Mt. Lebanon church to aid critical mission in Haiti

Matthew Santoni
| Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Hefting 24 suitcases loaded with water pumps, filters, wiring and PVC pipe, eight people from Bower Hill Community Church in Mt. Lebanon will depart on Tuesday for Haiti on a mission to bring clean water to two rural villages.

Working with Living Waters for the World, a ministry of the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America, they will install solar-powered water filtration and storage systems at an orphanage and a church in southeastern Haiti, in places where wells and cisterns, even if they're available, aren't necessarily free from contamination.

“There's no Home Depot down there, so we have to carry as much as we can,” said Darenda Lease, a team member.

Church members started training for the work in 2010, shortly after the earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of Haitians. Lease said her Bible study group wanted to make a difference in the world, and the Pittsburgh Presbytery offered grant money for earthquake relief missions.

“We chose water because if you're not healthy and hydrated, you can't learn, and if you can't learn, you can't make a difference in your life,” said Lease, 53, of Upper St. Clair.

These will mark 88 filtration systems that Living Waters has installed in the country, spokesman Scott Toncray said.

In Haiti, summer flooding can sweep garbage, debris and sewage into people's water sources, said Rich Jacobs, a retired environmental engineer who helps the group wire solar power for the filtration systems. The earthquake made things worse, he said.

Professor Louise Comfort at the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs said more than 500 charities, government agencies and non-government aid groups registered with the United Nations as providing aid in Haiti following the earthquake, but the actual number of providers probably exceeds 1,000.

“Clean water is a critical, critical issue in Haiti,” Comfort said. “Their water infrastructure was, I'm sorry to say, poor to begin with, and it was literally shattered in the earthquake. Outside of Port-Au-Prince, the main source of water was usually the river.”

Living Waters representatives in Haiti scout locations lacking access to clean water, then work with local leaders to set up a building that can hold the filtration system and two large holding tanks. Filtered water is distributed in five-gallon bottles.

People pay a small amount for clean water or to plug chargers into the solar power systems. The neediest people, such as families with babies or sick relatives, can get water for free, Lease said.

The church groups teach people the importance of clean water.

“You're changing a lifestyle where people are used to going to a well or stream and getting their water there, even if it's contaminated with pathogens that are potentially life-threatening,” said Betsy Hohlfelder, 53, of Mt. Lebanon, a group member.

The buildings usually cost $5,000 to $8,000 to set up; the filtration system and solar power cost $20,000 to $25,000, said Jacobs, 68, of Upper St. Clair.

Bower Hill Community Church seeks grants, holds fundraisers and asks church members to buy parts for filtration systems.

Sometimes donations pay for travel to Haiti, by way of Miami.

Some group members pay their way, Jacobs said.

“Everyone thinks that Haiti is a sad, struggling place, but there is such joy there,” Lease said. “We're not even there yet, and I'm already thinking about how to go back.”

Matthew Santoni is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5625 or

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