York, USA), drills wells to provide clean and accessible water in Haiti. To date, the project has raised more than US$1.5 million for 219 wells. It has also helped construct more than 350 latrines.
"There is a desperate need for clean water in Haiti," says Sheldrick. "The fear of cholera made the need so much worse. More and more people are relying on our wells. They are lifesavers."
With the main river in the Artibonite Valley tainted by cholera, the wells are a crucial source of clean and accessible water.
Wells have been installed in schools and medical centers, including Albert Schweitzer Hospital, the largest medical facility in the valley.
"We had to raise money and help build a new wing of the hospital because of the cholera outbreak. They were treating more patients for cholera than for trauma following the earthquake," says Sheldrick.
Since 1998, the Ancaster club and its Haitian partners have been awarded Rotary Foundation humanitarian grants totaling $672,093 for well and latrine projects. The grants have helped the program become more sustainable.
"With the leveraged contributions from the Foundation, Water for Life has expanded to do more work for the communities, including teaching Haitians how to maintain the wells," says Sheldrick. "We trained plumbers and created all kinds of jobs. Water takes them out of poverty."
Villages must undergo training before receiving a well, and Haitian Rotarians have set up a supervisory committee to make sure the wells are tested regularly and maintained. Each well costs $5,000 and is used by an average of 500 people.
Sheldrick sees the difference the wells have made. The valley residents are among the healthiest in the country, he says.
"Access to clean water is a life-or-death matter," he says. "I know that when a well is installed, the entire village benefits. They don't have to walk miles for dirty water. They can use clean water from their own backyard."
Sheldrick says he will continue to help build wells in Haiti for the rest of his life.
"I never tire of visiting the wells and seeing the many Haitians who come to these sources for clean water," he says. "You can see by the smile on their faces how happy they are. Giving clean water to the Haitian people brings hope for tomorrow."